"No matter how long the journey, it is completed one step at a time."
- Ancient Somebody
When this recession (which is causing acute depression) first reared its ugly head, I remember Googling "Great Depression" to get a sense of what we might be in for.
I even attended a live performance of Grapes of Wrath after having revisited the classic movie on DVD, starring Henry Fonda, just to experience what might turn out to be a real life rerun.
My question was, why do all these people look so sad, beat ... and you guessed it ... depressed?
This article is directed at anybody responsible for leading people. Why plan? Simply put, "If everything is in your head; how do you expect others to know what's going on?" Do you hire mind readers? Getting all of your knowledge and wisdom out, so your people aren't working in the dark, does wonders for organizational productivity.
When you lay your cards on the table with those you are charged with leading several things happen.
- Misinformation is brought to light.
- Stating assumptions allows your team to provide you with more up to date and possibly more accurate intelligence.
- Everyone has a context, a big picture, in which to place their piece of the puzzle.
- And most important of all - it shows your people you trust them. People who feel trusted are more inclined to offer their trust.
Whenever I ask people what's the most important piece of information they need to have to get somewhere most people reply, "Where you're going." We've all heard the old adage, "If you don't know where you're going; any road/direction will do."
I have a slightly different point of view. I think the most important piece of information needed when working out how you're going to get somewhere is "Where are you now?"
In business, we need to have a clear picture of where we are now. No sugar coating. No whitewashing. No polite euphemisms, but a brutally, truthful picture of our current situation. We need to take an immodest look at our strengths and a humble assessment of our weaknesses. We need the insight of both wisdom acquired from experience and the naivety of innocence as we examine and balance the opportunities and threats presented to us.
We're not likely to get candid intelligence from our people if we haven't been open and candid with them.
I'm not going to write about goal setting and developing tactical plans for how you're going to achieve your strategic objectives, but I would like to leave you with a comment or two about monitoring your plan and adjusting your actions to the seas in which you find yourself as time goes by.
Ship's Captain's monitor their charts, make notes and adjust direction in response to the wind and the sea. It's no less important that we see planning as an ongoing day in, day out process. Once we're comfortable that we have as clear a picture of where we are as we could afford to create, given our time, manpower and financial resources. And once we've written our goals and milestones down along with timelines and who's to accomplish them, we need to monitor our progress and keep clear records of what transpires.
Write in clear, complete sentences so people can come along tomorrow or six months from now or years from now and understand what happened.
That way we're able to put our assumptions to the test. And in the future when circumstances have changed and someone suggests an idea that may have failed in the past we can understand why it failed and we can make informed decisions as to whether the time may now be right for even an old idea.
The number one reason for engaging in the planning process is to capture knowledge and put it to work.
Knowledge that only the leader possesses is a handicap for the team. Open your mind and dump all of your wisdom on the table. Let everyone play with it. It's kind of like Lego pieces. We've all heard that none of us is as smart as all of us. So be nice and share your knowledge and others will share with you. We'll snap the pieces, the ideas together. And together, we will catch our limit.
Gayle Turner is a consultant with Catch Your Limit Consulting, a management and marketing firm with offices in Tallahassee, Florida and Richmond, Virginia. He is a keynote speaker, facilitator and contributing author for international, national and regional publications. To learn more, visit www.catchyourlimit.com.
Examples of "simple planning" from a Google search: Simple party planning, simple meal planning, simple exercise planning, simple financial planning (begs the question, why didn't the financial institutions follow their own advice?), simple funeral planning, simple health care planning, simple planning for education, simple vacation planning, simple wedding planning, simple ways to easy planning, really simple strategic planning, etc., ... 68,100,000 results to be exact.
Planning is all around us. Everybody must be doing it. I mean, the call to arms is, what's the plan, man?!
And yet, how many of us really plan or have plans that we not only map out, but actually follow, make midcourse corrections and ultimately evaluate how we did or if we did it in the first place (you know, the look yourself in the mirror test).
New Year's Resolutions are a great example of all talk and no walk.
- One, most of us have committed our resolutions to memory (usually only one to three resolutions anyway).
- Two, we simply recite our resolution at the appointed hour just like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. We don't even bother listening to our own words, we just do it because ... well ... because we just do it. Everybody does ... that's why.
- And, three, we all have an unwritten rule not to call each other out. You don't tell me I have used the same resolutions without resolution for 34 years, if I don't tell you yours are even older, unrealized, blabbering words used only to accompany the champagne toast that precedes the hugs and kisses.
It's no surprise then, that only 8% of us actually do anything at all with our New Year's Resolutions. That's only one out of 12 of us (and frankly, I think the percentage is lower than that). I can't recall anyone I know having done them. Giving something up for Lent seems to have a higher participation rate.
So what's the deal? Who follows any of the 68,100,000 simple plans Google spits out anyway? Who really plans for the future, must less the present?
Why plan? What are the benefits? Not the features ... we all know those. Get it in writing. Define reasonable objectives and strategic solutions to accomplish them, hold someone(s) accountable, have beginning, middle and end timelines (steps along the way), define resource allocations and ultimately, design a way to evaluate how you did (and, whether you did anything in the first place ... think New Year's Resolutions).
Those are the features of a plan and the planning process. Again, what are the benefits? What's in it for me?
By the way, scare tactics don't seem to work. You know, "failing to plan is planning to fail." Remember, if majority of us are planning to fail, we are at least in good company. So, what are the benefits already?
- Planning better defines the course of action that we propose to undertake
- Planning gives a rough estimate of the time required for a project
- Planning gives us a fairly good idea about the expenses involved in the project. In fact a budget is only a financial plan
- Planning helps us to get prepared for emergencies that may arise during the course of the project
- A well thought out plan gives us a clear idea about want is to be done every day, every week and every month
- Planning helps avoid duplication of labor
- A plan gives everyone a clear idea of their respective role in the project
Certainly planning alone does not produce results; it is a means, not an end in itself. The plans have to be implemented to produce results. However, well-developed plans increase the chances that the day-to-day activities will lead to desired results. Planning helps us focus on the right priorities, and it improves the process of people working together as they pursue these priorities.
So, I can't promise that people who plan will have their hair or teeth longer than others, or truly become more successful in their endeavors, but I can tell you they will hedge their bets immensely. Because planning is a discipline, and requires focus, accountability and is action/outcome oriented, odds are you will accomplish your goals more often with a planning process and plan than without. Even great poker players don't leave a whole lot to chance.
Dwight Eisenhower, when contemplating the plan for Operation Overlord (the code name for the invasion of Normandy and northwest Europe during World War II) said, "Plans are nothing. Planning is everything." His view was that, while both are necessary, plans by their very nature are nothing but static documents while planning is a responsive and dynamic action that brings focus to uncertainty.
Peter Drucker gave the world one of my most favorite quotes, "The only way to predict the future is to create it." The best way to create it is to plan, act, evaluate, learn, wash, rinse and repeat.
The key is to create a road map to your vision of the future and take the accountability for defining and taking the action steps needed to see that you (and all involved) get there.
This may be what it takes to truly say, Happy New Year, year in and year out.
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As a professor, entrepreneur and consultant, Catch Your Limit's President, Tom Laughon, has immersed himself in studying the dynamics of organizational thinking, creativity and innovation.