Plans commit individuals, departments, organizations, and the resources of each to specific actions for the future. Effectively designed organizational goals fit into a hierarchy so that the achievement of goals at low levels permits the attainment of high‐level goals. This process is called a means‐ends chain because low‐level goals lead to accomplishment of high‐level goals.
Three major types of plans can help managers achieve their organization's goals: strategic, tactical, and operational. Operational plans lead to the achievement of tactical plans, which in turn lead to the attainment of strategic plans. In addition to these three types of plans, managers should also develop a contingency plan in case their original plans fail.
The specific results expected from departments, work groups, and individuals are the operational goals. These goals are precise and measurable. “Process 150 sales applications each week” or “Publish 20 books this quarter” are examples of operational goals.
An operational plan is one that a manager uses to accomplish his or her job responsibilities. Supervisors, team leaders, and facilitators develop operational plans to support tactical plans (see the next section). Operational plans can be a single‐use plan or an ongoing plan.
Single‐use plans apply to activities that do not recur or repeat. A one‐time occurrence, such as a special sales program, is a single‐use plan because it deals with the who, what, where, how, and how much of an activity. A budget is also a single‐use plan because it predicts sources and amounts of income and how much they are used for a specific project.
Continuing or ongoing plans are usually made once and retain their value over a period of years while undergoing periodic revisions and updates. The following are examples of ongoing plans:
- A policy provides a broad guideline for managers to follow when dealing with important areas of decision making. Policies are general statements that explain how a manager should attempt to handle routine management responsibilities. Typical human resources policies, for example, address such matters as employee hiring, terminations, performance appraisals, pay increases, and discipline.
- A procedure is a set of step‐by‐step directions that explains how activities or tasks are to be carried out. Most organizations have procedures for purchasing supplies and equipment, for example. This procedure usually begins with a supervisor completing a purchasing requisition. The requisition is then sent to the next level of management for approval. The approved requisition is forwarded to the purchasing department. Depending on the amount of the request, the purchasing department may place an order, or they may need to secure quotations and/or bids for several vendors before placing the order. By defining the steps to be taken and the order in which they are to be done, procedures provide a standardized way of responding to a repetitive problem.
- A rule is an explicit statement that tells an employee what he or she can and cannot do. Rules are “do” and “don't” statements put into place to promote the safety of employees and the uniform treatment and behavior of employees. For example, rules about tardiness and absenteeism permit supervisors to make discipline decisions rapidly and with a high degree of fairness.
A tactical plan is concerned with what the lower level units within each division must do, how they must do it, and who is in charge at each level. Tactics are the means needed to activate a strategy and make it work.
Tactical plans are concerned with shorter time frames and narrower scopes than are strategic plans. These plans usually span one year or less because they are considered short‐term goals. Long‐term goals, on the other hand, can take several years or more to accomplish. Normally, it is the middle manager's responsibility to take the broad strategic plan and identify specific tactical actions.
A strategic plan is an outline of steps designed with the goals of the entire organization as a whole in mind, rather than with the goals of specific divisions or departments. Strategic planning begins with an organization's mission.
Strategic plans look ahead over the next two, three, five, or even more years to move the organization from where it currently is to where it wants to be. Requiring multilevel involvement, these plans demand harmony among all levels of management within the organization. Top‐level management develops the directional objectives for the entire organization, while lower levels of management develop compatible objectives and plans to achieve them. Top management's strategic plan for the entire organization becomes the framework and sets dimensions for the lower level planning.
Intelligent and successful management depends upon a constant pursuit of adaptation, flexibility, and mastery of changing conditions. Strong management requires a “keeping all options open” approach at all times — that's where contingency planning comes in.
Contingency planning involves identifying alternative courses of action that can be implemented if and when the original plan proves inadequate because of changing circumstances.
Keep in mind that events beyond a manager's control may cause even the most carefully prepared alternative future scenarios to go awry. Unexpected problems and events frequently occur. When they do, managers may need to change their plans. Anticipating change during the planning process is best in case things don't go as expected. Management can then develop alternatives to the existing plan and ready them for use when and if circumstances make these alternatives appropriate.