Watch the Film Again to Win

The coaching staff of every football team starts preparing for the next game by looking at game-films of their next opponent.

Does their fullback prefer to turn right or left?

Is their kicker accurate from 50 yards?

Is their star blocker still injured?

Over and over they review the film, looking for strengths they will need, strategies to defend against, and weaknesses they can exploit. In marketing terms, they prepare both a “Competitive Analysis” and an “Action Plan” which they call a “Game Plan.”Of course, this competitive analysis isn’t limited to football; it exists in all sports at just about every level, political campaigns, and in just about every other competitive situation including in every type of business.


Your business, like the football team, competes against an opponent, and today, with the almost universal ability of your customers and prospects to search the internet, you are competing against businesses world-wide. To succeed, you must perform the same type of analysis; develop the same type of plan:

If they can deliver in three weeks, can you deliver in two?

If they offer a 90-day warranty, can you offer one for six months?

If their price includes assembly, can yours include assembly and delivery?

If their price is $X, can you offer a lower price or savings of some kind?

If they have a well-trained, friendly and knowledgeable staff, can your staff be better?

Gaining a competitive edge requires knowing what the competition offers, and that requires a little sleuthing. Read their advertising to see what they are offering, look at their website and measure their site’s ease of navigation, become a customer and see how you are treated.Start exploiting your strengths and pound home your messages of superiorities. Start identifying your weaknesses and institute strategies of turning weaknesses into strengths (lemonade from lemons?). Start working to upgrade your staff’s friendliness, knowledge, and helpfulness. Then start monitoring the effectiveness of your efforts to become more competitive and tweak those that are working and modify those that still are not having the desired effect. That’s what the football team does in the locker room at halftime to turn momentum onto their side, and you can also do it.


If you use a “Competitive Analysis” you can develop a winning “Game Plan” just like the Pros in the NFL, but realize that the companies you compete against are doing the same thing. So, add the option of flexibility into your Plan.

Health Insurance Rate Increases And Grandfathered Health Plans – Should You Go Down With The Ship?

Everybody is getting large health insurance rate increases this year. The size of the increase is making many people look for alternative health insurance plans. One type of plan is being especially hard hit with double digit increases, and those are grandfathered health plans. We’ll cover what’s happening and what you can do to protect yourself from the rate increases that are taking place.

You may be thinking, “What’s a grandfathered health insurance plan?” The answer is, if you have a health insurance plan that was in place on March 23rd of 2010, and you haven’t made any changes to your plan, you’re still in the same plan, then you have a grandfathered health insurance plan. If you’ve been in the same plan for 5, 10, 15 years, then you have a grandfathered health insurance plan.

Grandfathered plans have some special exemptions and characteristics, so we need to go over those in a little bit more detail. The easiest way to do that is to tell you a story about a recent client. That client’s name is Barry.

Barry and his wife are 52, and they have two daughters; one 21, and one that’s 16. Barry shared with me that their letter basically told them their new rate was going up almost 24% and they would be paying $1389 a month. They were in an Anthem PPO Share 5000 plan, and they’d been in that plan so long, he didn’t even remember when they actually started it. The rates had increased progressively from one year to the next.

But this year, the rates were finally high enough that he said he didn’t want to pay that much anymore, he wanted to find an alternative. So he called his agent, and then he called Anthem Blue Cross directly. In both cases, they told him to “just ride it out” and wait to see what happened in 2014, after the Affordable Care Act kicked in. That wasn’t an answer Barry was willing to live with because he wanted a solution today.

So when Barry called he shared the above information and his fear that he would have to pay higher rates. When queried about the health characteristics of his family, he said they were all healthy, and that other than one or two colds, they did preventive care and that was pretty much it. Their current plan was very rich in benefits that they weren’t making use of, based on what he’d described.

After running a set of quotes for the family, and scanning all of the different options, it became clear that one of the best options for them was the Health Net PPO Advantage 3500 plan. The reason is because it gave them two office visits for a simple copayment, and then all of the preventive care was free. That’s not something that they had in their PPO Share plan. They actually have to pay for their preventive care as part of their deductible costs in that plan.

The monthly premium on that Health Net plan was only $480 a month, so they were saving a little over $900 per month, or $10,900 per year. Barry really liked that. But he said, “There’s a big difference in benefits between these two plans. Can you show me a plan that’s a little bit closer to the benefits we have in our grandfathered plan, but at a lower cost?”

So looking through the list again, the closest match was the Cigna Open Access 5000/100% plan. It has a $5000 deductible and has unlimited office visits, which is very similar to the plan they currently have. But the monthly premium is only $928 a month. They could still save almost $500 per month, and $5500 in savings over the course of a year. Now, I don’t know about you, but saving $5500 to $10,900 is a pretty substantial amount of money for any family. Barry loved the heck out of that.

But he was still a little bit concerned. He said, “I like those plans, and I’m glad that there is an option that looks like it could save us a ton of money. But what am I giving up if I leave this grandfathered plan?” He needed to know what the advantages and disadvantage of a grandfathered plan are.

Advantages Of Grandfathered Health Plans

The advantage is that it’s outside of the Affordable Care Act. It’s not regulated, so it doesn’t have to have all the essential health benefits, and it doesn’t have to add all the extra benefits required by the Affordable Care Act. So hopefully, it’s going to have a lower cost. But that’s the only advantage of a grandfathered plan.

Disadvantages Of Grandfathered Health Plans

There are a number of disadvantages to grandfathered plans. First of all, they don’t free preventive care. For a family that has people over 50, that can actually be pretty substantial when you start looking at colonoscopies once every few years or so.

Secondly, in all health insurance plans, when it initially starts and gets to its largest size, there’s a pool of people that are inside of that plan. The premiums that the pool of people pay, covers all of the medical expenses for everyone in the plan. But over the years, as people leave that plan and move to lower cost plans or plans that better fit what they currently need, the number of people in the plan shrinks. This the typical lifecycle of a health insurance plan. At some point, the people that are left in the plan are either people that just never bothered to leave, or people that have health conditions that prevent them from being able to leave the plan. At that point in time, the rates for the plan start to climb much faster than the rates in other plans.

The last nail in the coffin for grandfathered plans is that because it is outside of the Affordable Care Act, come 2014 when the rates go up yet again, people on the grandfathered plans are not going to be able to qualify for subsidies. So they’re going to get no financial assistance at all, they’re going to have to pay for all their preventive care, and the rates on their grandfathered plan will increase again, so it probably isn’t going to make a whole lot of sense to stay in the old plan.

At that point in time, Barry was pretty much ready to change plans. He understood why his plan was going up so much; he liked the fact that there was a solution for him; and he actually started to get kind of frustrated. He said, “My agent and the Anthem Blue Cross representative both told me I should ride this out. Why did they do that? That doesn’t make any sense.” Not wanting to say something bad about somebody else, I told him that if he had asked the same question a year ago, I would’ve said to let it ride. Just stay in there and wait for more information, because nobody knew what the Affordable Care Act plans were going to be, and nobody knew what the rates were going to look like on the new plans.

However, a lot has changed since January of last year. During the summer and fall, the Affordable Care Act “metal” plans were described. Not the specific benefits, but what they’re going to look like in terms of benefit levels. The insurance companies, have given indications about what the pricing is going to look like for these new Affordable Care Act plans. What they’re saying is that the average cost is probably going to be anywhere from $300 to $500 per person each month. So for a family like Barry’s, it’s anywhere from $1200 to $2000 per month. The cost of the Affordable Care Act plans and his current grandfathered plan are pretty much even right now, and his plan is going to go up even more next year.

Barry decided there’s really no benefit to staying in his grandfathered plan, because he’s not going to get any subsidy help, and he’s not going to get free preventive care in the grandfathered plan.

The end of the story is that Barry’s family was accepted, and they were going to take a dream vacation this year, using some of that $11,000 they’re no longer paying to a health insurance company.

As you can see from this case study, it’s really important that you stay on top of what’s happening with the Affordable Care Act, because things are going to start moving very quickly this year. States and the feds are beginning to quickly build the exchanges, and the insurance companies are creating the new metal plans to go inside and outside the exchanges. Knowing what steps you should take to position yourself and your family to be able to make a smooth transition to the new Affordable Care Act plans is important.

If you have a grandfathered health plan there are some exemptions that you have to consider, along with determining where your grandfathered plan is in its lifecycle, to determine if it makes sense to stay with the plan you currently have, or if making a change is a better option. There’s no sense going down with the ship if you don’t have to.

Are Non-Profits Prepared For Strategic Planning?

I wish I could count the number of times I have attended a non-profit strategic planning session, or discussed the need to have (or update) one in a board meeting, or been invited to serve as the facilitator. It has always – always – struck me that the strategic planning session should just be starting about the time that it is actually ending (e.g., too much time is wasted at the beginning and then a frenzy results at the end). The purpose of this article is to outline some observations over 30 years of strategic planning experience and to share suggestions that will improve the chances for a successful outcome.

Holding a Strategic Planning Session
At some point in time, every member of a non-profit board is going to hear the suggestion: “let’s hold a strategic planning session!” from a fellow board member or staff member. It’s not a bad idea but, unfortunately, it’s often a waste of time and produces no measurable outcomes. I want to share some observations and thoughts about strategic planning – invite debate – and see if we can come up with some guidelines that make the investment of time worthwhile. I have often said that strategic planning is a ‘process’ and not an ‘event’ – and I still very much believe that statement is true. However, maybe I should also add the caveat that a successful ‘process’ does indeed require an ‘event’ – or series of events – which is precisely the point. If you agree with my belief that the event often ends about the time it should be starting, then you would have to agree that additional follow-up after the event is required in order to create a meaningful strategic plan because the plan stopped short of completion during the original event. And a lot of time was used inefficiently, which also makes people reluctant to participate in the future.
 
A Working Document
Without a doubt, the primary way that I judge a successful strategic plan is by seeing a copy of it a year after the ‘event.’ If it’s a bit too dusty (which is often said in jest, but is true!) and if the pages are in pristine condition, then the event that created the plan was obviously not successful in motivating action. However, if the copy is dog-eared, marked up, added to, pages tagged, and otherwise well-used; then the event was super successful because a ‘process’ was indeed born and the need for ongoing action was instilled. In my opinion, successful outcomes are too rare in the strategic planning ‘implementation’ phase. The copy of the strategic plan that I described as a success is one that has become a working document, which is what planning is all about.
 
Defining ‘Strategic’
From an analytical standpoint, one way to define something is to determine what it is not. Strategy is different from ‘tactical’ or ‘operational’ (which is actually performing a task). Strategy is more subjective and cerebral; it involves thinking about an issue in broader terms than usual; thinking about circumstances that do not currently exist (i.e., future oriented) and determining how to adapt the organization to benefit from those predicted opportunities or avoid anticipated threats. Often, it involves thinking about an issue totally differently than ever before (which is VERY hard to do). Strategy development is not the same as operations implementation. For example, when I have been invited to ‘do’ strategic planning for an organization, I always ask if there is an Operating Plan; i.e., if you don’t know how to perform your core business every day (Operating Plan), why would you want to spend time working on a future-oriented process (Strategic Plan)? Strategy (highly subjective) is the opposite of operational (highly objective/defined/specific). Objective is ‘cut and dried’ – there is a procedure/process/outcome that arises from certain actions, done at certain times, in a certain way to produce known/certain outcomes. We already know if we do these certain things what we will get. Most people can adequately perform what they are taught/instructed. However, developing strategy – even the process of thinking about it – is very different. A strategic planning session led by a ‘doer’ instead of a ‘strategist’ and ‘critical thinker’ will yield disappointing results; however, ‘doers’ can be very helpful in participating in the development of strategy if they are properly guided. A couple of very simple examples of strategic vs. operational issues will make the point:

Funding
Operational – How are we going to make payroll next month?
Strategic – How do we need to adapt our operations to comply/excel with the recent changes for non-profits by Congress?

New Program
Operational – We need to add a new program to our existing series.
Strategic – We need to add a new series to cover new topics that will take our organization in a new direction.

Operating Plans Are Important
Let me be quick to tout the benefits of an Operating Plan. Properly executed, an Operating Planning Session can provide or refine specific guidance/clarification/policy on any number of day-to-day issues that really can be a big help when running the organization. The primary difference between strategic and operating (which is a huge difference) is that operating plans deal with the ‘here and now’ – with processes and policies that will improve the current business function – strategic plans, simply put, engage the participants in thought processes meant to challenge the current business function by looking into the future and assessing opportunities, threats, weaknesses, and strengths. A good Operating Plan can minimize daily confusion/questions about the manner in which specific job functions should be conducted. The ‘event’ of operations planning – getting the appropriate team together to discuss, debate, and decide the issues – is, in-of-itself, a very worthwhile team-building and clarifying session (if properly planned and executed). While Operating Plans are beyond the scope of this article, I wanted to make sure they were mentioned in a positive context.
 
The Mission Statement and The SWOT Analysis
Unfortunately, most strategic planning sessions seem to begin with either a review of the mission statement or a SWOT analysis. Both are usually ‘deal-busters’ in that they bog down the process of innovative thinking for strategic planning. For example, unless the core business of the organization has been totally disrupted (e.g., by lack of funding or policy, political, social, or technology changes), then the existing mission statement should be in reasonably good condition. To delve into the mission statement – and debate specific words and placement within the text – sucks the life out of the planning session and can often pit individuals against each other right from the start over silly things like wordsmithing. Not only is this unfortunate, but I would suggest that it is totally unnecessary. How can you revise a mission statement until you go through the rigors of the strategic planning process and determine whether or not there are bona-fide strategic issues worth pursuing? My preference is to hold the mission statement for a separate planning meeting after the strategic plan has at least been through an initial rough draft process. Perhaps a good analogy is to look at the mission statement from the back end – maybe it should be thought of as more of an executive summary?
 
Preparation For The Planning Session Is Critical
There is probably no exercise that requires more preparation than strategic planning. Why? Because the participants must be the right ones (those with authority and accountability), the purpose of the exercise must be made very clear (to stay ‘on point’ and eliminate confusion and fear), and the process must be known and engaging in advance (so participants can be prepared to contribute their very best). The most obvious difference between a private-sector strategic planning session and one for a non-profit organization is the inclusion of volunteers, namely the board of directors. The good news is that the planning session will include a diversity of opinion; the bad news is that most board members have probably been through some type of strategic planning before and have preconceived notions about the process based on their previous experiences (hence, the importance of preparing for the session in advance). I will discuss the dynamics of the volunteer participants in a later section.
 
I strongly recommend using an experienced professional outside facilitator (not a staff member, a board member, or a friend of a friend…) for at least three reasons:
 
(1) It is important to have 100% involvement of the entire board and staff members, so using participants to lead sessions or write on flip charts takes them out of the game.
 
(2) The selected facilitator must fully understand the main points presented in this article and have familiarity with applying them in actual planning sessions. (I will discuss some thoughts on selecting a facilitator in a later section.)
 
(3) You cannot be a prophet in your own land – your fellow board members and/or staff will resent you for being the strategic planning leader (even if you are experienced). Obtaining outside help eliminates this problem.
 
If possible, share copies of previous strategic plans (with the participants and the facilitator) as part of the preparation process that takes place well in advance of the event. Successful planning takes more time in preparation than it does in execution; this is a good rule of thumb to remember. If very little (or no) planning goes into the preparation, the participants will show up without direction and without having pondered creative solutions to some known issues to get their juices flowing; the event will likely be a disaster (and a waste of a lot of precious time).
 
Conducting The Advanced Preparation
Plenty of lead time is important; six months is not too long. Start by regularly discussing the need/desire of a strategic planning session at board and staff meetings. A letter to the board from the chair is a good way to officially announce that a strategic planning session is necessary. That letter should include a few examples of issues that are pressing the organization for strategic solutions. The board may wish to name a committee responsible for the planning (or, the board may already have a Strategic Planning Committee). Remembering that the plan is intended to be forward looking, it is important to involve up-and-coming board and staff members; their participation will be critical to the future implementation of the plan, so it is imperative they be involved in the development of it. Newer participants are often more reluctant to engage during the planning session because they conclude, perhaps rightly so, that there is a lot of history that they do not know. Remembering that strategic planning is forward looking, the facilitator must work hard to bring everybody into the dialogue because past history is less important than future strategy.
 
Let’s cover a few aspects of the advanced preparation checklist:
 
Participation
Remember that inviting the participants is easier than getting them to attend the session! This is one of the best reasons for beginning the discussions about the planning session six months in advance. My suggestion (this is a bit radical) is that it be made clear that if a participant cannot arrive on time and stay for the entire event, then they should not attend. This rule will make clear the importance of full participation. Reiterating this for several months prior to the session will make it less likely to have a misunderstanding on the day of the event. (If the organization is extremely proactive, then it already has a policy on board attendance and what is considered an excused absence.)
 
The Venue
How important is the selection of the place to hold the planning session? I would argue that it is more important than most people think (i.e., it is very important). I would strongly suggest that the venue be away from the normal meeting places. In addition, distractions like golf courses should be avoided; and, selecting a location where there is no cell phone reception takes care of a whole host of problems. Included in the selection of the venue are a number of other seemingly mundane issues, but planning in advance can make the difference between success and failure. A few examples:

  • Make sure the primary meeting room is extraordinary. It must be comfortable in every way, from the chairs to the location of the restrooms. If possible, select a meeting room with full technology tools; you want the session to be impressive.
  • Do not expect the attendees to bunk together. Secure enough rooms in advance to accommodate all of those who plan to attend. Private bathrooms are a must.
  • Food selections should be made in advance, particularly taking into account vegetarian preferences. Avoid caffeine and sugar as much as possible because studies have found that while both spike attention, there is ultimately an attention crash.
  • Decisions about alcohol, smoking, group recreation activities, etc. should all be made in advance. To keep things simple, I suggest avoiding all of the above.
  • Regular breaks – where some exercise is suggested and some quiet/alone time is provided – will increase the productivity of the output in the sessions. Make sure there is a printed agenda – distributed well in advance of the session – and spell out all events to the minute. Do not deviate from the schedule.

Length of the Planning Session
Determining the proper length of the session is important. I continue to believe that planning sessions end about the time they should be starting/continuing. Why? Because without a lot of advanced planning and attention to detail, the event begins sluggishly and does not naturally find a participative course until too late. However, I have never been to a multi-day ‘seminar’ that I thought was worth my time because I do not play golf and am not looking at seminars or planning sessions for my recreation and social outings. I feel strongly that the importance of the planning session should be kept paramount in the minds of the participants. There is no reason to draw things out just for the sake of having a lengthy planning session. How short is too short? A strategic planning session cannot be successfully held in one morning. How long is too long? Anything longer than a couple of days will cause a negative impact on the operations of the organization, given that the entire leadership team is at the strategic planning event. However, the best session I ever attended lasted the better part of three days. And, it was a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (intentionally selected so as not to interfere with normal operations).
 
Planning Session Case Study
An appropriately sized inn was selected – in a rural area and about 90 minutes out of town – and the organization rented the entire facility. It was extremely well planned, in advance, and all contingencies were considered (private rooms, meals, walking trails, multiple meeting rooms, no cell service, personal time built into the agenda, etc.) Written materials had been distributed weeks in advance. The facilitating team (outside consultants) had met individually with each participant prior to the event; the five-person consulting team arrived Friday morning to set up. There were 24 participants (ranging from the CEO to new managers), who arrived after lunch on Friday, checked into their rooms, and were in place for the afternoon (opening) session at 3 p.m. on Friday. Another session was conducted after dinner on Friday evening and multiple sessions were conducted on Saturday. The event concluded at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Of special note is that every participant left the session with a copy of the draft strategic plan that commemorated the first session in the planning process. Updates were added as they became available in the days, weeks, and months to come. Goals and objectives were established to produce measurable outcomes and revised as necessary. Organization-wide communications were important, so assignments were made to brief the entire employee population on the plan and its iterative changes. This strategic planning event remains the best I have ever attended. Contrast this brief description with the planning events you have attended and you will see the difference that commitment can make. And, important to mention: the resulting strategic plan completely transformed the organization, as was intended (the organization reduced its service territory and its product offerings, opting to focus on its core strengths). A better outcome could not be imagined.
 
The Cost of Strategic Planning
I do not believe in the old saying, “you get what you pay for.” Instead, I believe you will get no more than you pay for and you might not even get that much if you are not fully engaged with the service provider. Good strategic planning is not cheap. Many for-profit organizations cannot afford it, so it is no surprise that the non-profit organizations struggle mightily with the cost. A common practice is to have a friend-of-a-friend conduct a 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (with lunch!) planning session for free (or for a few hundred dollars). How successful is this approach? I would suggest not successful at all – and, potentially giving a negative impression to strategic planning because the session was so grossly inadequate. If this is true, then it is literally better not to have a strategic planning session that to have a bad one. Fees vary all over the board but, for example, the case study presented above cost $50,000 (negotiated down from $75,000 in conjunction with the experimentation of producing the draft plan during the session) – and that was over 15 years ago. I am familiar with a recent strategic plan for a non-profit organization – conducted by a national consulting firm specializing in the operations of that specific non-profit industry – and the cost was $75,000 about two years ago. However, take note: a donor sponsored 100% of the cost under the belief that without a strategic plan, the organization was in trouble. So, my suggestion would be to seek donor funding for the strategic planning costs. Also, I would suggest that the organization tout the existence of its strategic plan in its printed material and on its web site, thereby demonstrating that it is proactive and performs in a business-like manner, which can provide a competitive advantage during fundraising.

 
Selecting a Strategic Planning Consultant
The case study above mentions a five-person consulting team. This was part of an experiment that required that number of consultants because the end product, as explained above, was a draft copy of the strategic plan in the hands of every participant. This required the appropriate technology to be on hand (PC, projector, screen, copiers, etc.) and a typist who was the fastest I have ever seen. Part of the experiment was to enable the participants to be fully engaged in the conversation by not taking notes; instead, everything that was said was typed on the PC and projected on the screen. During breaks, the consulting team would group suggestions into logical sections. One consultant handled all contingencies. The other three took turns facilitating the various sessions to offer a distinct change of pace. During lunch on the closing day, copies were made for all participants and reviewed in the final session before adjournment. Admittedly, this was extreme; however, it certainly was effective. Generally speaking, however, find a consultant from a reference, meet with the person (or persons) to determine if you have a good personality fit (important), discuss the specific scope of work, ask for references (and check them), and ask to review copies of other strategic plans the consultant has led (these may be proprietary, but a reference can provide you with a copy – or at least let you look at a copy – so you can see the actual work product and evaluate it). Make sure that the consulting fee includes preliminary work and follow-up work. Also, make sure that the consultant’s background is a good fit for the type of organization (some people believe that a good facilitator can facilitate anything, but I disagree; there are always strengths and weaknesses in a person’s knowledge base).
 
The Dynamics of the Planning Session
The biggest challenge for any planning session is to keep the group ‘on point’ (i.e., on the subject) and to involve, ideally, everybody in the group in the dialogue. Speaking of ‘dialogue,’ the word is not interchangeable with ‘discussion’ – you want a dialogue not a discussion – the word discussion is derived from percussion which indicates ‘banging, striking, scraping, etc.’ (precisely the wrong connotation) and is usually an informal debate (also the wrong connotation). Dialogue, on the other hand, is a conversation and an exchange of ideas (not a debate). Managing personality differences, tenure differences (who knows what because of how long they have been associated with the organization), starting on time (even if everybody is not present!), ending on time (i.e., following the agenda), and recording the comments of the participants are rightful expectations for the client to have of the facilitator/consultant. Basic issues of respect (we are all adults) is the responsibility of each participant. I have never attended a strategic planning session where there was not at least one person who did not want to be there – and, unfortunately, it was obvious through words and body language – which projected a certain amount of negativity on the entire group. In cases such as this, it is up to the CEO to determine how the situation should best be handled; I recommend removing the negativity from the session.
 
Next Steps for Successful Implementation
Too often (if not the majority of the time!) “what happens at the strategic planning retreat stays at the strategic planning retreat…” While this may work in Vegas, it is a sorry outcome for serious strategic planning! Information must be shared after the retreat. My experience indicates that success comes from follow-up, follow-up, and more follow-up. I suggest a “champion” – an individual (or very small team) that will manage the implementation of the strategic plan – with unimpeded, direct access to the CEO. (If the CEO is not fully supportive then the strategic plan is doomed to failure.) Most importantly, I suggest that everyone involved understand, accept, and embrace the unequivocal fact that additional changes will be needed during the implementation phase. This is as it should be. Documenting these changes (and why), revising goals and objectives, timelines, assignments and providing printed copies to be inserted into all the individual strategic planning notebooks is the best way I know to keep the entire team involved in the process. (Remember, we are striving for a process, not an event…)
 
Conclusions/Recommendations
The purpose of this article was to share some observations over 30 years of strategic planning experience and to share suggestions for pre-planning that will improve the chances for a successful outcome. I remain concerned that the non-profit sector (more so than the government sector or the private sector) is typically not ready for strategic planning because they don’t have the funds to do an adequate job and the pre-planning is not thorough. A successful outcome from this article would be to get non-profit leaders to think about the subject of strategic planning more seriously – and to halt any existing plans until key elements of this article are at least considered. Entire books are written on the subject of strategic planning, so this article does not portend to be conclusive, only to make clear the importance of strategic planning and doing it right. Feedback and comments are invited.

Life Improvement: When Is It Time Not To Plan?

Many of us have all heard the age-old saying that failing to plan is planning to fail. And many of us know the value and power that is found in setting goals, especially written ones. Every business guru, diet guru, sports guru… any guru… take your pick from the plenty there are… all of them stress one thing: have goals, will succeed. So we know this works. At the same time, we all hear of the importance and immense power of letting go, detachment. So we also know that this works. But it all sounds contradictory at first, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. The question then is, when is it time to plan, and when is it time to let go (not plan)? Put in another way, when does planning help you, and when does it harm you? When do things “go bad” not in spite of your plans, but because of them? That is the question, the answer to which will allow you to drop off the stress and worry baggage, stop unwittingly messing yourself up with plans made at the wrong place and time, and generally empower and free you a great deal.

Well, to begin with, it is a good time to define a plan so that we know what we are talking about. A plan is a vision; a template which when followed guarantees a certain outcome. It is a collection of cause-and-effect clusters that all work together to produce one final desired outcome. The essence inspires a vision that defines the becoming of a form, through process, that will hold the expression and experience of the essence that inspired it. That is a plan. Obviously, a plan with missing or incorrect inputs will not lead to the correct outcome,because it is not based on truth, on the Universe as it were, on the Laws It Works By. So you can imagine that an incomplete plan will work, but it won’t – it can only hope to approximate. Incomplete plans don’t work fully, no matter how one deludes themselves prior to the frustration of seeing the plan dashed against the rocks. Moving on, a plan made at the level of your ego is a personal plan. You make it because you have certain hopes and fears and you wish to avoid what you fear and make what you hope for happen. Without fear, you would rarely plan personally. Most plans are defensive; defensive against some imagined attack. A feature of a personal plan is that they have a future imagined “good end” to aim for and a “bad end” to avoid. Therefore, a personal plan is based on judgment (against yourself and others) and abstract assumed scenarios as part of its inputs. Its driving force is partially based on fear, as all things from the ego level are.

Here is a key point: personal plans are made from a vantage point that has no vision of all factors involved in all dimensions of space and time, and that is why the ego assumes things in an attempt to fill in the places it has no idea about. At this level of consciousness, you can only see what is right Here Now, and for most humans that is a tiny slice of eternity. Of all the millions of cause-and-effect components required to cooperate all across the universe for your desire to be fulfilled, your egoic self is only aware of a tiny percentage of them. That is why its plans are never complete. But then there is a part of You that is nonphysical and aware of all, all, the components and how they would exactly fit into the space-time continuum to guarantee that your desire is fulfilled. That part of You is Everywhere, that is why It Knows.

Now, I would like you to stop for a moment and remember the last time you had a flash of insight, an ah-ha that made you smile with delight at how smart you are. We have all had those moments where, literally out of the blue, we get it! You could be taking a piss while daydreaming about the ocean, when this brilliant solution for your business appears in a flash in your mind, and you get so excited! It’s a funny thing how they happen. Have you ever wondered why they come to you as finished plans? Seriously, remember the last time you had one. You did not construct it, put it together, or formulate it. You know, you did not put it together, block by block, until it became the genius idea that it was. You just found it all done for you, there, flashing in your mind. And you ran out and told your friends what you just thought of, never once stopping to consider just how you thought of it. Really, who put it together? Think about that. You found it complete, perfect for your needs. Who put it together with such wakeful intelligence that is aware of all that is involved so much so as to produce such a suitable idea? What about musicians? Many chart-topping artists report that they simply find the music in them; they hear it then write it. They don’t put it together; they more like report it. The same goes for many inventors, many artists, and so on.

By the time you get one of those flashes of insights, by the time it enters your mind, it is already a copy. The original is out there somewhere, where it was put together by One who has full vision and was capable of bringing to you what you had not managed to package together yourself. But remember, there is only One Mind, separation is a mental illusion, just like time is a mental illusion (time is thought “stretched” out into “space” to demonstrate and experience it; you recognize sections of eternity “at a time” to experience process, space demonstrated). You “heard” the thought, the inspiration, because you were listening, at that point empty in relation to the matter. If you remain empty, you could continue, day by day, to listen to the rest of the plan, which includes how to execute the vision, what inputs to use, when to make what move, and so on. The place where the original plan came from is your own Higher Mind, that part of your individuation that is still in perfect recognition of its unity with All That Is, the part of you that sees all and knows all, the part of you that is not in the experience called human, the divine essence. Now here is the greatest news: no divine plans are incomplete. None! So none can possibly fail when executed as planned. The Planner Sees All, Directs All. The only thing that can interfere (which means it introduces inefficiency to your personal experience) with a divine plan is a personal plan. This is not because a personal plan is more powerful; it is because the right to free will is upheld with the highest respect. You have heard many times that you have many aspects of you, some of which you are conscious of and others of which you are not. When they are not aligned, you experience conflict and confusion. So now we know the difference between a personal and a divine plan. A divine plan is not some plan made by some foreign god to impose on you; it is Your Own answer to your questions, from a level that sees all (Spirit) to one whose experience is one slice of the whole at a time (human). But it is all you. That is why those flashes of genius that you get are so complete, yet they are specific to the very problem or desire you had.

Now let us go back to this goal-making business. Personal plans have a function, but only when used to free the individual. It is the only time they can help you. And this is why. Imagine a person who feels like a victim (in anything, any area of life). They have given up hope. They feel powerless, incapable of making anything happen. Now, if something happens that triggers their courage or anger enough to make them decide to do what it takes to make things work for them, they begin to become self-reliant. They drop the victim mentality. They make a plan; a way in which they feel will get them out of their desperation. Now, every time a human has a desire, the non-physical part of that human starts inspiring this human with ideas from a divine plan, ideas which are guaranteed to work. However, if you have so much personal thoughts and emotions distracting you, you cannot hear these inspirations. You must still yourself. Like a calm pond, one which will instantly be aware of any rock thrown in. If you are like the Niagara Falls inside, you will not notice the rocks being thrown in.

Anyway, back to our example. This person, far from calm, will only hear parts of the plan being given them. They will, out of fear and a belief that they can fail, that there is some danger somewhere, they make a personal plan. They use inputs from inspiration, whatever they can hear and are not afraid to follow, and they also make up scenarios, imaginings based on their fears, and use these in the planning process. At the end of it all, what they invariably find is that the plan works in certain portions. They are elated! Even if not everything worked as planned, at least something worked! And this way, they rise out of desperation and can now start to direct their life. The point here is that from the place they were, the helplessness they believed to be in, any plan was a good thing. Any plan! And goals are great, because they give a point of reference, something to aim for. As you can see, even the worst personal plan, one with 10% success, is still a great thing for one who though they had zero power. It is something to celebrate and honor.

But then there comes a point where self-confidence and self- reliance is believed in enough to no longer be doubted. At this point, making personal plans becomes a great hindrance. Once you have proof that your life can be deliberately lived instead of under the idea that you are a victim of forces beyond your control, it is time to start using complete plans. That means that the ego’s personal plans are no longer useful. They were a crutch to remind you how to walk, with their goals and all, but now that you can walk on your own, you need a new tool to show you how to run and fly. That is a complete plan, a divine plan made by the higher aspect of Who You Are. You are much larger than you imagine yourself to be. Let us examine how this works.

Under the rule of personal plans, a person would ‘hear’ the insight, the flash of genius, stop everything they are doing, and excitedly run to the office to start planning how to make this plan work! They assume it is ‘my idea’ and ‘I must make it work against threat of failure’. They make plans which rely largely on assumptions (an assumption is anything that is not What Is) because they cannot see the Whole Picture. So by mere fact, their personal plans will have elements in them that interfere with the smooth progress of the original insight, the divine plan. This is where you start to fail because of your plans, not in spite of them. To begin with, you do not know what the vision you saw in your mind is for, its complete use to the entire universe. The universe is not personal; it works as a Whole. But the Original Source of the idea does. You also do not know what the millions of cause-and-event components required are; you can only guess a few of them. And you do not know at what points in the space-time continuum they require to be inserted for everything to work perfectly; but the Maker of the Original Plan does. Now watch how a personal plan messes you up at this stage. Your plan is based on dates and deadlines that you pull out of the blue. It is full of standards that you have determined indicate whether you have succeeded or failed. Let us say you miss a deadline, and something happens that is opposite of what you had hoped and expected. What happens to your ego then? Does it not rush to judgment, calling you a failure, asserting the belief that things can go wrong and that you need even more control, and increasing the level of fear and anxiety? So next time when faced with a similar situation, you put even more focus on what you fear and then it happens again! Simply because you focused on it and thus created it. It becomes a viscous cycle. And you keep reaching for more control. And you experience more stress instead of less. And fear increases. You never once to consider that there is nothing wrong with you or the universe, nothing unsafe. You never stop to consider that it is your personal plan that was grossly mistaken due to relying on a fear-created ego.

Now let us see why the most successful people all preach the power of letting go. Let us look at how one would proceed in the above example, but by listening.

A person would hear the insight, and automatically know or remind himself or herself that all divine plans are complete, all the way to the end. They know that the vision is complete in the Mind of the One, and it cannot ever fail. So it is simple. In the same way, they listened to and heard the great idea that made them all excited, they would remember that their copy is just a copy. The original is still out there, along with everything needed to make it manifest. So they would listen and wait. They would know that at the right time and place, they would receive the next piece of the puzzle. They would rest, not stressing about making plans to ‘make sure’ it happens. And it makes sense. If they did not compose the first idea, why can’t they trust that Whatever composed it will also give forth, at the right time, everything else needed to make it work?

Imagine the universe is a big circle and you are a little circle within that big circle. Now a personal planner assumes that the big circle is at war with him or her, the little circle. In their fear over this imagined state of things, they make up a phantom world in their mind, with assumptions about the future and how the rest of the universe will act and react, and they plan against this. It is so draining. One who does not make personal plans but listens to their higher aspect, on the other hand, sees the big circle as part of them, part of the whole, with only an intention to love them and make sure all is OK, because all is One. They have chosen to believe in peace and love rather than separation and scarcity. This is a choice, and it is the choice that allows them to let go. They realize that they are best served focusing on the little circle, their Here Now, which is what they have full knowing of. And they awaken within that circle that is them, here, now. They chose to put all their attention here, now, and because they do this, they are aware of their emotions and thoughts. Presence gives them the ability to control their here, now. So they choose, here now, always, to make their here now happy and well. Here, Now, they follow whatever cues come up, always deliberately choosing their thoughts and emotions, here now, and not throwing their mind into some imagined past or future. In other words, they make every here now moment golden, and because all life is a successive moments of infinite Here Now, their lives automatically work perfectly! You have seen them or heard of them. That is how they do it. Clarity, simplicity, power, peace, calm… all rewards of being present and following complete plans, letting go of personal plans once you recognize that their use as a crutch is complete. They become purely efficient, effortless.

Such people walk this earth without the baggage of plans and worries, and things work better for them! They recognize that the universe is not personal, yet it is only, only, loving and all else is our self-created illusions. Just because we do not understand something does not make that thing wrong. There are more things relating to your life than you are consciously aware of at this level of your existence. Remember that your life always creates the next moment of your experience out of your intentions. Whatever you give attention to grows. You are therefore held hostage by your own personal plans. So what is the point of your mind at this level, in relation to planning? Well, it is to execute that plans it receives, knowing with certainty that they cannot fail. It is to fashion all of your existence here into an appropriate vessel to execute these plans. The plans are already perfect. All they need is a suitable vessel to manifest through. You have to become a certain person for certain things to flow through you. It is this that you can use your lower mind for, by following cues from the higher mind. The attainment of success is not something that one comes by through chasing after success – it is something one attracts by the person they become. You form a vibration match with what you desire. It is an inner journey of transformation. You can call it education, training, skills, self-help, discipline… it is all an inner transformational journey resulting in a frequency match. It is guaranteed. That is all you have to do. The rest is done for you (admit it; you don’t know how it is done, how all those things are coordinated universally to make this amazing miracle called life work with predictability!)

You now have a progression of the use of various types of plans. In the beginning, personal plans can be used to establish self-reliance in a being that has lost hope. However, there comes a time when that crutch, the personal plan, because the very problem itself, the cause of failure instead of being the cause of success. That’s when its time to let go of the crutch. It is time to dare give trust a chance, to dare believe that the universe is loving (not dangerous, as you have been indoctrinated to assume) and see what happens! Give it a go! Find out for yourself. Let go, truly, a few times and listen to the plans as they come and see what happens! Gather your own evidence instead of holding on to personal plans because you are afraid something could “go wrong”. You don’t have to carry that huge unnecessary load. Drop it. It is very liberating! Try it a few times and see how you like it.