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Action Plans and why they fail

Without discipline and focus on the target, your project won’t even get off the ground

There is an African saying that roughly translated (and I take this on faith) states that next to “I shall do” you will always find “Not done yet”.

Maybe this rings true to most of you. If you are not a “must do” fan, then surely you have heard it all from politicians and inefficient managers. Especially in times of downturn, we should be hearing more “This is what we have achieved so far and that is what we expect to have completed by blah date”. Instead, we still hear what committees have to convene to examine the possible ways forward and propose alternative solutions which will generate plans. Sometime, somewhere over the rainbow, any day now. The road to unachieved change is paved with procrastination. There are loads of proverbs that describe how people will find excuses not to do something while putting up a show of trying to attempt it. On the corporate level, the tool most frequently employed to achieve this is known as an “action plan”. The two words seem to put together a contradiction in terms. In most cases they do. You spend too much time on planning and not enough on action. Semantics aside, action plans under any name are crucial if a team of people is to come together under certain guidance to achieve a specific goal. In a company where people pull out “We need an action plan” too often and leave it at that, the term simply becomes associated with sarcasm and is filed to the bottom of the priority pile. The truth is that we DO need action plans. So how do we go about getting them to work?

In order for an action plan to work, four statements must ring true:

  1. Management is backing it
  2. It is detailed and specific
  3. Everybody involved has bought in
  4. Progress is being monitored

If either of the above does not apply, the goal will most probably not be achieved. If Management is not behind it, people will realize this is not a priority and treat it as such (that’s right, good old human nature again). On the other hand even if managers are selling/pushing/imposing it day-in day-out, if people are not clear on what it is they are supposed to be doing deliverables will not be delivered. Finally, even if a plan is specific and precise, if nobody is following up it up it will ultimately fail.

So why do people take it more seriously when you refer to a Project Plan? Because it has a better reputation. It gets things done. It uses specific tools. It sets time frames and assigns responsibilities. It has a project manager whose purpose of existence is to see the plan through and deliver within budget and on time. Is there a message in there somewhere? Obviously. So where do we start? Well, first of all you need to determine the value of whatever it is you are thinking of drawing up an action plan for. Under current market conditions you need to be constantly questioning which projects and activities are adding value to your organization. Once you have determined that, yes this must be done, then start talking about it. Call in your team and ask for their input. It has to be clear where the buck stops but a Manager who arbitrarily goes about imposing his or her ideas on people runs the risk of rejection, passive resistance and of course missing something. You need different types of people in your brainstorming sessions: experts, visionaries, worker bees and at least one Omega type. Even if you can’t have the others, make sure you have an Omega. These are the types that disagree by default. They always find fault with the reasoning on the table. If allowed to get out of control they can destroy a team and stand in the way of anything getting done. If handled correctly they can be invaluable to the process. You can be sure that they will always find that one problem you overlooked. Whatever you do, don’t put together a team of yes-people. Otherwise don’t waste time on getting input.

The next step is to start putting your action plan into place. Involve people and get their buy-in. There are workshop tools for process building that can help these sessions be productive.

At the end of the process you should have a Plan. Everybody knows what is expected of them. With dates, milestones and measurable parameters. Finally you need control. You have defined what you want everybody to do, you have determined how you will measure progress. Now the whole process needs to be followed up. Relentlessly. No excuses for lack of adherence. Remember? Everybody involved has already signed off on the solution they contributed to.

In our new world we don’t have the luxury of missing opportunities or doing things in a half-assed way. It’s all about discipline. And just a while ago, from the perspective of a generation, we must admit, discipline has not been a strong point. Were this the case we would not be in the predicament we have found ourselves in today.

 
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Posted by on 14/10/2012 in Managing people

 

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The power of “?”

Everything is a Trade-off. Always.

How do we learn? By asking questions. This holds true for every aspect and stage of our life. Never underestimate the ability to ask the right questions. This is the only way to arrive at the right answers. The good student is the one that continuously bombards teachers with a barrage of questions. Good interview candidates ask good questions. Bright children ask intelligent questions. The best scientists ask the best questions. The sales people with the highest close ratios are the ones that base the sales process on specific types of question. There is no reason why an entrepreneur or a manager should be an exception. If you don’t ask questions you will end up with teams that aren’t geared towards having the right answers. Even worse, you will lose touch with your business/people/industry etc.

One of the most powerful questions a manager can ask is also childishly simple: “Why?”

Question everything. Remember, we are living in a rapidly changing reality. What was a good call three months ago may have disastrous results two months down the line.

Sit back and take a third eye look at your routine. Does it still make sense? Objectively and unemotionally? Did your ego shoot down somebody else’s idea? Are you avoiding meeting with a prospect for personal reasons? Are you not firing somebody when you should have done it six months ago? Are you still selling to a client that is no longer paying as agreed?

Question everything. Ask why you do this and not that. Question your sales reps’ results. Question the efficiency figures. Keep on asking until the answers you get make sense and satisfy you. You are the boss. It’s your job.

Train your people to answer questions directly. In most cases, especially if something has gone bad, you will ask what color and get an answer referring to taste… Don’t be afraid to say, “that’s not what I asked” until you sound like a broken record. Don’t be afraid to show your discontent after the second attempt to get a straight answer. The person sitting across the desk may not even be trying to avoid the question. It is a sign of professionalism to answer questions completely and accurately and for most people it is a skill to be acquired. Help your teams develop this skill. It will make for a much more efficient organization and should also help enhance the sense of responsibility of your people.

And of course don’t forget that other very powerful question: “Why not?”. This also gets the mind wondering why certain things are not done? You will be surprised by the number of cases in which the reason is emotional rather than rational.

 
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Posted by on 19/08/2012 in Management tips

 

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