By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International 11/18/2012
Takeaways: Overcoming planning mistakes requires some strategic thinking up front to ensure all the possible outcomes and issues have been addressed.
I recently had the opportunity to address a group of folks who are undergoing some community-wide leadership training. The topic I was asked to focus on is strategic planning and I tied some leadership issues into the process. I am about to describe a couple of examples of planning mistakes that were takeaways from this session and offer some possible lessons from them.
Imagine you are a coordinator for public services. This could be related to municipal waste management, child protection services or perhaps court administration. You are informed that a new building is being constructed and are told which departments or activities will be moved to the new building. To that end, the people in charge of the planning interview you and your teammates to gain insight about the best use of the new spaces where you will be working. You provide the input and everyone involved walks away with the impression that all the needs and details have been adequately handled.
The new building goes up and suddenly you realize that the way the spaces have been laid out – in the way of room size, number of rooms and layouts – actually produces a large amount of wasted, generally little-used space. In addition, the types of users of those spaces and the number of users were not really considered. The planners and designers made some assumptions along the way that were incompletely informed. Their intent was good, just not fully informed.
What do you think went wrong? What may have been missing from the process? Who should be held accountable?
Clearly defined vision is needed
Here are my suggested learnings from this example:
- It seems highly probable that a key missing element may have been a clearly defined set of desired outcomes for the public that will be served at that location. Basically, keeping the customer in mind, always.
- Not enough time was devoted to laying out the process and the structure for the planning. A little more time devoted to this might have resulted in keeping all the stakeholders, including you, informed, involved and engaged by asking why you thought certain things should be a certain way, all the way up to the end of the project.
- Once the initial consultation with you had taken place, the leader of the planning process could have held a brief meeting for the express purpose of laying out how you and the other stakeholders could continue to provide input. Those responsible for executing the project have ultimate decision-making authority but their decisions could have been better informed.
Accountability is subjective, to some degree of course. However, if you are coordinating public services, are you not accountable for how they are delivered and aren’t the facilities an integral part to how effectively those services are delivered? Consider for a moment that you might be engaged in coordinating services for family mediation.
Is it not really valuable to the family attending a counseling session that the environment they are in during such a session be of an appropriate size and have the right furniture to ensure a comfortable and safe environment?
Here is where leadership is also part of the conversation. You are experienced in coordinating these public services and understand the needs of your customers because you are on the front lines, right? Your leadership could be in play by setting up your own structure to stay involved in the planning and execution of the new building so you can keep asking the question “ Why?”, making you accountable to yourself for ensuring a good delivery of services to your customers. Others don’t need to ask you to do it, you just do it as part of your job of being a high performer.
That’s the first level of leadership – Self – followed by One-to-One, Within Departments, Between Departments, Organization-Wide, and then the Organization’s Environment.
Now for another example…..
Let’s say you operate a real estate brokerage with four employees and two months have gone by since you created a strategic plan. This plan outlines the broad strategies that your business is to follow over the next three years. You have established a vision for your business, assessed how the future environment may affect your business, established some key success measures, assessed the current state of your business, outlined those broad strategies, and now must define the major action items that will help you close the gap from today’s reality to your future vision.
Again, I ask: What do you think is going wrong? What may have been missing from the process? Who should be held accountable?
- First, what strikes me as missing is actually typical of many long-term planning efforts, but probably more common in smaller organizations. Let’s acknowledge that planning takes time and in a small business this means time away from DOING the business, or time away from maintaining a balance in your life. You feel you have created your plan and that’s enough, it’s time to get back to business, right? I say “NOT YET!”
- You still should spend some time putting the structures and processes in place that clearly outline the expectations and accountabilities of everyone involved in working the plan.
- The structures could simply be a calendar of meetings that everyone agrees are mandatory.
- The processes could simply be the owner sharing a series of agendas that the meetings will follow and assigning roles to the staff, like someone to send out reminders, someone else to take minutes of the meeting and someone to gather input from the others on specific topics before the meetings.
Essentially what is going wrong is there is nothing in place to make the plan sustainable. It’s two months after the planning session and you still don’t have action plans and a calendar to follow up. Do you agree with this? Do you sense the plan is already forgotten?
Now, what do you think the next steps are after the long-term plan is completed? Is it complete? I propose it is missing two key parts. One already mentioned is that the major actions are missing that need to be acted upon over time to keep closing the gap toward the vision. These actions are supported by the key success measures also previously mentioned, but they must be clearly written out to serve as references and checkpoints.
Another missing piece is what you can call a Yearly Map of Implementation. This is a schedule of meetings and actions that the business owner or CEO must set up as the strategic planning “retreat or meeting” is concluded. This Yearly Map includes the periodic meetings of the staff (to formally check progress against the plan and make adjustments), specific tasks the owner/CEO must do monthly to hold him/herself accountable to the plan and to check in with, mentor and coach the employees in staying true to the plan.
If your plans, short term or long term, seem to fall short of achieving their stated outcomes you might consider reading more of our articles and exploring how our customized coaching and consulting services can help you improve your organization’s performance. Just contact us to schedule a no obligations interview to determine your needs and how we might help.
Whether you are a non-profit seeking to maximize your fund-raising, an auto-repair shop facing challenges in growing the business, a department or a division of a larger organization or a thriving organization looking to sustain a high level of performance, we can help. Our passion for long-term, sustainable, high performance in managing organizations can help you save money, make your employees and customer happier, and your organization’s future more controllable.