In the media – Thinking big, but managing complex tasks with a bite-size approach

– This article was published in Training Journal (October 2014)

To be successful in business we need to have a goal, a strategy and a plan. Many books have been written on the subject of business and personal planning. We are expected to work out what is really important to us; focus it into a vision or goal and be able to determine the steps needed to get there. But what if you can’t – and, even if you think you can, is the effort really worth it?

Planning is not a precise science. While it feels really good, cathartic even, to have created a comprehensive to-do list, it also gives a false sense of control. We can’t know what is going to happen tomorrow and so our plans will be ever-changing. The more complicated and comprehensive you make your plan the more guesswork you introduce and thus the more effort is required to keep it up to date as things change.

Former US President Woodrow Wilson was attributed as saying: “If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.” Rambling is easy, clarity takes effort.

Keeping your plan short and simple enough to be understood takes real effort and is a skill to be mastered. The real trick is in being clear about what needs to happen while leaving enough flexibility for your team to be creative and to be able to excel.

Seven steps to a simple plan:

  1. Be clear on your mission. It takes time to produce a good mission statement but when you have done so it will give everyone direction without them having to interpret a page full of words. Interpretation leads to inconsistency, which in turn leads to a loss of focus.
  2. Know your values. What is important to you and why? What rules do you live by and have the self-discipline to adhere to? Do you share them with your team? It doesn’t have to be a lot of words, in fact the fewer the better so long as it’s clear. This is how you expect your team to operate and how you will identify bad behaviour.
  3. Understand and define how you prioritise. How do you know what is important? And therefore how you will make important decisions? Which is more important your product, your team or your client? The answer isn’t always as straight forward as it might seem – Read Steve Jobs’ Biography or listen to Henry Ford. Knowing and communicating your answer will ensure that the right decisions are made consistently even when you are not there to make them.
  4. Focus. Define it, plan it, de-risk it, perform it with skill and diligence and deliver it well. It is amazing how a job well done delights both the producer and the recipient while also having the ability to unlock the next door and find new opportunities.
  5. Think about what is needed next – but not too hard. By this I mean don’t over analyse and define in the finest detail. Yes you will already know that in a year’s time you need bigger offices but the time to work out where is when you are ready to do so. You will have an idea of where you want to be but this could change before you need to move.
  6. Always keep learning. Successful entrepreneurs are always asking the question – so what did we learn from this? Every step of the way we will learn new things and this will inform our future actions. Share the learning with the team. Teach them what you have learned and encourage them, in turn, to share what they have learned.
  7. Keep the plan alive. How your plan looks and is presented is unimportant. The most important thing is that you don’t leave it alone. It’s not worth writing it down and sharing it unless it matters!

View the training Journal article

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