Podcast Ep 138 | Why the One Page Plan works

Many companies might have a plan, but some plans work better than others. Focus matters; having an ideology, strategy, and execution goals in one plan enables leaders to focus and achieve results. 

By bringing together the ideology (Core Values & Core Purpose), Strategy (How you’re different) and execution together into a logical fit, you avoid just having a list of goals with different time horizons.

This week we discuss the One Page Plan, where it comes from, why it works and the principles that underly its success. Also, we discuss how people make mistakes with the one page plan.




Please note that this episode was transcribed using an AI application and may not be 100% grammatically correct – but it will still allow you to scan the episode for key content.


Brad Giles  00:13

Welcome to The Growth Whisperers where everything that we talked about is building enduring great companies. My name is Brad Giles. And I’m in Perth, Australia. Today I’m joined by Kevin Lawrence, who’s in Vancouver, Canada. Hello, Kevin, how are things today?

Kevin Lawrence  00:26

Good, Brad, you know I realized on a show, I think things are almost always good. That’s because I think they are, I’m not making it up. Yeah, things are great. We’re in our winter. Life is good, good, good things happening in the business surrounded by great people. It’s a wonderful journey.

Brad Giles  00:45

What if I put it to you that the reason that things are good is that because you’ve implemented a one page plan that works?

Kevin Lawrence  00:54

Well, I would agree with you, I’ve got a one page plan for my firm, I’ve got my own version of a one page plan called a master plan out of my book, Your Oxygen Mask First, that I run for my world, which is for my work for me, myself as a human, and for my life, which is my family and my friends, my community. So I got I got a couple of solid one page plans, and damn, they’re good. They sure help keep me focused on the stuff that matters most.

Brad Giles  01:21

So don’t take this, don’t take this as a compliment by any means. But perhaps you keep saying when when asked how are things Things are good. It’s by way of intent. It’s like you’ve planned it out.

Kevin Lawrence  01:34

It is! It’s not it’s not fluke. Not it’s not luck. It’s a lot of damn hard work. Spending time focusing and refocusing and thinking and, and evaluating and iterating and all that good stuff that we do with our clients. I mean, yeah, I do it myself. It’s constantly iterating and trying to make better choices. And I know you do the same.

Brad Giles  01:59

In the history of segues, that that could be one of the better segues. I’ve got to say. We bottle that one Oh, yeah, that’s

Kevin Lawrence  02:11

the worst because we weren’t even trying. We weren’t even trying. And that’s why it segued so well.

Brad Giles  02:16

You’d think after 138 episodes that we’d be able to stitch something together that made some kind of sensor right. So

Kevin Lawrence  02:25

we blue, blue, blue, our cover, we just instead of just going with it, we call it Oh, that was funny. That was awesome. All right,

Brad Giles  02:31

good. All right. So here’s the thing, right? Here’s the thing. Many companies have a business plan. In fact, I’d say that most companies perhaps potentially have some kind of business plan. But some plants work better than others. Right? Some plans work better than others. So if you have your life, and perhaps your savings, and your energy and your focus invested in a business, perhaps you’re interested in why some plans work better than others. Yeah, like it’s a sensible, you know, curiosity, perhaps. So the point here is that focus matters, okay. And getting a business plan that produces the results that you need and want, is something that’s worthy of effort.

Kevin Lawrence  03:26

So let’s play a game right now, on the squat. We didn’t practice this. So if you were to pick one phrase to describe why some business plans are better than others, what phrase would you choose to answer the question? What, why are some business plans, notably better than others?

Brad Giles  03:49

They, they evolve over time with a central logic and experience.

Kevin Lawrence  03:57

Okay, they evolve over time with a central logic and experience. I liked that I saw what I was going to say, and I’m going to upgrade my answer because of yours. But what I was going to say is that they are simple and potent. But I would change it to their simple, potent and continually iterate. Very similar. They really because we’re boiling, like at the end of the day. I’ve seen these business plans, and some of them are beautiful. But they’re almost impossible to follow. It’s too complex, it’s too much. And because people don’t reference them that often, they don’t constantly improve them. So they’re, like stagnant on a shelf. I’m exaggerating. People use shelves. They use hard drives, more these days, but it’s simple term. What are basics it’s too damn hard to follow. And it’s hard when doing it’s hard for people to follow, it’s hard to execute and stay focused on.

Brad Giles  05:10

One of the one of the things that we find really not like it’s not we can’t overcome it, but it’s challenging is changing people’s mindsets. Like I’ve got literally a workshop tomorrow. First, we did an initiation about 90 days ago, and we’re going to workshop tomorrow. And the challenge in this team, the thing that the theme is, like, done and won, right, so what why, so we built a plan, like, Why is everything not completely different? Like, why has it not changed the whole world and universe? Yeah, like, that is, it’s, it’s, it’s a fallacy.

Kevin Lawrence  05:51

It’s dangerous thinking it’s yeah, it’s like, you know, we went somewhere for a vacation once. Therefore, we’re gonna go to that same place every time the rest of our life, and some people might like that. But business changes and iterates. And you can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again, it doesn’t work. And, you know, in our world, we’d like to see companies iterate every 90 days. You know, I just had one of the companies that I’ve had, I’ve done some work with over the last six months, I normally don’t jump in these days and drive strat planning anymore. My team does those. And I just do more CEO coaching and some of the high level strategy stuff. And but this company, I know the CEO, we said, hey, can you please come help us for a bit? So I’m helping them but you know, one of those teams is what do we do? We need to still have a two days quarterly strategy. I’m like, yeah, like we’ve, we’ve, we’ve barely stabilized the bento, you’re laughing you’re being liquid. We’re not even, we haven’t even stabilized the patient, we have a shape of our strategy and we have an execution plan. And yes, we got a plan for next year. But we’re still figuring stuff out, we got so much more iterating to do. And if we try and do it all in a day, we’re gonna be rushed. We’re not gonna have enough think time and more more likely to come up, we will come up with a less intelligent plan. Brad you are laughing.

Brad Giles  07:18

You know, how many emails those people have? They have busy people, why would

Kevin Lawrence  07:23

I don’t care. We need two days. And if you want me to help you, if there’s a way to do it, I ain’t do it for the size of company. They are I’m not deviating from it. And they were just checking, which is fine. I’m not judging them for it. But it takes time to do this. It’s a discipline. It’s kind of like, well, if you’re if you’re a high level football player, whether it’s American football, or European football, why do you need Why do you need to practice? You already know the game? Why don’t we just show up an hour before the game and have a great game?

Brad Giles  07:59

Or more to the point? So that’s the practice bit, but it’s also planning the game? Yeah. So understanding what who we’re competing against this week? Who are their strong players? What are we going to do? Who are the weak players on our team who’s still slightly injured? Like, what are we going to do different against their game plan, like all of those things constitute the analogy that you’re describing. Yeah, the practice is important, but it’s the preparation for the work that needs to be done.

Kevin Lawrence  08:30

All of that is what it is. You know, Jim Collins says it’s, you know, successes, relentless execution of the boring basics within your hedgehog. You don’t always remember the CEO I worked with in the US. And he’s like, 450 people, he goes, you know how long it took me? To get the entire team? To answer the phone within three rings. When a customer they’re a servant, professional service, in a way. Team to answer the phone within three rings all the time, understand the customer’s needs and get back to them within 24 hours. It was you know how long it took us to do that? Three years to build it in. But that’s that’s the core of their business. Hello, Mr. or Miss customer? What can I help you with today? Okay, fine. It’s always complex. Let me understand it. Let me clarify, I’ll get back to you either today or tomorrow. And that level of service sets them apart from everybody else. But it was an incredible amount of work. And it goes back to the one page plan. It was in their long term strategy or the three year goals to have those incredible service levels. And they had goals for the year, and then every single quarter they grounded out and iterated and iterated and iterated every 90 days until they mastered it.

Brad Giles  09:48

So the one page plan concept business planning isn’t new. It’s been around a long time of course, and building a business plan isn’t new, but that’s specifically what we’re talking about here is the one page plan. So the one page plan concept actually came, as I understand it from General Electric. And so Jack Welch, who was the CEO, arguably, I think, the most successful CEO ever, where he grew GE 4,000%, over 20 years.

Kevin Lawrence  10:17

He’s known as that statistically, it’s not necessarily true, but that’s what he’s known as.

Brad Giles  10:22

According to some people. Asterix. Right, right. Right. So, right, so well regarded CEO. So a well regarded CEO named Jack went to his training facility in CrotonVille, in the US. All of the best General Electric managers would come from all over the world. And they would learn from the best leaders and the best thinkers about business management and strategy. And they would build their business plans over the course of their time in CrotonVille, and take them back to wherever they come from in the world, right. And then Jack suddenly came to realize that all of these business plans that were getting built that were thick and comprehensive and detailed, impressive, seriously impressive, were not getting enacted. And so then he set the mandate, if it won’t fit on one page, then it’s not a constituting a part of the business plan. You can have supportive arguments, but the business plan has to be on one page if it’s coming out of CrotonVille. And so that was, as I understand it, that was then that concept began to get popularized. And certainly for you, and I, one of the areas that came, became popularized was through the book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, which kind of adapted it into the mid market space for midsize companies. And then has continued to evolve since I guess, the early 2000s, or late 1990s, through all sorts of areas, but that’s really where it came from. And it’s stuck, because it works.

Kevin Lawrence  11:58

It does, and it was interesting, you know, when we took Rockefeller Habits, and you know, and I, you know, went interviewed 50 CEOs that used it, and then went and wrote most of the books scaling up the first version of it, which Vern then finished off in the books, Scaling Up, and when we interviewed those people, we talked about the one page plan, they raved about it, because what they would consistently say is it keeps me and my team aligned around what’s most important. From the culture, to a high level version of the strategy to our goals for three years, one year and quarter of people again, and again, loved that template and how it just made it easier to stay focused. And yes, there’s a lot of information on a page, but it’s a page, it’s a document that doesn’t get lost. And people, you know, iterate it and get, you know, make all kinds of confusing things. But, you know, the way I had it sent to me is it’s, someone explained is like, it’s like a very clear painting of a beautiful city. It’s crystal clear, and you understand what’s going on, where a lot of business plans are, like abstract pieces of art. It requires interpretation, everyone’s gonna have an opinion, and a view and is that a cow? Or is that a mountain? Or is that a picture of a field? Or is it a butterfly? Like everyone’s gonna have an inspiration and a thought, we don’t have time for that. We want a very literal painting that shows us what we’re trying to what it is that we’re after. Without a lot of interpretation, it makes it easier for people to stay aligned, stay focused.

Brad Giles  13:39

So by bringing together the ideology, right, the values, the purpose, the B hag these concepts of the ideology, and then making them fit with the strategy, which is how we will be different. And then making that fit with how we will execute across the three, one and 90 day timeframes. We avoid having just a list of goals with different time horizons. Because people might think, oh, a business plan, we’re gonna go together and we’re going to set like some goals, let’s get to $100 million dollars in revenue, that’d be cool. But there’s nothing else that’s in that goal setting instrument. Whereas the one page plan it connects the key components the ideology, the strategy and the execution all together.

Kevin Lawrence  14:26

All the stuff of your that your abode. And one page I remember just thinking as you’re talking, Brad had a province in, in school that allowed us to have all of our notes for a test on a piece of paper. Maybe they allowed us or maybe we just made up little pieces of paper with notes. I don’t remember at this point. But I’m gonna go with that we were allowed to do it. I’m not sure. But either way, we all had little pieces of paper with notes of all the most important stuff to study from now, for that exam. And in many ways, that’s what a one page plan is. It’s all the most important stuff in one place. So we don’t lose it, and we don’t forget it. That’s it. And it’s like those little cue cards or cheat sheets that you have for certain pieces of technology sometimes have instructions. It’s our master instructions for who we are, how we’re going to win, who we’re serving, and what we’re going to do about it. Because at the end of the day, people build all this really, really cool models, and then they get lost and then they get forgotten. Yeah, so it’s putting all your notes in a spot in a structure that helps you to know what you’re going to do about it. It’s just thinking about a company that I worked with it, you know, they had a brilliant strat planning process. And as they grew and grew and grew, all of a sudden, they started to think they graduated. And then they started getting real creative. And they started using some more innovative approaches. And they wanted to give people more autonomy. And they want anyways, long story short, they did create the autonomy, unfortunately, they lost the results. Because people were getting focused on all all kinds of things. And basically, they lost the ability of having a central document with Central, very clear, tangible goals, to bring everyone’s focus together. And they just got distracted. And in many ways, it would be like being at a concert. And there’s a performer on stage that everyone is seeing and paying attention to and focusing on. And it became like, a couple of 100 different little concerts happening all at once in the same company. And it became messy and noisy and misaligned. Now we’ve been able to start to dial it back in again. But it’s just it’s a basic discipline that to some degree isn’t that exciting. But we can make it exciting. But it’s generally just to keep people very, very focused.

Brad Giles  17:00

But it produces results, right? It’s a discipline, it produces results. So broadly, we’re saying that, like the team who build the plan, don’t fight the plan. Okay, so you got to get a can’t just be the CEO, or the COO going off to the mountain, assuming the lotus position and then writing it all out, right? Because the problem is, is that you’ll bring it back to the team and they’ll go, “well, that doesn’t make any sense.” So what do are you doing that for?

Kevin Lawrence  17:26

The leader of the team or the team does follow, you have different problems, if your team are that compliant, and they just follow, you don’t have a very strong team.

Brad Giles  17:34

So it’s messy to build the right one page plan that has a good fit, I say, like a jigsaw so that all of the components of the plan fit together like a jigsaw. And it’s not just a bubble wrap plan. So you know, when you get a box from Amazon, and it’s full of bubble wrap, and it’s got this tiny little thing in it? Well, it’s just filling up air. And so having something in a box on the one page plan doesn’t mean that it’s going to make you succeed, okay, it’s got to have a fit. Everything from ideology, through to strategy through to execution, it all fits together. It’s built by the leadership team through a messy process, that at the end, produces the plan and it aligns the plan, and then gives you the tool to execute for the next quarter, or the next year or three years.

Kevin Lawrence  18:23

Yeah and you touched on something that I really love. And Brian is that the idea of this is to be so clear on where the company is going and what we have to do, that the executives and even their teams can then pick and have a lot more autonomy, in picking their goals and what they’re going to do to contribute to get there. And whether you do it as goals or OKRs. Same concept just you know, different language, basically the same structure. I love OKRs, because it’s really, it’s very measurable goals, which they should be to start with, no matter what should be. And a lot of people don’t although, but the point of it is, is that it creates more autonomy and accountability. Because you know, when you do it, well, we’ve got it done for the company. But then you have goals for each of the people in the room and their teams. So at the end of the day, I love it. I was doing a session down in the US a couple weeks ago. And interestingly, the CEO was sick and couldn’t attend. And it was the annual meeting today strap meeting with the team. And the CEO was very, very sick. So I was able to run the whole two day meeting with zero input from the CEO. I talked to him the night before when he was sick. I just confirmed the numbers for the next three year time horizon. Yeah, we got a one page plan and we’ve been running for three years. We know exactly what the plus strategy strategy is clear. Everything is so clear. We went and did what I would consider at least A grade work over two days with nothing from him. And then we had we showed it to him at the end he’s like, “this is great” because Because the one page plan was so clear, I already knew what the values were and the purpose and the B hag, I knew the three to five year targets was updated. We knew what we had to do in terms of our goals to get to the three year plan. Yhe annual we clarified, and then the annual goals were pretty obvious. And then we broke out quarterly. And then each executive in the room was able to set their own goals for the quarter without CEO input, because the inputs already on the plan. Yeah, and we’ve done so many cycles, it’s tight, and it ain’t perfect. But it’s an A grade plan, that, that I, being in sync with the company, you know, could could guide it with great confidence, because I know all of those ingredients. And I know, we know what works in this business and what doesn’t what we need to do.

Brad Giles  20:54

Sorry, Kev. What about people who butcher the plan? I mean, I remember I had all

Kevin Lawrence  21:00

the things that are real smart.

Brad Giles  21:02

Yeah, there was a, I remember, there was a leader that I that I knew. And he took the one page plan and put it into Microsoft excel at the time, and just removed many of the key components. So it was just basically a list of goals, and thought and thought he’d done the job to be done, but didn’t have any real insight into what it was. And, you know, like, we’ve seen countless examples of coaches around the world, or advisors who’ve taken some plans, the one page plan, and they’ve butchered it, and they’ve made it their own because they want to make it their own. But not really understanding the significance and the interplay of all of the components that are in there and the depth that’s really behind it.

Kevin Lawrence  21:50

Yeah, when you have amateurs trying to reinvent a system, they’re gonna mess up because they don’t know what they don’t know. And I’ve seen it, I was having a conversation today with a CEO about this very thing. And he wanted to implement a new system. And it’s a system that I know a lot about. And he’s got a proposal from a consultant to do it. He goes, You know what, we’re not going to spend the money right now. But we’ll just kind of iterate it and find a way to make it our own over time. And I’m like, “No, effing way, you’re gonna do that?” I said, “No. I said, if you do it, you do it, right. And if you do it, right, you get the consultant to help you. So you do it, right, because your team only knows enough to screw it up. And by the way, I’ve seen the stuff that your team did on a similar permutation before, and it wasn’t good enough.” So and we had any, we have a great relationship. So I’m like, No, when you’re gonna do it, let’s do it right, or let’s not do it at all, because we’re just going to create crap. We’re going to create bubble wrapped filled boxes, because the team doesn’t know and I love his team. They’re great. They just don’t know. So when it comes, you don’t let amateurs tweak Master System that tweak Master Systems. And I talked about this all the time. It drives me bonkers.

Brad Giles  23:05

Because then what happens then what happens?

Kevin Lawrence  23:07

The system follow the system become a master, learn from a master? Couple of years down the road? Let’s have a chat. But until then, how about we just follow the masters who spend their life figuring this stuff out? And you just don’t know. I get so passionate. It’s they hurt themselves in the process.

Brad Giles  23:24

It’s fine. Because then what happens is they look back and they go, Yeah, we tried that product, that system. You know, it just didn’t work in our, in our business. I was like, it didn’t work because it was run by amateurs, people who didn’t really understand what they were doing.

Kevin Lawrence  23:41

Right. So when when Collins talks about bullets and cannibals, as a testing, you gotta make it a fair bullet. Yeah, right. If you put a 45 caliber bullet in a 50 caliber rifle, and ain’t gonna work very well. Right? Like, it’s like, that’s just not how we’re so yeah, it drives me bonkers. So my thing is, and I go into we do a lot of work with companies around talent reviews. Yeah. And I went into a company recently with a talent review, and a head of HR had some wonderful ideas. And I’m like, can I be really direct? You should probably undo what you did. Because the changes you made, decrease the value and increase the complexity. So I know we have good intentions. And so now after that was this one I was I found a graceful way to help tweak it and we will change most of it back. Not all, but I’m kind of creating rules and companies when we implement these systems. If you want to change it, you talk to me. And again, I’m sounding tough about this, but I am, because I see people dilute systems all the time and they take the simplest, you know, when Vern and I were working on Scaling Up the amount of time that we spent on a box or a question you Do you boggle your mind when we’re tweaking questions or tweaking templates, it’s an insane amount of debate on behind these things from people who spend an insane amount of time in the field. So I think Sorry, I just touched a button Brad, but it’s it just drives me bonkers. Don’t tweak it until until you’re a master and it takes many years to become a master. And that’s, that’s what makes the one page plan not work or, or one or any system or tool not work.

Brad Giles  25:27

And look, it goes without saying, I mean, it goes without saying that if you’re doing nothing, you’re not really going to build a business. You reduce the chance of building a business that you want, okay, if you have, if you have a business plan, you’re probably going to have a higher chance of building the business that you want. To our opening statement right around you being happy and good. And then if you have a one page plan, with that level of thinking behind it, you increase the chance. But then when you overlay a coach on to that, and you get someone who is a domain expert, someone who’s built 1000s, literally 1000s of business plans, and is just intuitively sensing every single aspect of where it’s going. Like that’s when you increase the company value the most. From planning.

Kevin Lawrence  26:17

You do have the biggest impact, especially when the person who built the plan, has folded plans through quarter after quarter after quarter, and seed an initial theoretical plan in a boardroom, and five years later see what plays out. And I think that’s the biggest value people like you and I and my team bring, is that we see the theory iterated quarter after quarter after quarter to see what actually works in the end. Because the initial plans are often way off. And you have to iterate and iterate to get the value.

Brad Giles  26:47

Yeah, yeah. So let’s move to close. Why does the one page plan work in a summary? Like what, where are we where are we kind of landing on this,

Kevin Lawrence  27:01

I’ll go first, then maybe you can do your version. Mine is that it’s a document that captures our critical thinking about how we win, and what we’re going to do to march towards it. And it does it in a way where people can be highly accountable to making sure the work they do is completed and aligns to that fairly simple document of how we’re going to win.

Brad Giles  27:26

Yeah, I guess for me, it works. If I reverse engineer, it works, because after we’ve built the quarterly one page plan, we’ve got clear alignment with everybody on what must be executed. And because it’s reverse engineering, we get that because of the messiness that happens in the room to determine the right priorities or OKRs. And we get that because we’ve got real clarity on the strategy. How we’re going to be different in the market and the core values and the core purpose and the BHAG, all of the elements. And then the multitude of layers of depth underneath of that, that validate the strategy. So that’s reverse engineered. But yeah, so we’re basically aligned and in the right direction. So yes, it’s a plan. Yes, it’s on paper/software. But it’s the powerful effect of that that makes the difference.

Kevin Lawrence  28:25

Right. So it’s a simple, but challenging tool to use because you really got to boil down your thinking into a way that it’s easy for people to align to, and make sure they spend their time on the most important stuff. Very good. Awesome. Good conversation. So hey, thanks for listening today. Listening to our passion around this tool that we both use a lot. It helps clients and it endures different iterations of it in different forms and different theories. But the idea is getting people on the same page. This has been The Growth Whisperers with Kevin Lawrence up here in Vancouver, Canada, and Brad Giles down south in Perth, Australia. You can subscribe to the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. You can get the video version at YouTube just search the growth whispers and you can catch both of us. We both got newsletters and sites with more information and we’re here also to help you implement these tools. Brad is evolutionpartners.com.au and I am and my team is at Lawrenceandco.com. Have an awesome week. And we hope you continue to stay focused on the little things that matter most.