Category Archives: Planning Skills

How to Write a Personnel Plan

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

As our company looks to its annual planning meeting, I have been asked to prepare a personnel plan for my department. I have never thought about it before. When we get busy, I hire someone.

Many companies are faced with increasing volume, more revenue, more customers, more transactions, more inventory, in short, more work. And that’s the place to start. Define the work.

Start by defining the output, its quality standard, how much and where it ends up (the market).

  1. Steps required to create the output.
  2. Oversight required to implement the output, monitoring pace of output, quality of output, quantity of output related to target.
  3. Systems required to create consistency of output, predictability of output, to determine necessary resources. This would include not only the core systems (functions), but also the supporting systems (functions) necessary to create the output.
  4. Oversight required to implement all the systems together at the same time, optimized and integrated.

In the list above, I have described four different levels of work, each requiring a different level of problem solving and a different level of decision making.

Your department may only require three levels or two levels of work. It depends on your company business model, and whether your department is a core function in that business model, or a supporting function. Your personnel plan starts by defining the work.

The Curse of a Manager

“You look off-balance,” I said.

Renee shook her head. “Ever since I was promoted to sales manager, things are different. When I was on the sales team, things were exciting, always a new customer, a deal in limbo, a sale that closes, a sale that gets stalled. But there was always action. As sales manager, I only get to hear about that stuff from other people. I get to coach, but I never get to play.”

“What else is different?” I asked.

“When I was a salesperson, I was always focused on the day, or the week, at most a month or a quarter. Sure, I had my annual sales goals, but mostly, I only looked at what was right in front of me.” Renee took a breath. “Now, I live in the world of annual sales goals. My decisions are centered around how many salespeople on the team, which one is going off the rails, gauging whether our sales backlog is within the capacity of operations. Not very exciting stuff. And budgets. I am not just thinking about this year, I have to think about next year. The ops manager wants to invest in some automation and wants to know if I can generate enough sales to pay for it over the next three years.”

“So, the biggest difference is time span. You use to measure your success, or failure by the day or the week. You got constant juice from your deal flow,” I replied. “Now, there is no juice. You are working on goals that won’t be completed for one to two years. Oh, sure, you will soon know whether you are making progress, soon enough, but you won’t hold the result in your hands for quite some time. It’s the curse of a manager.

“But, here’s the thing,” I continued. “If all you ever think about is the next deal, the next customer, if everything you think about is short-term, then thinking about what needs thinking about, never becomes a priority. Planning never happens. Your ability to plan, your ability to think long-term atrophies. Making short moves in the needle is easy. Making large moves in the needle takes time. Most managers are too impatient to do that kind of thinking. They would rather get the juice.”

The Uncertainty of the Future

“You look absorbed in something,” I observed.

Abbe looked up from her desk. “Yes, I have this project coming up. Never worked on a project like this before. Don’t know anyone who has worked on a project like this before. Risky. Not devastating risk, but this project could go sideways fast.”

“And?” I asked.

“I am trying to think about projects we have completed in the past that could help me figure out this new project,” she replied.

“Looking for patterns in past projects will only help you so much. It helps you understand the past. But we live, going forward into the future. And we cannot predict the future. There is uncertainty and ambiguity. Planning helps, but even the best plan rarely survives its train-wreck with reality. We cannot control the future. The best we can do is be clear about our intentions. And prepare ourselves for that uncertainty.”

Running One Project Different from Ten Projects

“So, Roger. I want you to think about something. You did well on the first project we gave you. So we gave you another project. That means two projects,” I explained. “You were doing so well, we gave you a third project and a fourth project. With a fifth project, you are beginning to struggle. You short cut the planning, your schedules are breaking down and things are being forgotten.”

“I guess I didn’t realize,” Roger started. “You see, I have been keeping all that stuff in my head. I am pretty smart, have a good short term memory, so keeping track of the details for one or two projects is pretty easy. The more you gave me to do, the more I had to start writing things down. It’s a different way of keeping track of things for me. I used to just remember.”

“Roger, I want you to think about this. I am not going assign you more projects right now, but if I did, if I assigned you five more projects on top of the five projects you already have, what would you have to do differently to manage all of that detail?”

“I would probably have to put in some overtime,” Roger replied.

“No overtime. What would you have to do differently to accomplish ten projects in the same time that you now run five projects?”

Yes, Managerial Execution Like a Dictator

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Can you talk about the difference between a dictatorial management approach and a collaborative management approach?

Execute like a dictator!

No kidding.  Execution often requires precision sequences of skilled behavior.  Execute like a dictator.

But to be effective at execution (like a dictator) requires two things.

  • Collaborative planning
  • Practice (perfect practice)

So, there is a time for collaboration and a time for explicit direction.  And effective explicit direction does not (cannot) occur without collaboration in planning.

In football, collaborative planning is called skull practice.  Off the field, in a room, no pads and no football.  The group assembles around a chalkboard (whiteboard) and there are fierce discussions about problems and solutions, roles and assignments.  At the end, even if there is disagreement among the players, they still pull together.  People will support a world they help to create.

Skull practice is followed by perfect practice on the field, hours of it.

But, during the game, work instructions are short, often shouted,  There is no time in the moment of execution to discuss who is going to carry the ball.  But, effective execution only works when it is preceded by collaborative planning and perfect practice.


All This Work, Wasn’t For Them

“What was the major benefit of this exercise?” I asked. For the past week, we had been planning intensive. Every meeting with every company was about their plan for the year. It was over. The confetti was on the floor and all the marching bands had gone home.

Last week, I met with three different groups, each group member presenting their plan they had worked so hard to create. The groups had ripped them apart and put them back together.

I was packing my flipchart. Emily was hanging around. I stopped packing and asked her again, “What was the major benefit of this exercise?”

“You know, at first, I thought I was preparing this plan to show my group how smart I was, how I had everything together. Everything was geared toward this meeting, but now that it’s over, I realize, all this work wasn’t for them.”

“No, it wasn’t,” I confirmed.

“It was for me. It was for me to get my head straight for the year.” Emily smiled and tucked her plan under her arm. “Gotta, go. Gotta go, get’er done.”

Our online program, Hiring Talent 2013, kicks off January 25. Pre-registration is now open.

Make Me a Promise, and Keep It

“Where’s the beef?” Marilyn shouted.

Paul was standing at the front. For the past ten minutes, he had been explaining his plan for the year. At the end of his presentation, I broke the group into four teams of three. Each team had two minutes to prepare three questions. His presentation had been nice.

“Where’s the beef?” repeated Marilyn. “You say, this year, you are going to try to become the premier service provider in the tri-county area, by exceeding the expectations of your customers. But I don’t know what that means. It sounds like the same thing your competitor is saying. It’s all fluff, meaningless. If I was your customer, (and, by the way, I am), and you told me that, I would think you are full of crap.

“If you are going to exceed my expectations, I want you to define your service level. How long will it take for you to respond on-site? To what specifications will the work be done? What kind of written guarantee will you sign? Will I pay exactly what you quoted on the phone for the work?

“Get specific. If you want to become the premier provider, you can’t just say it; you have to get specific about your level of service. You don’t have to exceed my expectations. Just make me a promise and keep it.”

Our online program, Hiring Talent 2013, kicks off on January 25. Pre-registration is now open.

Calling an Audible on Every Play?

“So, it’s January 10, and you are all assembled here to present your plans for the year. First, I want you to know how unique this is. Most organizations, in spite of the push for planning, are still in the writing process and will likely never finish their plan. This means they will continue to run their companies without any strategic direction.”

This is my speech today to an executive group assembled for the sole purpose of grilling each other about their 2013 Business Plans.

“These companies will be subject to the whims of the marketplace. They will react as best they can without a plan. It’s like calling an audible on the football field for every play of the game. Without a plan, you can’t exploit a market, wear down a competitor, take market share, open a new line, create a new department, establish a new branch. You can’t do any of those things calling audibles.

“It’s ten days into the new year and you know what you want. Today, you will likely get beat up by this executive group. Tomorrow, you will be ready to present this plan to your teams back at the office. You are ready to be a more effective leader.”

Our online program, Hiring Talent 2013, kicks off January 25. Pre-registration is now open.

Not Sophisticated, but Effective

“It seems we just get so busy that we forget to have follow-up meetings about our annual plan,” said Joyce. “We get busy, and before you know it, summer’s almost gone.”

“Do you have a 2013 calendar?” I asked.

“Well, yes, I think I have three.”

“Well, pick the one you are going to use this year and call a meeting,” I said. “And tell everyone to bring their calendars. This is not a very sophisticated management skill, but it works every time. Right, now, while your annual plan is fresh on everyone’s mind, schedule your follow-up meetings.

  • April – half day to review first quarter.
  • July – half day to review second quarter.
  • October – half day to review third quarter.

“Get them on the calendar, now, so as time marches on, those dates are already protected.

“Schedule one to two full days in December to review the fourth quarter and to finalize plans for 2014. That’s it. Now, you have a follow-up plan in place. You will get busy, that’s why you have to schedule this stuff, now.”

Our online program, Hiring Talent 2013, kicks off on January 25. Pre-registration is open now.


“What do you think is stopping you from creating a plan for this year?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Dawson. “Sometimes, it seems like just an exercise that we go through every year. You know, it’s January, we have to have a plan.”

“I don’t think you know what you want,” I challenged.

“That’s not true!!! I know what I want. We have a new product we are trying to get out of the ground and a new branch we want to open in the north part of the state. There is a new market we want to go after by repackaging one of our existing services. There is a lot of stuff we want to do.”

“Good,” I said. “Now, draw 3 pictures for me, one for the new product, one for the new branch and one for the new market.”

Have you written down your action plan for 2013? What is the benefit of writing it down?