I’m working with several businesses on different issues and the one thing they all have in common is they lack a plan.

There’s an old expression about. We don’t plan to fail but fail to plan.

But what is a plan?

One business has personnel problems, another is experiencing quality issues. One has a totally inefficient plant out of several facilities. One wants a marketing plan.

I have told these companies that we can solve their problems working together. Each has asked me for a plan. They don’t really want a plan. In each case, they just want to know what to do. They want a decisive step to fix their issue. A step isn’t a plan.

A plan is made of several pieces. Even a simple plan has several parts. Plan to to go out to dinner. There are parts to that plan. First, the decision is made to go out to dinner. Then a restaurant is chosen and a time set.

So let’s plan to go out to dinner tomorrow. We’ll plan to dress up a bit and meet at Burger King at 11:00 p.m.

That’s not a very good plan. I’m trying to illustrate that even a simple plan has underlying pieces. What to wear? Depends on where we go. The time? Depends on schedules, practicality, reservations available, etc.

Then we have goals. Do we want a nice, slow-paced, luxury dining experience? Or, are we on a tight budget? Do we have to be home by a certain time?

So why do people ask for something as complex as a marketing plan as though they were deciding to hit Burger King for lunch? Just put something together.

This leads me to ask, “are you clear about the goals and direction of this business?”  That answer is always, “yes!”

I don’t other decisions made with that sort of clarity. I see equipment purchased on a whim. People hired for key positions on impulse. Marketing decisions driven by fear.

If clarity is lost, focus is lost, plans become steps taken in panic. Loss of focus always leads to rising stress.

When I see rising stress, I know that step one is to regain focus. It’s an error to make plans before checking focus.

There are companies that could be, should be, doing a lot better today but they are out of focus. Before making a plan to do anything, get back in focus. Oh, you think you are? Then why the stress?

Chris Reich, CEO, TeachU