A common failure in many kinds of planning is that the plan is never really implemented. Instead, all focus is on writing a plan document. Too often, the plan sits collecting dust on a shelf. Therefore, most of the following guidelines help to ensure that the planning process is carried out completely and is implemented completely — or, deviations from the intended plan are recognized and managed accordingly.
Going back to the reference to systems, it’s critical that all parts of the system continue to exchange feedback in order to function effectively. This is true no matter what type of system. When planning, get input from everyone who will responsible to carry out parts of the plan, along with representative from groups who will be effected by the plan. Of course, people also should be involved in they will be responsible to review and authorize the plan.
New managers, in particular, often forget that others don’t know what these managers know. Even if managers do communicate their intentions and plans verbally, chances are great that others won’t completely hear or understand what the manager wants done. Also, as plans change, it’s extremely difficult to remember who is supposed to be doing what and according to which version of the plan. Key stakeholders (employees, management, board members, funders, investor, customers, clients, etc.) may request copies of various types of plans. Therefore, it’s critical to write plans down and communicate them widely. For more guidelines in this regard, see
Basics of Writing and Communicating the Plan
SMARTER is an acronym, that is, a word composed by joining letters from different words in a phrase or set of words. In this case, a SMARTER goal or objective is:
For example, it’s difficult to know what someone should be doing if they are to pursue the goal to “work harder”. It’s easier to recognize “Write a paper”.
It’s difficult to know what the scope of “Writing a paper” really is. It’s easier to appreciate that effort if the goal is “Write a 30-page paper”.
If I’m to take responsibility for pursuit of a goal, the goal should be acceptable to me. For example, I’m not likely to follow the directions of someone telling me to write a 30-page paper when I also have to five other papers to write. However, if you involve me in setting the goal so I can change my other commitments or modify the goal, I’m much more likely to accept pursuit of the goal as well.
Even if I do accept responsibility to pursue a goal that is specific and measurable, the goal won’t be useful to me or others if, for example, the goal is to “Write a 30-page paper in the next 10 seconds”.
It may mean more to others if I commit to a realistic goal to “Write a 30-page paper in one week”. However, it’ll mean more to others (particularly if they are planning to help me or guide me to reach the goal) if I specify that I will write one page a day for 30 days, rather than including the possibility that I will write all 30 pages in last day of the 30-day period.
The goal should stretch the performer’s capabilities. For example, I might be more interested in writing a 30-page paper if the topic of the paper or the way that I write it will extend my capabilities.
I’m more inclined to write the paper if the paper will contribute to an effort in such a way that I might be rewarded for my effort.
Plans should specify who is responsible for achieving each result, including goals and objectives. Dates should be set for completion of each result, as well. Responsible parties should regularly review status of the plan. Be sure to have someone of authority “sign off” on the plan, including putting their signature on the plan to indicate they agree with and support its contents. Include responsibilities in policies, procedures, job descriptions, performance review processes, etc.
It’s OK to deviate from the plan. The plan is not a set of rules. It’s an overall guideline. As important as following the plan is noticing deviations and adjusting the plan accordingly.
During the planning process, regularly collect feedback from participants. Do they agree with the planning process? If not, what don’t they like and how could it be done better? In large, ongoing planning processes (such as strategic planning, business planning, project planning, etc.), it’s critical to collect this kind of feedback regularly.
During regular reviews of implementation of the plan, assess if goals are being achieved or not. If not, were goals realistic? Do responsible parties have the resources necessary to achieve the goals and objectives? Should goals be changed? Should more priority be placed on achieving the goals? What needs to be done?
Finally, take 10 minutes to write down how the planning process could have been done better. File it away and read it the next time you conduct the planning process.
Far too often, primary emphasis is placed on the plan document. This is extremely unfortunate because the real treasure of planning is the planning process itself. During planning, planners learn a great deal from ongoing analysis, reflection, discussion, debates and dialogue around issues and goals in the system. Perhaps there is no better example of misplaced priorities in planning than in business ethics. Far too often, people put emphasis on written codes of ethics and codes of conduct. While these documents certainly are important, at least as important is conducting ongoing communications around these documents. The ongoing communications are what sensitize people to understanding and following the values and behaviors suggested in the codes.
A prominent example of this type of potential problem is when planners don’t prefer the “top down” or “bottom up”, “linear” type of planning (for example, going from general to specific along the process of an environmental scan, SWOT analysis, mission/vision/values, issues and goals, strategies, objectives, timelines, etc.) There are other ways to conduct planning. For an overview of various methods, see (in the following, the models are applied to the strategic planning process, but generally are eligible for use elsewhere):
Basic Overview of Various Planning Models
It’s easy for planners to become tired and even cynical about the planning process. One of the reasons for this problem is very likely that far too often, emphasis is placed on achieving the results. Once the desired results are achieved, new ones are quickly established. The process can seem like having to solve one problem after another, with no real end in sight. Yet when one really thinks about it, it’s a major accomplishment to carefully analyze a situation, involve others in a plan to do something about it, work together to carry out the plan and actually see some results. So acknowledge this — celebrate your accomplishment!