How does the cliché go? “The best plans of mice and men ….?” I have learned that the best plans are ones with clearly defined goals, clear directions of how you plan to accomplish goals, AND flexibility.

Let me share my experience regarding good plans that fell apart because directions were not clear or there was not a lot of flexibility. Example one has to do with a colleague that, to put it nicely, was not equipped for the position he was in. When his responsibility expanded to a larger territory and he had to work with people who were not down the hallway from him, he was overwhelmed. To build collaboration and get to know his team, he involved them, with little directions, in making the annual plan. What he got was very different input from one area of his territory to another. Instead of identifying these differences as strengths and weakness and sharing those strengths and weaknesses with his team, he cherry picked what he anticipated he needed and made his plan without further communicating with his subordinates. His plan focused a great deal on the numbers, and very little on the journey. He constantly referred to “the plan” in conversations with his team, but only to identify progress as it related to the numbers he’d chosen on his own. When it came to explaining success or shortfall, he never stopped to evaluate the reasons or engage the team in further dialogue (in fact closed his door to any discussion). This plan had too much wiggle room too little outline of the process necessary to reach prospective goals.

Next example involves a talented sales manager who was responsible for putting together a plan with a goal to increase sales over the previous year’s sales. Part of the plan was a matrix in which he chose to focus on a key aspect in his plan, face – to – face activity. When this manager met with his supervisor, the supervisor insisted on filling in the rest of the matrix for each team member. Even team members that hadn’t been hired yet! The matrix ended up being a distraction and gave a false sense of accomplishment. Accomplishing the matrix numbers did not necessarily result in increased sales. As much as good managers try to provide standard training and other similar tools for employees, the results are never standard. The team ended up with average salespeople who were really good at managing the matrix, or really good sales people who were frustrated because they were disciplined based on a matrix, rather than praised for their increased sales. The really good ones left the team.

Plans are important! Plans need to be something that help you accomplish goals, communicate clearly what your team needs and wants to accomplish and how. They are like a map: there is a beginning and an end, and lots of ways to get from point A to point B. Depending on your style, you can offer a specific route or may give parameters like get here by this time, and within this many miles.

Regardless of your style, your team needs the whole map, not just the end point, or a single travel route. They need it all. Like Matt Damon’s character states at the conclusion of “The Martian”, “At some point, things go south”. When that happens, information, training, and communication is power. Not just for you, or for your team, but for your entire organization.

Have a plan, review it regularly, and there is a much better chance that everyone will reach the end point successfully, together!

Having a Plan vs. Working a Plan
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