Tag Archives: planning

Slow Down to Go Fast

“If habits are connected to competence, why is that so important?” I asked.

“Sometimes, when I am faced with a problem, especially a new problem, that is difficult to solve,” Muriel was thinking out loud. “Competence is the ability to bring my thinking and resources to the problem quickly. Not just quickly, but easily. Almost like an instinct. Only I know it’s not instinct, because it is something I learned and had to practice,” she replied.

“Give me an example,” I said, looking for clarity.

“Okay, planning. As a manager, I know it is very tempting, when faced with a problem, to just jump in and solve it, dictate a course of action and move on. What I found was, that whenever I did that, I would fail to notice some critical element, misdirect my people and end up with my team losing its confidence in me.

“It took me a while to learn that I needed to slow down, get to the root cause of the problem, then create a plan. It was painful, in the beginning, because planning was not me.

“I would have to stop everything, clear the decks, drag out my books on planning. It was excruciating, worse, it took too long. Sometimes we would miss a deadline because the process took too long. It was difficult not to go back, jump in, dictate a course and move on, even if it was in the wrong direction.

“It was only when I committed the planning model to memory, that things began to change. Once I had it in my head, I could access the steps without having to look them up in my book. I began to break down every problem this way. Planning became quicker and quicker. Better yet, I was able to involve my team in creating the solution by using the steps. We seldom overlooked critical items. The best part was that everyone was on-board when we finished planning.

“Now, planning is a habit. My team does it all the time. It is a competence.”

And We Have a Winner!

“We have an idea for a new product line,” Alicia sounded off. “It’s a logical extension of our core product. We all think it will be a winner.”

“How are you going to fund the startup and who are you going to assign to this new project?” I asked.

“Well, that’s a problem. We are currently under a hiring freeze and while we have a budget for development, actually ramping into production is going to pinch,” she grimaced.

“What are you going to let go of?”

Alicia was a bit surprised. “We hadn’t really discussed shutting anything down.”

“Alicia, the biggest mistake that young companies make is that everything looks like an opportunity. Before long, all their resources are spread thin and their product portfolio is a hodgepodge. They can’t figure out if they are in the shoe business or the construction business.

“To be truly successful, the company has to decide on its focus, and create a discipline around that focus. Especially in times where resources are tight, we have to make sure we have enough staying power. This requires an approach of systematic abandonment. As you adapt to the market, it is important to cut off those projects that are no longer returning value.” -Tom

But, It’s Our Reputation

“But the project you are talking about abandoning is a service that we have provided for more than a decade. Our customers have come to expect it. Heck, part of our reputation stands on it,” Byron protested.

“So, is it your moral duty to continue something that is no longer producing results? Or can you accept that, what you are known for, once served a market, but that market was temporary? And that proud service no longer satisfies a customer need.” -Tom

Dead Horse

Byron was thinking back. “I think we have done what you suggested. Every year, in our annual business plan, we look at the cost structure in each of our project areas. And each year, we find one or two things that don’t quite measure up.”

“What was the last project that didn’t measure up,” I asked. “And what did you decide about it?”

Byron’s curiosity turned into a muffled laugh. “You’re right. Now that I think about it, the people involved, in the last project going south, negotiated more time and actually spent a ton of market research money to find out that there wasn’t as big a market as they thought. Their dwindling net profit went underwater the more they studied it.”

“And now?”

Byron shook his head. “They are still holding on to some hope that the market will turn around.”

“The answer is NOT, how can we make another research study? The answer is, how can we get out of this? Or, at least, how can we put a tourniquet on the bleeding?” -TF
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The failure to accomplish a goal does not prove that more efforts and resources are needed. The failure to accomplish a goal may indicate that efforts should be stopped and a different path should be taken.

Old Indian saying, “When the horse is dead, it is time to get off.” -Tom

Breeding Overhead

“I know how to say NO to new things coming up, but most of our troubles are from decisions we have already made,” Byron confided.

“Each year, don’t you review your decisions about what you will and will not do, including the cost structure for each of those decisions?” I asked.

“You mean, our budget?”

I nodded. “Yes, your budget. When you look at each budget item, whether it is a direct cost or an indirect cost, you have to ask this question.

“Is this absolutely necessary?

“If the answer is NO, get rid of it, dismantle it, idle it.

“If the answer is YES, move to the next question. What is the absolute minimum necessary to perform this function to our spec?” -Tom

Managerial Leadership is About What You Do

David was not surprised, but his disappointment was strong. “I don’t understand,” he started, then abruptly changed his pitch. “Yes, I do understand. I hired this guy, Marty, for a management position. He interviewed well, had all the buzzwords, you know, teamwork, synergy, empowerment. Heck, he even kept the book, Good to Great propped up on his desk the whole time he was here.”

“So, what was the problem?” I asked.

“The problem was, he never actually got anything done. We would meet, be on the same page, but the job never got done. The progress, during the time he was here, quite frankly, stood still.”

A few seconds ticked by. David looked up. He continued.

“You asked about the difference? I think I know the answer, now. The difference is execution. Words are fine, theories are fine, planning is fine, but the big difference in success is execution.”

“David, I often see this in my management program. Students come into the class thinking they will listen to a series of lectures, get the latest management techniques and life will be good. I talk about how education is often understanding certain technical information. I talk about how training is often motivational to make a person feel a certain way. But in my class, the focus is on execution. Quite frankly, I don’t care how much you know. I don’t care how you feel. I care about what you do.

“Some students,” I continued, “are surprised to find themselves, no longer sitting comfortably in their chairs listening to a lecture, but standing at the front of the class. I want them on their feet, out of their comfort zone. Leadership starts with thinking. Leadership is about who you are. But ultimately, managerial leadership is all about what you do.” -Tom

Time Span of Intention

This week, I shared a planning document (you can download it below), with the headline, “What is your intention?”

Elliott closed his last book with this notion of intention, in a drawing he described as, the most important illustration of his book, the Axis of Intention.

Planning is simply the documentation of your intention.

We have two dimensions of time, the past and the future, separated by the nanosecond of the present. Events that occur are measurable by a stopwatch. The melting point (time to melt) of a metal at a given temperature is predictable, can be scientifically documented. It is known, concrete, tangible.

In life, the Axis of Achievement (the past) is overlaid by the Axis of Intention (the future). What is your intention? What is the time span of your intention?

I get pushback on planning.

  • We don’t have time.
  • Actual results never meet the plan.
  • We might be held accountable for what we said.

We don’t have time to plan. Then what is the time span of your intention, that you don’t have time to consider your intention?
Actual results never meet the plan. Of course not, but actual results are shaped by the axis of your intention.
We might be held accountable for what we said. Accountability is output. Accountability is the reconciliation between these two dimensions of time –
The past, axis of achievement.
The future, axis of intention.

The linchpin is this understanding of time span. What is the time span of your intention? That is what will shape your world. -Tom

You can download the planning document here. 2017 Planning Template

Habits and Planning Effectiveness

Many of you asked to receive a copy of my planning template for this year. It is a simple template based on a gap analysis.

  • Where would you like to go?
  • Where are you now?
  • What’s the gap in between? (Resources, milestones and obstacles)

I am working with several people preparing their plans for management team meetings, peer executive groups and 1-1 meetings, so I get to see what people actually put to paper.

One element strikes me as critical, the role of habits.

It is one thing to work on each goal as a project, with a discrete start and finish, very results oriented. But the real power in your ability to create lasting impact over time is in the creation of a habit. A habit is a grooved, routine behavior, often below consciousness that continuously moves us toward the goal.

All behavior is goal oriented. We think we create our own success. We do not. We only create our own habits, and it is our habits that determine our success. -Tom

You should be able to download the planning template here. 2017 Planning Template

What Are Your Intentions? – 2017 Planning Guide

It’s 2017. What are your intentions?

Benefits to planning –

  • Gain agreement from stakeholders on what is necessary to be achieved.
  • Gain agreement on reality. No plan survives its train-wreck with reality.
  • Gain agreement on how we will know. Really, how will we know? What are the measurements, key performance indicators.

Blocks to planning –

  • We don’t have time.
  • Actual results never meet the plan.
  • We might be held accountable for what we said.

You decide.-Tom

If you would like some help, you can download the planning template here. 2017 Planning Template

The Value of One Year into the Future

“Why is it important for a Manager to think one year into the future?” I asked.

Melanie had finally opened her mind to discovery. “If I had been thinking out a year, I could have had conversations with my supervisors a long time before they quit. I would have known what changes to make to keep them challenged. I didn’t think they would be interested in learning new things and stepping into more difficult projects.”

“So, if I asked you, as a Manager, to take a single piece of paper and chart out your team members, think about their capabilities and interests, and develop a one year plan for each one, could you do it?”

“Well, yes, but I would probably have to talk to each person, to make sure I was on target, it’s going to take some time,” Melanie replied.

“So, what do you have to do that is more important?” -Tom