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The Basics of Planning Still Apply During a Pandemic

The end of one year and the start of the next is always a good time to take stock of where you’re at. It’s particularly important coming out of the year that we’ve just been through and in preparing for economic uncertainty that still may be ahead.

That’s as true for businesses in any sector – including the rapidly-evolving transportation industry – as it is for people. Perhaps it’s time to elevate your company’s planning for 2021 with a little bit of the old and a little bit of the new when it comes to goal-setting.

In the eyes of many, planning has only become more important in recent years. That’s partly because so many industries are changing so quickly and not enough of the companies within certain industries are keeping their eyes on the early adopters and change agents. There’s no better year for your company to pay some extra attention to planning, monitoring and assessing trends. Do the things that let you have a feel for where the transportation industry is going, not only here in the United States, but around the world. Global perspectives often help us learn from others…and vice-versa.

Look at industry forecasts and trends. Consider changing demographics. Explore how technology is shaping other sectors and identify why and how some of the same changes could come to freight, shipping and cargo.

Yet the other reasons why planning is becoming more – not less – important relates to the inter-connections between planning, goal-setting and performance. Planning does NOT need to be dry. Done properly, it can serve as effective team building. The team play often arises simply from the invitation to contribute; the empowerment of team members at all levels of the organization in long-term planning, and ideally mid-term and short-term. As workforces – and as your employees – get younger over time, you’ll be hard-pressed to keep people over the long haul if they are not made to truly feel “part of the team” when it comes to planning and goal-setting.

Some thinking points for you as you consider how to up your game in planning, goal-setting and performance in 2021 include:

A status check on where you are at in planning: When was the last time your company – or divisions or departments within your company – conducted and completed a strategic planning process? If the answer is more than four years, then your company may be in need of at least a refresh;

Short, mid and long-term: The best chief executives know how to balance the imperatives of the present – of the here and now – with the visions of the future. They know when to keep things on the “low beam” and when to turn on the “high beam”. And the best companies are beginning to ensure they have all three major planning cycles in play. Short-term typically relates to annual planning or operational planning. Mid-term usually refers to four-year or five-year strategic planning. And long-term is essentially horizon planning based on what you want your company to look like 10, 15 or 20 years down the road;

Use key dates: Being plugged into the key dates in trucking and transportation industry each year is a logical starting point to any annual planning process. Compliance guidelines/deadlines, renewal dates and special milestones; they all deserve a place on your 2021 calendar;

Apply planning tools and software to your goal-setting process: Take advantage of what’s out there in the way of software templates – use ready-made planning packages if it saves you time and energy;

Planning with purpose: If you have done regular strategic planning in recent years, then it might be time to dig deeper on specific aspects of your business. For example, if you did an overall strategic plan in 2017 or 2018, then 2021 might be the time you develop a comprehensive marketing plan to help you make the most of the overall plan. Strategic plans can stay more relevant by doing annual discoveries on core business activities such as marketing, communications, sales, operations, finance and human resources, among others. So do your big plan – one that at least maps out the master plan for your company one year and then refresh the whole thing with a focus on marketing the next year, operations the next and so on;

Big rocks first: If you fill up your metaphoric jar of goal-setting with the sand of smaller priorities, you won’t have room for the big rocks. The most successful companies – and the most successful people – keep their eyes on the big rocks; on the big priorities. And going into 2021, the best companies are looking past the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and sharpening their focus on not more than three to five overarching priorities. From the big rocks, go to the stones, then the gravel and then and only then, the sand;

Make it measurable: Big hairy audacious goals are the rage in many planning circles. And yes, there is something to be said about pushing the envelope and striving to reach beyond your comfort zone. Yet the most useful planning is indeed goal-setting. Can it be measured? If the answer is yes, it’s probably helpful to include it in your planning for the new year;

Providing the right context: Companies that have regular calendar year fiscal reporting – where the fiscal year and calendar year are one and the same – have it much easier when it comes to aligning planning with timelines that make sense for employees, strategic partners and other stakeholders. Companies with April 1st to March 31st fiscal years or July 1st to June 30th, have no fear. Just choose to align your goal-setting in a way that avoids confusion or coronaries in your Accounting Department;

Build accountability: The best planning builds a clear sense of self in small to mid-size companies. Make sure that corporate and departmental goals are easily understood by the individual employees who make up teams at various levels of the company. And assign clear responsibility so that everyone understands how their efforts and contributions can and will help your freight brokerage or motor carrier company achieve its goals in the planning period ahead;

Be specific: If you are not up to speed on KPIs – key performance indicators – check out some of the literature on how they turn budgets into financial plans and operational outlooks into departmental success stories;

Review performance before you review salaries: Most HR consultants recommend that individual performance reviews should happen separately from salary reviews. Moreover, they should happen first. By following this principle, you are placing the emphasis on individual performance first and on financial compensation second;

Offer incentives: The notion of performance incentives is closely-related to performance indicators. The more successful a company is in the pursuit of its corporate goals, the more that success should be shared with your employees. Most companies that offer performance bonuses or revenue-sharing find that they are rewarded with year-round performance and the resultant growth that comes with that;

Make it visible: Find ways to remind your employees of your company’s “strategic pillars” every chance that you get; in meetings, in correspondence, on wall posters or screen savers;

Turn planning into “culture”: The more you plan, the more it will become part of your “modus operandi”; the more it will become infused into your corporate DNA as “culture”. By making planning and goal-setting “cultural”, you will be making the most of the investment of time and money that you put into it. Why? Because, it will provide the blueprint for teamwork, cooperation and collaboration that will define growth strategies in the year 2021 and beyond.

Make it a Happy New Year for you, your team(s), your strategic partners and other stakeholders, most notably your customers: Plan to succeed more than ever before in 2021! Some smart thinking, solid planning and careful tracking of analytics could make it a big bounce back year for you!

Team PFA