5 Steps to Simpler Planning

There’s and old cliché that says companies don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan. The truth is that while companies who don’t plan may not fail, they often fall far short of their potential and struggle more than companies that conduct some thoughtful planning.

The two most frequently cited reasons people give for not planning are that one, they don’t have time and two, circumstances change too quickly for a plan to be useful. The problem with this thinking is that managers of plan driven companies have the same issues to deal with. What they also have is the knowledge and experience to know that everything is made easier when they prioritize planning into their calendars. What they’ve learned is that even the simplest planning will put their employees on the same page and can get everyone rowing together in the same direction. If you’re avoiding planning, your people are probably less productive and may unintentionally be working against each other.

I’m not suggesting that when you plan you’ll get everything you plan for or that it’ll stand the test of time. To the contrary, you should expect to revisit and adjust the plan every six months or quarterly if you’re in a fast changing industry. Planning is not a game of perfection. It’s an imperfect process but it’s fair to say that any planning, even bad planning sometimes, is better than none at all.

The goal then is to make planning simple, easy and flexible. Here are 5 steps to make your process easier.

1. Choose one or two big goals everyone can focus on
You want the entire company to rally around the most important issues. Choose something that challenges the organization and generates energy and creativity. Engage the team in “seeing” what it will look like when the goals are reached. Be clear about what a successful outcome looks like. It’s important that the goals be communicated in positive terms that will enlist the support of the team. Dream a little.

Too many goals can confuse and de-energize a group. It’s better to have a few things completed and done well than a lot started but not finished. Too many goals may mean you’re focused on tasks instead of goals and your sights are set too low.

2. Generate the best approach to achieve each goal
Use brainstorming or a similar process with your team to compile a list of activities needed to reach the goal. Have fun with the process. Evaluate each one for its risk, affordability and likeliness to get the results you’re looking for. Don’t look for the perfect solution. It doesn’t exist. Anticipate potential problems and how you’ll deal with them, but don’t let old history or negative naysayers prevent you from trying new methods or taking some risk. What you can be sure about is that if you don’t do things different in the future, the future will look a lot like today. Change is never easy for some, but it’s necessary for everyone.

3. Commit the resources and set the schedule.
Few things will turn off a team to planning than not being given the tools or the time to put the plan into action. Make reasonable estimates of what will be needed, especially the time that needs to be put into working on activities of the goal and how it will be balanced with the ordinary work facing team members every day. Make it a priority and demonstrate your commitment to the work by making time available. New activities associated with a new goal shouldn’t be added to an already burdened staff. Be specific too about who has what responsibility and the expectation for completing the work. Too many goals are missed because assignments and deadlines were unclear, then when it gets busy, activities of the goal are the first to be set aside.

4. Implement the plan
This seems like such an easy step but I’ve seen good plans struggle and run aground due to a lack of attention to implementation. Document and circulate the actions, the persons assigned to carry out the work , and when it will be completed. Then release the team to begin.

5. Monitor and adjust
Arguably this may be the most important part of planning. Nothing will stay on track without regular attention and communication. You don’t live in a static world so you should expect to run into a few obstacles that will require the plan to change. That won’t be a problem as long as you stay on top of the plan as it progresses. Regular meetings with the team to work out the kinks and individual meetings to support and help those with the task assignments will let everyone know you’re interested and committed to the goals.

Planning doesn’t have to be difficult or sophisticated. A little effort and some common sense can have a big impact on what a business can achieve.

If you’d like to talk more about how to make planning simple and useful, respond to my post or use the “contact us” tab on this page to reach me.

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