Invitation to (be) tender – business planning in professional services firms revisited…

Martina Weinberger on April 7, 2015

Business planning processes are full of tough questions.
Maybe there’s room for tender questions instead?


You’ve charged 50 hours this week, although you’ve been working a lot more than that. You turn to your email inbox. The tide of unanswered emails has risen still further in the last week.

One email catches your eye: “please complete attached business plan template”.

You open the email with a sinking heart. Once a year, you have to write a business plan which some of your colleagues then evaluate. They then get the chance to challenge you, as part of a process to improve your plan. Sounds familiar?

Our research so far shows that it’s not a task you relish; actually it’s not one that most professionals relish. It’s uncomfortable, and it feels irrelevant. Even though chargeable work is exhausting, you’d prefer to stick to that rather than venture into the unknown territory of business planning. And once it’s done, you’ll just go back to your 50-chargeable-hour weeks anyway. Will anything really change? Still, you’d feel guilty if you didn’t follow the process – and in any case, you simply have to!

Also, the questions in the template are challenging. “How will you contribute more to business development activities in the coming year?” “List at least three ways in which you will improve key client profitability.” “Identify cross-selling opportunities for the firm for each of your five largest clients.”

Perhaps it’s right that the planning process should be challenging. After all, to succeed in highly competitive markets, you need to stay alert and keep asking yourself questions. But questions like these make you feel bad, even as you try to answer them. Are you setting yourself up to fail? After all, you never know whether whatever you write will happen. Mandates do not come in by writing stuff in templates…

So IS it right that the planning process should be challenging? What would change if you were to approach business planning with a whole different set of questions? A more tender and more appreciative set of questions questions that don’t trigger the fear of failure? Questions that lead you to outcomes that you would love to achieve, ideas that you are happy to embrace? How about the following:

  • What business outcomes, over the next year or two, would put a smile on your face?
  • If you were only allowed to achieve five things this year, what would they be? And what if you were only allowed to achieve one?
  • Which client do you like best? And how could you grow your business with them? How could you make it a real win-win? And ensure you can do more work with people you like?
  • What would your favourite clients want you to write in your business plan?
  • Which one client most drains your enjoyment of work? How are you going to change that? You can’t change it? How are you going to get rid of them?
  • Is your health part of your business plan? What needs to be in your plan and what one step do you commit to taking?
  • How can you bring more fun, play and energy to your work in the coming year?
  • How can you make your team a more enjoyable group? What can you do to smile more and put smiles on people’s faces?
  • How do you want to feel one year from today?

How do you like the answers to these questions? What is the energy balance when you look at these questions? How will you make them part of your plan?


Try a little tenderness. It may help you to come up with a plan that is full of positive energy, energy that helps you to actually do what you have set out to do.

(This is a joint post, co-written with Charles Kingsmill of