Ready, Fire, Aim!
How the lack of planning hinders team performance
By Frank Manfre
All too often, teams begin working hard on action items without thorough planning to assess the risks and potential rewards, or worse, without metrics and accountability in place. The result is usually a lot of friction but very little heat; in other words, activity without measurable, relevant results. If you are fortunate, you will have someone on your team brave enough to ask, “Why is this action important? How does it support our strategic objective?” Taking time to reflect, conduct research, and engage all of your team in evaluating different approaches is a sound investment that will yield great results.
In Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice comes to a fork in the road and asks the Cheshire Cat which road she should take. He replies by asking where she wants to go, and she says she is unsure. He replies that it then does not matter which road she takes.
That metaphor fits many businesses. I always advocate starting with the end in mind, i.e., where do you want to end up? Only then can you begin to formulate plans and action items to get there.
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
A useful planning tool is the SMART Goal form*. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. An organization or team starts with 5-6 SMART goals that are understood by all stakeholders who know why they are important and how they will be measured. Then individual SMART goals are created to support those organizational higher-level goals, with one being a specific personal skills development goal. In each case the following information is captured:
- Name of team or person
- Date started
- SMART Goal number
- Description of goal
- Target date for completion
- People needed to achieve goal
- Other resources needed to achieve goal
- I’ll know its completed when (metric)…
- Action steps
- Action step target completion dates
- Dates for status updates on action steps—reviewed as a team or individual to review with manager
All winning teams and organizations have a strategic, tactical, and operational plan developed with input from all stakeholders. However, don’t treat your plan as etched in stone and sacred. Too many times, I have seen business leaders and sports coaches tenaciously stick with a well-developed plan long after it was obvious that the competition or the market had shifted.
Doggedly sticking to a plan that isn’t working may seem like you are an admirable person who doesn’t give up easily—until you are in the thick of the battle and your team is getting beaten badly. The world is a highly dynamic place. The best leaders and coaches adapt to “what is” and stop using tactics and plays based on what they thought would be happening. Leaders must face reality and at times stand up, and acknowledge, “We need a new plan because this one isn’t working.” That takes guts and humility, but if you are not willing to be wrong, you will never be original.
A confident, empowered leader might take the position going into a meeting with her staff that if she speaks first, the staff would withhold their honest opinions and usually agree with her. She knows what she thinks, but allowing others to speak first can yield some great, original ideas. What a great leadership lesson on listening to your people.
Acknowledging you don’t have all the answers and asking for their opinion will result in your team admiring and thanking you. Your stock will rise because you are acting like an authentic, credible, and yes, imperfect leader. People trust that. I was highly impressed when the CEO of a company I coached said in the face of a serious challenge, “I don’t know what the answer is. What do you all think?” In that moment of truth, he conveyed that a) “We are all in this together,” b) “I need your help and know you are up to the challenge,” and c) he was convinced that they would collectively figure it out. They did, and it became part of the lore and culture of that company. Would you follow that type of leader? I would! So be that type of leader.
Frank Manfre is an author, lecturer, business coach, and consultant based in Atlanta, Georgia, and serves on the board of directors of the Georgia Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.
* For a copy of a SMART Goal form, email firstname.lastname@example.org.