In our 21st century global economy, very few organizations of any size operate without plans and planning processes. A Google search for "the importance of planning" yields over 49 million results. Billions of dollars are invested annually in planning processes and planning activities. Planning is expected of good business and good leadership. Is the time you spend planning just one more job requirement, or a powerful tool to motivate and mobilize your team to achieve extraordinary results?

Planning is now defined as both an organizational process and a psychological process (Wikipedia). Successful channel planning must include a keen focus on the organizational process, which includes strategic analysis of market and product needs, trends, and channel performance. The psychological process is the means to gaining the human commitment to effectively implement the channel strategies determined by the organizational planning process. Recent studies of complexity theory, intentional change theory, and positive emotional attractors in high performing teams and organizations point to the importance of focusing on the psychological processes of planning.

This may sound like theoretical gibberish, but for marketing and channel leaders, it means involving your people and partners in a vibrant, wide-ranging decision-making process. To effectively plan and implement strategy, leaders and organizations need to create communities operating with shared values, principles, and platforms. In a study of successful mergers and acquisitions, an even more significant factor was the quality of communications between individuals and between groups. Researchers have found that companies are more likely to achieve their goals if they can get employees and partners to commit to change; and this commitment is derived from open, participative, and reflective communications between individuals and within groups (AOM article.....get reference).

As an expert facilitator of marketing and strategic planning sessions for over two decades, I have seen these individual and group dynamics successfully applied to the planning process with consistently excellent, and many times, amazing results.

What Can Go Wrong With...Planning

One: Failure to Plan or Loss of belief in the importance of planning...

In times of uncertainty, sales and marketing executives are tempted to circumvent or shortcut the planning process. It may seem easier to simply react on a day to day, week to week, or month to month basis. Why plan for situations and conditions we cannot predict with any degree of confidence? Those who apply creative intelligence to the planning process will detect possibilities and translate crisis into opportunity.

Good leaders are defined by their willingness to make tough decisions in the face of crisis. They also find ways to inspire optimism and innovation within the company and within the channel. These leaders make planning a motivational process, not a chore. What the management community has long thought of as the "soft side" of business is being found to be the differentiator of high performance. Through the planning process, marketing, sales, and channel executives can awaken desire and develop capability to achieve the right goals.

Two: Making Planning Only an Organizational Process

A robust channel planning process includes: listing current and potential customer segments, identifying their needs and channel preferences, defining current and emerging channel types/options, identifying strengths and weaknesses of the current channel program, recognizing actual and potential channel conflicts and solutions, gauging the company's level of channel power, and identifying means to increase it, defining a fair level of channel compensation, and forecasting future sales by type of customer and channel. You and your team may diligently follow all these steps annually. But has your strategic or channel planning process become merely a must-do task to complete by a certain deadline each year?

Organizations and their leaders may go through the motions to develop budgets and set goals. This has led some companies to develop channel "dashboards", form channel advisory councils, and require partners to submit business plans. These analytical and financial-based strategies are important, but many times lack the insight and creative intelligence needed to remain competitive, capture the attention of channel partners, and harvest market opportunities. When the focus is mostly on the organizational requirements of the planning process, return on investment in planning declines; and organizational performance suffers. Ask yourself if your planning process is simply a series of steps to complete, and has becomes stale, less important and less useful to your team or your channel partners? If so, consider the benefits of adding a psychological component of planning – addressing individual needs and doubts; building a consensus among your employees and partners around a shared strategy; and developing an increased willingness to change the status quo.

Three: Failure to Apply Creative Intelligence

In Peter Senge's (1990) classic work, The Fifth Discipline, he noted "Perhaps for the first time in history, humankind has the capacity to create far more information than anyone can absorb, to foster far greater interdependency than anyone can manage, and to accelerate change far faster than anyone's ability to keep pace." Almost two decades later, the reality is, organizations and leaders who succeed will figure out a way to absorb and apply the information which affects their organizations, and engage the best of their human intelligence to develop strategies and plans which will keep them afloat and even enable them to achieve exceptional results.

It's easy to identify companies who failed to understand or react to the structural or subtle changes in their markets or channels. Companies that failed to apply "creative intelligence." In the 90's, Xerox did not acknowledge or respond to the emergence of the dealer channel. Their Japanese counterparts did, and gained large market share. Earlier, Xerox essentially invented the personal computer, but failed to implement the marketing and channel strategies necessary for success. After the fact, we can wonder what happened to the strategic thinking process and intelligent monitoring of these changes. How many of us have said "that strategy won't work, or I knew that plan would go awry?" What if we as leaders had taken the time to involve enough people and take enough time to pre-think, re-think, and wrestle with possible outcomes and outlying ideas?

In uncertain or difficult markets, channel managers who prevail will become courageous in their planning processes. They will be bold and brash enough to invest organizationally and psychologically in the development of a vision or set of goals that people can become excited about and will sign up to. We must find ways to involve as many people as possible in the planning, encourage openness, listen to outlying creative input, engage innovative problem solving, and project "what if" scenarios.

Has your planning become rote? Are you simply drawing lines on the same channel flowchart? Are you assuming the same types of customers will buy from the same set of channels? Is your channel planning process sapping the very creativity it was designed to inject? What is the real purpose of control resources and limit spending, or to focus and mobilize the organization and everyone in it to succeed and achieve? Via our now annualized planning and budgeting processes, do we enable or prevent vigorous goals from being set and met?

Three: Communication or implementation without understanding

Change management expert Kanter (1983, 2003, 2008) has contended for three decades that shared values, principles, and platforms will drive individuals on the front line to implement new strategies and achieve new goals. Without buy in and shared vision, plans are not implemented as intended. People and organizations want to succeed and achieve, but plans and change management fail due to confusion, anxiety, frustration, or indecision by those who are charged with implementation. What's more, many in today's work force (even high level professionals) fear responsibility and accountability. They are more comfortable simply following orders and taking direction.

Facilitated group planning sessions are powerful tools for engaging sluggish team members, creating shared understanding, and awaking the call to action. . Using an objective facilitator who is focused on the meeting, planning, and group dynamics process allows all participants, especially the leader(s), to provide creative input and engage in the strategic thinking and analysis. These sessions encourage creative input and open feedback that results in organizational learning, compelling logic, consensus, and a clear set of priorities. Intelligent and capable people across the organization come to understand the whys, hows, and what ifs of plans and objectives. This in turn builds a base of confidence and courage to act.

Four: Failure to mobilize the people and the organization

Many marketing executives would agree the trouble with planning is failure to implement. The more glaring error is the failure to mobilize the people within the organization to achieve the plan. Establishing and communicating the budgets, measures, metrics, and scorecards is important, but will not alone lead to high performance or market wins. Even when measurable goals are achieved, we are leaving big money and big opportunities on the table.

Studies during the past decade of complexity theory, intentional change theory, and positive emotional attractors in high performing teams all point to the importance of focusing on the psychological process of planning. The best ideas come from your own people. They are the ones who live and breathe and analyze the situations, the markets, the opportunities every day all day. The problem: they are not given the time or opportunity to delineate feedback and develop creative solutions; they are not asked for their input to the strategic questions. They do not want to offer their ideas and suggestions for fear of reprisal, fear of looking bad, or fear of being wrong. They usually are just not asked.

For channel planning, typically the Vice President of Marketing and/or Sales is the sponsor. The process is led by the channel marketing department, if you have one, or by the channel sales group. These planners should seek input from (other) salespeople, product marketing, customer service, finance, IT, and from channel partners. Of course market research should also provide the "voice of the customer". 21st century channel marketing leaders need to involve and inspire, energize and mobilize their teams to achieve their goals and act without fear. They can use the planning process to engage executive level, management level, team members, and channel partners in dialogues about opportunities and threats, benefits and consequences.

The Route to Right Planning

To surmount the coming period of restructure of our global, social, and economic fabric, marketing and channel leaders need to tap into all their creative resources, enable intelligent thinking and reward intelligent behavior. 21st century channel and marketing leader, we can develop plans that will control what we can control. We can define who we are, and what we are capable of accomplishing. We can strategically select and motivate our channel partners. We can believe in the ingenuity of our own people to set goals which will succeed. We can navigate a course through and find opportunities in the labyrinth of market and channel transformation which inevitably occurs when markets are stressed.

The most direct approach to setting the right goals and achieving optimum results for the organization is to use a human capital process along with a robust set of metrics to create understanding, belief, desire, and savoir faire. To succeed in competitive and uncertain environments, we can focus on bringing all the important input to the table and doing thorough analysis. As we carry out these planning process steps, we can build in inspiration, motivation, and momentum. Somehow the team members' efforts need to be upheld on a daily basis via a shared platform of vision, values, and goals shared throughout the organization. The circular effect of infusing the psychological planning process will make the difference for the people in the organization, which in turn will bring the organization's channel performance to new heights. It is simple: understand, believe, want to, know how, stay focused on the goals, and voila!

To make the most of your investment in planning:

Identify the points in your planning process where intelligent behavior, motivation, and mobilization are needed. Find times and ways to refresh the planning process. Use objective expert process and meeting facilitation to elicit openness, courageous input, realignment of paradigms, and inbred thinking patterns. Take a renewed approach to what if, why, and how thinking; identify where and if you have the needed capabilities and dispositions; identify priorities which will make a difference in implementation.

Pat O'Connell Schmakel is the developer of The KaleadeScape SM planning and team building process, and has used it for over two decades to help clients improve their strategic and channel planning. This meeting and process facilitation technique is a proven and powerful tool for unleashing creativity, encouraging openness, and generating innovative solutions, creating understanding, and mobilizing teams to achieve their goals. Pat's expert facilitation skills and the KaleadeScapeSM approach can be applied to many stages of the planning process and the leadership of change. To find out how Pat can help you develop the right plans and mobilize your people to implement them, call her at 312-558-4834 or go to the following link:


Bens, I. (2006). Facilitating to Lead! San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Kanter, R. M. (1983). The Change Masters. New York: Simon & Schuster Touchstone Press

Kanter, R. M., Stein, B. A., & Jick, T. D. (2003). The Challenge of Organizational Change: How Companies Experience It and Leaders Guide It. New York: Simon & Schuster

Kanter, R. M. (2008). Transforming Giants, The Harvard Business Review, January, pp. 43-52.

Rees, F. (1998). The Facilitator Excellence Handbook. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer

Senge, P.M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline. New York: Doubleday

Alexander, Robert C. and Smith, Douglas K (1988). Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, the First Personal Computer. New York: iUniverse

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.