An early lesson for many business owners is that potential funders want a solid business plan before they consider granting a loan or other funding. Business schools emphasize the value of planning as a key to your success.

If formal planning is so essential, why do we sometimes find ourselves off the rails and questioning the time spent developing a plan that’s no longer working? A pandemic, supply chain issues, staff shortages, rising costs, and changing consumer interests can all impact our original design. The adage, “Plan your work, and work your plan,” seems woefully inadequate when huge challenges hit.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if we think of planning as a one-time exercise done at an annual meeting and then filed it away until the following year. This stems from viewing a business plan as a static document, inflexible, and something to be followed to the letter. It’s not.

Flexibility and Resilience

What’s important is to make sure your plans continually support your overall vision. Keep your eye on the long game – what are you trying to achieve? How you reach that goal over time will change. So many factors are out of our control that rigid planning doesn’t serve well. Instead, flexibility and building resilience will help us through the worst times.

Think of planning as developing a series of course corrections you might need to reach your destination. Flexibility will help you address any challenges you meet along the way. Your original plan might designate a specific route toward success. You can anticipate common challenges you might encounter and have contingency plans ready. That’s good planning – to a point. It’s the unexpected challenges that throw us off the trail and can abruptly end our journey. The ability to find a new way, and forge a new path, can mean the difference between folding your business, surviving, and even thriving in the most adverse conditions.

The key is to become better at reframing thought patterns and tapping into a strengths-based approach to work through obstacles. Look past the obvious roadblocks and consider what-ifs. Brainstorm with trusted advisors and imagine various scenarios, then plan possible actions to implement when the time comes. Contingency plans usually cover the basics; this exercise is to think of ways to deal with future events past the obvious. Don’t spend too much time revisiting old approaches that haven’t worked or lamenting the good old days. It’s a wasted effort. Shift your mindset to developing creative solutions versus trying to fit into an old paradigm.

Build resilience in your everyday operations to lessen the impact of the unexpected. Cross-train your staff, involve them in problem-solving, and hold think tank events. Imagine possible plot twists that might occur in your business environment and how to use them to your advantage. Study how many businesses handled the pandemic and successfully embraced new technology and operating methods early in the game. Most of all, don’t give up.

Facing the Unexpected

Remember: rarely do things go exactly as planned. The purpose of planning is not to create a perfect step-by-step chart – it’s to think things through, clarify your end goal and explore possible avenues to reach it.

Be stubborn on vision, flexible on details.

Jeff Bezos