When You Hate Planning... But Really, Really Need A Plan


It was a windowless conference room with beige colored walls. A few department representatives hung materials to be reviewed around the room. The big boss was absent and no one seemed willing to lead the weekly executive meeting. The first person on the agenda bravely broke the ice and began updating the team about a project on which she had been working.

We went around the table and each department head gave his or her spiel to this rather unenthusiastic audience. During the presentations, meeting attendees were either thinking about what he or she was going to say or more likely, “What does this project mean to me?” There was clearly a lot of work being done, but none of it seemed related. By the end of the meeting, no decisions had been made and next steps were unclear.

As a planner by nature, I abhor chaos. And as a recovering type-A personality, I detest wasting time. But that’s exactly what that meeting was… a complete waste of time. We were all frustrated.

Why did this happen? Because no one knew the plan. The plan was in the big boss’s head (if there was a plan at all). Unfortunately, the boss wasn’t in attendance and had not effectively communicated the grand plan to the rest of the executive team. Therefore, we were running as fast as we could in different directions. Within a year, most of the executives in the room that day ran out the door in a state of frustration and exasperation, because a rudderless ship is simply adrift.

Have you ever felt the frustration of being on a team without a plan? It feels like your work is pointless. And pointless work is a form of torture (seriously, despotic autocrats use pointless work to punish prisoners. Yikes!).

Most people hate the planning process and I don’t blame them. It can often seem like a daunting task. But remember, without a plan you’ll wind up with a disgruntled team looking to jump ship.

The purpose of a plan isn’t to fill a thick “deck” with useless information to impress people who will never read it. A plan simply aligns resources. In other words, let’s get everyone and everything on the same page and headed in the same direction. This helps to eliminate confusion, frustration and waste.

The two biggest objections I hear about the planning process are 1) it’s tedious and 2) it is too rigid (it doesn’t allow for flexibility). Let me address the first complaint: a plan shouldn’t be tedious. It should be simple. The best plans are written on one page. In fact, simple plans have a greater likelihood of being implemented effectively. Additionally, a simple plan actually allows for flexibility, which leads me to the second complaint. You are not writing the Ten Commandments. Plans should not be written in stone. They are living documents that evolve as the environment changes.

Here’s a simple planning approach that works on anything:

Step 1: What is your goal or what problem are you trying to solve? This should be specific, measurable and time-bound. This is your destination. Everyone on your team should know in which direction they should be paddling.

Step 2: Identify three strategies to accomplish your goal. Keep it simple. Complicated plans are rarely executed properly. If your plan has more than three strategies, it’s overly complicated.

Step 3: List the tactics to execute each strategy. Every person on your team should know how their job (tactics) supports at least one of the core strategies. This is where most of the plan’s flexibility occurs… in the details. Yes, the ship is still headed to Grand Cayman Island, but we’re going to steer around that oncoming storm.

The point of the plan is to arrive at your destination without driving your team crazy. Not only is having a plan more effective than not having a plan, but also more satisfying for your team to know how their work contributes to the achievement of the objective.

Sinking your toes into the warm sandy beaches of the Cayman’s is a lot better than running your ship aground, or having your team jump overboard, or staving off a mutiny. But you need a plan to get there.

I can help you develop a rock-solid strategic plan to accomplish your business goals. Contact me today at kentaylor@39consulting.com.

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