Case Study: Case of the Master Plan

The following story is based upon a number of situations. Names, locations, and other facts have been changed to illustrate and simplify the case presented. As such, any resulting similarity to any one business or person is coincidental.

Without personally meaningful goals, we end up wherever we end up. Without personally meaningful goals, our daily business grind crushes our motivation into a pile of burnout. Without personally meaningful goals, we lose motivation to do the same old same old—there’s no reason to dare crossing the rope bridge over the deep ravine, for nothing is over there that we want. And so goes the seminar talk about goals. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in what I just wrote and have seen goal orientation make a significant difference when put into practice. But I’ve also seen the other side, as in this case of my friend the waffler and his master plan.

Waffle was scheduled to come to my workshop on sales reluctance when he sent me an email. In short, he said he was eagerly awaiting the workshop and especially eager to work on setting attainable goals. Additionally, he wanted to spend some time, “Discussing assistance you could provide to develop a strategic marketing plan that will coincide with my goals, my company, my customers, the marketplace, and our changing industry.”

Hmm…it sounded to me like he was flying at 100,000 feet on this one. He continued, “My frustration is the constant ‘waffling’ I possess with regards to direction, focus, and execution. I find myself taking in information from all directions and unable to put a plan together that is well thought out, and one which I stick to. I’m having difficulty defining what our business is and what it should be, and then how to position my company in the marketplace for long term success with more ease.”

Sounds like that should be an easy job, doesn’t it? Well, I too thought that he would learn a lot in our session, but we really needed to put his expectation into perspective. That’s because I don’t know of any company that can absolutely decide now what it wants to be when it grows up.

General Motors didn’t get it right, long term, after all the success they had in the 1950’s through the 1980’s. Microsoft has a monopolistic money making machine, but is reeling with the recent challenge from Google. The New York Times has a near patent on being the national newspaper (if you don’t like the Times, substitute USA Today), but that hasn’t stopped their circulation drop. Even the lean Toyota team has had to adapt in this recent market.

You see, I’m all for goals and planning, but that doesn’t mean we set a goal (plan) today and then follow it forever. An old Yiddish phrase says, “Man plans; God laughs.” An old West Virginia phrase says, “Stuff happens.”

So why plan at all? Planned things happen best. The U.S. military had planned on a war in Europe when one broke out in the Middle East. Oops! Okay, but because they had planned, they knew where their resources were, the force status, and more. Because they had planned, they were able to quickly modify those plans to fit reality. If they had not planned, they would have had to start at ground zero, which would take a lot longer.

But, let’s not get too carried away with our human capacity to predict the future. It was most probable that a European war scenario would happen, but it didn’t. So, we have to be flexible and continue to plan at appropriate intervals.

My understanding is that Waffle wanted a single strategic plan defining his business today and in the future which coincided with his personal goals, his company, his customers, the market, and our changing industry. He wanted one that is well thought out and which he will be able to stick to over the long term so he will have an easier time succeeding.

Well, that’s a tall order if he wants to know the path to take without ever having to look at a map again. He wants to be secure in knowing he is going to be successful, regardless of what happens. That ain’t gonna happen because it goes against the laws of Mother Nature.

Those of us engaged in Monopolistic Competition (all small businesses) are closely akin to competing as one football team with another or being a political leader. We don’t have a significant differentiation that will propel us far beyond everyone else for decades, such as a patent. Few do.

Even for those who do, such as Coca-Cola, which has been around for more than a hundred years as a market leader, it isn’t because the guy who started it had a master plan. No, they have had hundreds of master plans over those hundred years because things change. I doubt if they envisioned their product being delivered in cans via tractor trailers or the flavor of Cherry Vanilla Coke when the first bottling plant was opened in Chattanooga in 1899.

So instead of perfecting his planning, I suggest we adjust his reality to the Bret Favre reality (a favorite football player of Waffle).

Bret is the retired quarterback of the Green Bay…er, New York…er, Minneapolis Vikings. Wait, he’s not retired! Hmm. I suggest he get a photo of Bret and put it on his desk. Why? Long term, Bret has difficulty deciding. Regardless of whether he can decide on his long term plan or not, Bret can only play one game at a time. His tactic has to be that of focusing on this game, not taking the eye off the ball, and not overlooking the current minor opponent who may whip him while he’s focused on the big game that is weeks off.

Bret has to play one play at a time and focus on passing when it’s time to pass, and focus on handoffs when it’s time to run, and not focus on the strategy of whether or not to run a wildcat offense. And he has to change his plans play by play, depending on what the other team does.

Even skillful political leaders have to make changes in their perception, based on the realities of what government will do. A governor may want a certain legislative package, but may settle for something less than everything, depending on the number of legislative votes he has.

So here are two thoughts:

  • Setting goals and trying to determine where we are going when we grow up is a worthwhile exercise and will be beneficial in getting more of what we want than if we didn’t. So we will set goals and plan.
  • Striving to create a plan now that will not have to be changed on a yearly, monthly, or sometimes a daily basis is unrealistic. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to do so.

So if you can’t decide what you want to be when you grow up, put a picture of Bret Favre on your desk to remind yourself to work on a long term strategy to win. But remember that plan will have to be revisited often. Additionally, if you don’t execute the tactics to win the current game, your strategy won’t matter because you won’t be around to see it. Change is the constant companion of quarterbacks and business owners.

Then relax and enjoy the fantastic ride that your business provides—all the way to your personally meaningful goal.

Tom Crouser is principal of Crouser & Associates, Inc., 4710 Chimney Drive, Charleston, WV 25302, 304/965-7100. Follow his weekday tweets at You may reach him at And check out the unique business opportunity for small press printers offered by CPrint International at This article is available as a podcast at and from iTunes.