Food Network's Robert Irvine

Strategic Planning: Are You Hoping for an Extreme Makeover?

In Strategic Planning by lisavgray

Did you see this recent New York Times article called “After the Cameras Leave the Kitchen,” in which David Segal focuses on the long-term effectiveness of “Restaurant: Impossible” makeovers?

Food Network's Robert Irvine

Food Network’s Robert Irvine

If you don’t know the Food Network show (and I didn’t), a family-owned restaurant on life support orders up a two-day extreme makeover by host Robert Irvine. He and his team wield tough love, carpentry chops and menu muscle-flexing, all to whip up a new, better, more profitable restaurant.

As with most extreme makeovers, sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t.

It struck me: the restauranteurs who submit to a Robert Irvine makeover are often like business owners contracting for a strategic planning retreat. They’re willing to go through a good deal of pain and suffering with an expert in the hope  that something radical will turn things around.

And with planning too, sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Does Short + Painful = Dramatic Improvement?
Like “Restaurant: Impossible,” lots (and lots and lots) of us build our planning efforts around the short burst of dedicated attention. We dream we can shut things down for a few days (or a few hours!), engage in exercises that aren’t like what we do most days and then come back to the workaday world with a new vision and energy.

And sometimes it works out. In my experience, it works when the fundamentals are already in place for the change we want to make. If your chef already knows how to cook with the new ingredients; if your waitstaff already know how to offer the new level of service; if your marketers already know where to find customers open to your new style — then you’ve got a real shot. And in your business, if you use your planning retreat to make decisions your staff is already prepared to implement — then you’ve got a real shot too.

But so often, it doesn’t work that way. Our single-shot planning efforts focus on defining the new Big Picture and sometimes they even include an effective set of metrics by which to assess progress. But do they prepare us to come back to the workplace as-it-is and fashion something new out of the existing realities? Too often, we choose planning goals we don’t really know how to implement.

Plan. Evaluate. Adjust. Align. Repeat.
Creating change is hard – maybe the hardest thing there is in business. Why choose a big-bet planning process that underestimates the difficulty? The next time you’re planning a retreat or some other change-process, consider something much more cyclical. Opt for a variation on Plan. Evaluate. Adjust. Align. Repeat. Start with a big-picture end-point – START with that. And don’t quit until you’ve exhausted the conversation around How do we make it happen? Goals are good. Metrics are critical. But how do we break things into smaller goals, achievable steps? Are there existing meetings, reports, reviews where we can regularly talk about our incremental steps? How do we develop the new institutional muscles we need? Are we all in agreement about which new steps come first? About which things we STOP doing?

I could be wrong, but I doubt there’s a templated way to succeed in business. I doubt there’s a way to create a single document that can remain relevant for years as staff change, as markets rise and fall, as customers discover new products and as competitors get stronger. Subscribe to a planning process that occurs in the smallest possible repeatable increments. It’s a much better bet for achieving your extreme makeover.