A plane that doesn’t fly is useless. A car that won’t start is useless. A bike with flat tires is useless. We use all these things to get places. The role of a Strategic Plan is to get an organization somewhere.
Throughout this book I have been referring to a dynamic Strategic Plan. One of the key qualities of a dynamic Strategic Plan is its usability. How usable is it? For example, if it is nine hundred pages long, its sheer size makes it unusable. If it proposes four hundred goals of equal importance, this foolishness renders it useless.
When I first started writing books, I never thought about usability. I focused on the ideas I wanted to share with the reader. Today, realizing how busy people are, how little time they have to read, and how few people even read at all, I see that as an author it is my responsibility to write books that not only inspire and share great insights and ideas but also are easy for busy people to consume. Even more than that, it is my challenge to write books for people who don’t usually read. There is nothing more satisfying than someone coming up to me and saying, “I never read, but I read your book from cover to cover,” or “I have to be honest, your book is the first book I’ve read since high school.”
But usability is something that most authors never even think about, and something I am certain is not taught in writing classes. Over the years I have realized that the usability of a book is just as important as the content. Most books I write go through four or five drafts before I feel they’re right. But over the past five years or more, I have been taking the books through six, seven, even eight drafts, with the extra drafts focused almost exclusively on usability.
For example, the book you are reading right now began as an eight-chapter book. Eight long chapters, some of them really, really long. At the end of the second draft, I started thinking to myself, “I am going to lose too many people in chapter three; it is twice as long as the other chapters.” Now you are holding a book made up of seven chapters, but divided into more than fifty sections so you can easily pick it up and set it down in the midst of your busy life. This usability eliminates the excuse that you don’t have time to get into it today. You have time every day to read at least one section of this book. The large ideas in bold are specifically designed to ensure you don’t miss key points, as well as to help you return to the book in the future and get a quick refresher. These sections also allow you to easily find ideas you want to share with other people.
Similarly, when you think you have finished writing your Strategic Plan, start thinking about how it is going to be used. If you do this seriously, you will discover you need at least one more draft to get it right. If you want to keep mission king, making your Strategic Plan usable is essential. How is each leader going to use the plan each week? How will leaders and their teams use it? How will individual contributors use the summary provided? Most businesses skip this step, which traditionally has been part of the strategic planning process.
Why don’t organizations spend time considering how the Strategic Plan will be used and revise it accordingly? First, because it never occurred to them; second, even if it occurred to them, they wouldn’t do it because too few people actually believe the Strategic Plan will be broadly used. The final version of a Strategic Plan should be simple, focused, practical, and eminently usable.
I think when I was younger I just wanted people to buy my books. It wasn’t so much about the money as it was about the validation of both my work and my ego. I was insecure, like all of us, and I needed some affirmation in this path. As I got older, I became more interested in people reading the books than I was in having another bestseller. But now I want more—I want to write books that transform people, their lives, and their businesses. I have found that making books practical, helpful, hopeful, and generally usable is the key to making this happen.
Nobody’s going to buy a copy of your Strategic Plan; it won’t make a bestseller list. You have a different choice: Do you want to print and bind it very neatly? Do you just want people to read it? Or do you want people to live it? The latter, I hope.
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