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The 4 "Cs" of Long-Term Planning: Capabilities, Capacity, Constraint & Culture

Jan 20, 2015 by Jack Stack 0 Comments

As you likely know, forecasting is an integral part of what we do at SRC. We come together twice a year to create a plan of what our organization will look like one year out, five years out, and even 10 years into the future. This is where our organization can, according to the legendary business writer Jim Collins, identify its BHAGs – or big hairy audacious goals. Jack Stack's 4 Cs of Long-Term Planning

Whenever we wrap these meetings, there’s almost always a sense of euphoria among us: “Wow! We are going to accomplish some great things together!” Case in point: we recently forecasted that SRC will be 33% larger than it is today in 2018. That’s really incredible and it got everyone excited about where we’re headed together.

But I want to push the pause button here for a minute because this is where a lot of organizations get tripped up.

Putting your targets out there isn’t the conclusion. It’s just the beginning. It’s one thing to listen to your sales team about the kind of potential that’s out there for your organization and all the BHAGs you want to chase down. But it’s another thing altogether to focus on the details about how you will be able to execute on that plan.

Do you have the people, the building space, and the raw materials to hit those targets? Do you have the necessary engineering talent, quality control and IT systems as well as the necessary cash in place to execute on your plan? Have you taken your sales plan and turned it into a financial plan, an income statement that shows how you can actually account for the various costs and expenses you’ll incur while still making a profit on your way to hitting your goals?

You need to embrace what I call “creative paranoia,” meaning you also should be asking yourself the kinds of questions that will help you accomplish your goals even if a worst-case scenario unfolds.

If you haven’t addressed questions like these, then you haven’t really created a plan you know you can tackle with confidence. That’s where the “Four Cs” – Capabilities, Capacity, Constraints and Culture – come into play.

Your capabilities are your people, the associates you have invested in that make up your team. When you put your plan together, are you asking, as Collins also wrote, whether you have the right people on the bus? Do you have the people with the skillsets you need to launch that new product line you envision? If not, how do you intend to get them?

Capacity is a critical element in that it tells you how efficient your organization is at turning inputs into outputs. You need to ask what your current capacity is and whether your organization has the capacity to increase its output relative to your five and ten-year plans. If not, what do you need to do to get it there?

Similarly, what constraints might the organization run into in trying to hit its goals? In particular, I like to focus on the one thing that could happen that would bring your whole plan down. If you’re relying on a single machine, for example, do you have a plan for when, not if, it breaks down? What’s your contingency plan? Is there someone out there capable of fixing it? Or, if not, do you have the cash on hand you’ll need to replace it?

The fourth element for you to consider in your long-term planning is whether you have the kind of culture that can ask these kinds of questions and absorb the answers. If you don’t have the necessary teamwork, collaboration and optimism capable of executing on the details of the plan, while also developing the backup plans in place to support it, then the whole thing will likely go to hell in a hand basket.

Let’s say you want to double your business in five years. And to do that, you determine that you need to add 65 people to your team. Simple enough, right? Ahh – but you only have room for 50 parking spots. How do you handle that in your plan? Or, let’s say that the growth will result from manufacturing a smaller engine. Only, the new product takes fewer people to make it. So what are you going to do with all those extra people standing around with nothing to do once you make the transition? How does your plan account for making sure they don’t lose their jobs?

What’s interesting is that we’ve found that the further you forecast and plan in business, the more critical these Four C’s become. The trick is to think about how the present extends into the future. You need to lead in such a way that people begin to think beyond their day-to-day activities and begin to look at the big picture as well.

The point is that long-term planning in business is far more involved than just throwing up hairy and audacious numbers. You need to take the next steps by asking: What is my team capable of? What is our capacity? What are our constraints? And how strong is our culture?

And if you don’t find the answers you need, then your plan wasn’t worth much in the first place.

Want an inside look at SRC's annual planning process? Attend Great Game's High-Involvement Planning Workshop to learn how to transform your annual financial & strategic planning process into one that addresses the Four Cs as Jack mentions in this article. 

Topics: High-Involvement Planning™

Jack Stack
Written by Jack Stack

Jack Stack is President and CEO of SRC Holdings Corporation, which remanufactures gasoline and diesel engines for the automotive and off-highway markets, distributes engine kits, manufactures power units and remanufactures electrical components, and conducts seminars and training programs specializing in all aspects of teaching people how to implement open-book management. SRC has sales of over $550,000,000 a year and currently employs 1,600+ people. He is known as the "father of open-book management", having developed the concept at SRC in the early 1980s. He is the author of two best-selling books, "The Great Game of Business" and "Stake in the Outcome," and working on a third book, due Fall 2019.


About The Great Game of Business

Our approach to running a company was developed to help close one of the biggest gaps in business: the gap between managers and employees. We call our open-book approach The Great Game of Business. What lies at the heart of The Game is a very simple proposition: The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the outcome. Let us teach you how to develop a culture of ownership, where employees think, act and feel like owners.