In consulting for businesses and also for young adults, we often are asked about planning for the future, called strategic planning. For very large companies, it is important for top management to obtain the plans for each of their divisions to coordinate the overall direction of the company.
The basic approach to any future strategy has to deal with three questions:
1. Where are we today?
2. Where do we want to go?
3. How do we get from where we are today to where we want to go?
Each question is not easy to answer, including where we are today. It often takes a lot of analysis to understand the present situation and a courageous honesty to admit what the strengths and weaknesses are. This is true for any business, and for a person.
Projecting where you want to go in the future, often three to five years for a large company, requires an ability to understand who you are and then commit to a future direction. Even after determining an end game, the really big issue is how to get there. For a company, it could be a new product, increased profits, a new location, or all of them. The bigger the company, the more complex the plan, but regardless, the implementation plan requires dedication with an ongoing focus. It is never easy, but it is an excellent way to reach success, however you define it.
In discussion with Rabbi Russ Shulkes, executive director of Hillels of Georgia, who deals with college kids, he pointed out that strategic planning can and often should be applied to 18-year-olds and older, in or not in college, who do not know what they want to do. Many young adults in their 20s don’t think much beyond their immediate future when they should be thinking strategically for the next three to five years. They would be much better off in staking out a career if they could define where they want to be at the end of the next five years, and then proceed to do whatever it takes to get there.
Although a five-year plan is important, circumstances do change and so the plan must change. I have found that the plan can change every year or even sooner. The new plan merely replaces the old one and you move on. The point is that you always have a direction, even if the direction changes.
In my own case, I changed majors in college, discovered that I didn’t want to do what I studied in getting my Master of Science degree, and took 10 years after college to find my life’s work. And for my own company, we always had a strategic plan, but it changed each year as our consulting business grew. I never could stay with the same plan for very long. There were new ideas that came along, and customers had needs that we did not anticipate, but which we could fulfill. My young staff would suggest a new idea and if it had a positive feel, we often tried to make it work. We had to be open to new ways of working to remain competitive.
For a young adult, it is useful to have a strategic plan (the longer the better), but recognize that it will change. Over a five-year period, failures will occur. The focus should be not on the failure but on the experience that failure teaches. For a young adult, failures can be ways of understanding what the new direction needs to be. You don’t go down paths that fail. Failures are not there for self-criticism and regret, but for recommitment and learning.
In the end, it is the parents and grandparents and no one else who can, together with a young adult, establish and help implement the strategic plan. No one else usually will care enough or have the resources to stay committed to the plan for the time it takes to succeed.
The bottom line: If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.