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As efforts continued during early-mid July to cap an incredibly damaging underwater catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico – a disaster of human creation - the letters ‘BP’ are now not just famous, but infamous. The acronym ‘BP’ refers to many common things, some of which have a direct consequence in business circles.

AvBuyer   |   8th January 2010
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The BPs Of Business Planning 2011.

As efforts continued during early-mid July to cap an incredibly damaging underwater catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico – a disaster of human creation - the letters ‘BP’ are now not just famous, but infamous. The acronym ‘BP’ refers to many common things, some of which have a direct consequence in business circles.

Blood Pressure. Barometric Pressure. Breaking Point. Breakeven Point. Blowout Preventer. British Petroleum. Beyond Petroleum. More to the point, and alternatively, ‘BP’ also stands for Business Planning, a topic that is particularly relevant at the mid-way point in many organizations’ fiscal year cycles.

Business planning is a foundational element of an organization’s leadership process. In the long-cycle, capital-intensive environment of aviation and aerospace, business planning is a vital and, at times, misunderstood and stubbornly imprecise science.

It can seem out of step with the otherwise methodical heartbeat of a company’s technical, financial, and engineering operations. Leaders establish the vision, mission, and values of an organization. Through words (embedded in policies) but particularly through behaviors (embedded in norms and practices), leaders reflect the heart and soul of their businesses. This is a powerful position with vast responsibility - those who do this best are obsessed with building, protecting, and nurturing a culture where people feel good about investing their livelihoods to serve customers the way they would like to be served themselves.

These leaders know how to evaluate their organization’s capabilities and environment, identify opportunities and threats, and build strategic action plans. They know to integrate their strategies with their annual budgeting process, and the importance of assigning owners, monitoring metrics, and scrutinizing deliverables.

At the core of business and strategic planning is the articulation of a business’ purpose – why it exists. Statements of Vision, Mission, and Values, lying behind sometimes dusty gilded-frames in the boardrooms of business, can seem repetitive and vanilla-like. Some of the most respected names in aviation and aerospace struggle to identify the essence of what they stand for and are trying to achieve.

At the end of the day, if an organization cannot boil the complexity and details of what it does – and where it is trying to go - down to the essence, the effort will yield sub-optimal returns. As President Woodrow Wilson once opined, the shorter the speech, the longer time is required for its preparation.

Generating statements of direction that crystallize a leader’s intent, inspire people to action, and incite change is not a trivial, one-off task. Sure, it doesn’t immediately ‘pay the bills’, and may take management’s attention away from pressing issues of the day, but it’s vital to leadership. Once defined, concise visions and missions need to be woven into the fabric of a company.

Too many organizations struggling to differentiate themselves from competitors fail to make the connection between business planning and action. They may match fares, share gates, buy the same equipment, hire each others’ staff, rely on old-boy-networks, and adopt identical suppliers.

Others try to appeal using similar marketing messages, and by attending the same industry events. Is this leadership? Is it really a surprise that, given these inputs, many competitors end up looking similar in the eyes of customers? When the ledgers are tallied, is it any wonder that many of these firms generate similar and usually uninspiring results? This is not where the best prowl, and it is not where greatness lies. The best customers – and the best people – gravitate towards companies and leaders that seek a higher calling.

Leaders create new futures and new possibilities as they restlessly evaluate opportunities. Guilty only of trial-and-error, and learning, they are adept at both strategic planning and execution. They try things, and rapidly evolve. Their competitors, engrossed in tactical copy-catting of the ‘what’, might better spend their energies on dissecting the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.

Leaders have no room on their shelf for another 3” strategic plan binder. Theirs is an open book, with digital flight plans, electronic checklists, and fuel indicators lit up. They constantly run the numbers, and evaluate their scenarios. They know their gates, crews, departure times and up-to-the-minute maintenance status – before they start up their engines.

They’ve installed the management equivalent of state-of-the-art on-board radar systems, flight controls, AOG monitors, and standby instruments across their organizations. They have mapped out their navigational waypoints, arrival slots, alternative airports, and spares depots. Depending on the severity of weather or other unforeseen - but predictable - disruptions, they know how to change their business/flight plan and set course along new routes. They shift equipment and resources, and eliminate waste.

They take great care of their people and the customers who pay for everything they command. And they love what they do. Not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard. Yes, in a way maybe they are rocket scientists, but they fly with the support of Mission Control. They have a Business Plan. They recognize that, without a plan, all flight paths will eventually lead somewhere.

Unlike the proverbial politician who jumps on a horse and rides off in all directions at once, they know to plan the work and work the plan, concentrating their organization’s energy to drive towards desired outcomes. Too many businesses start with a good idea but ultimately fail. Too many initiatives peter out as they cannot self-sustain operations long enough to see results of their efforts hit the bottom line.

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