Stop Doing Annual Operating Plans

December 6, 2021
December 6, 2021 Jamie Notter

Organizations need to stop doing annual operating plans and shift their primary planning cycle to quarterly. You can still have an annual budget (though I’m seeing organizations experimenting with different approaches to that, particularly after the shock of the pandemic), and you should definitely identify a small number of key strategic annual initiatives to guide your quarterly planning. But the idea that you can map out a 12-month schedule of activities that will deliver the results you want is simply not consistent with reality. Planning for what you THINK the world will be like in December of 2022 is pure folly.

And that was true even before the pandemic, by the way. We can’t predict the future. It’s always good to come up with a model for how you think things might play out, but it’s a model, not a plan. Your plan should look only three months out, so right now you should be planning for Q1. What are the key things that everyone should stay focused on during January, February, and March of next year? What metrics would you be looking at every week to make sure you were on track to accomplish those things? Then at the end of March, you’ll look back at how things played out and how the world has changed, and you’ll come up with new priorities for Q2. This is the only way to keep up with the pace of change, pandemic or no pandemic.

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And if you haven’t already figured it out, this is all a culture issue. The way you connect your strategy and your operations is one of the fundamental drivers of culture. It determines much of your organization’s approach to the cultural elements of Agility, Innovation, and Transparency (3 of the 8 we measure in our assessment). So if you were planning on doing some culture work in 2022, include an overhaul of your strategy-operations bridge in your efforts, because it has a disproportionate impact on culture.




Photo by Eliza Diamond

Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.
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