Tag Archives: planning


“But, there were reasons that the team didn’t hit their output target. Materials were late, a machine broke down, and Fred didn’t show up for work,” Dalton explained. “Ever since I got promoted from supervisor to manager, it seems like everything lands on me.”

“Indeed it does. How does that feel?” I asked.

“I fell overwhelmed. There are so many more moving parts. And, my manager expects me to anticipate and prevent things going wrong.”

“So, what do you think is causing your distress?” I prodded.

“It’s my manager, all the stuff that is going on around me,” Dalton commiserated.

“And, how do you feel about that?” I continued.

“Frozen. I don’t know what to do next. When I was a supervisor, I just had to react and fix. But, now, fixing doesn’t happen fast enough. There is too much going on,” Dalton breathed.

“How do you find calm?”

Dalton stopped. “Calm?”

“Sometimes you have to slow down, so you can go fast. How do you find calm?”

Act of Creation

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I see the guidelines for creating a vision, but it seems a little far-fetched. Actually, I think most vision statements are far-fetched. They are too vague, or too warm and fuzzy. They describe a world that doesn’t exist.

Exactly, a world that doesn’t exist. Planning is about creating the future. And you are right, most vision statements are too vague. A vision statement should describe a specific point in time and should be detailed, rather than vague. Whenever I write a plan, my vision statement is often the longest part of the whole plan. It is detailed in its description of how things look and how things work. The more descriptive the vision, the easier the rest of planning steps flow.

What Gets You Out of Bed?

You said the first step in planning is NOT goal setting. But when we plan, we sit around the table and set goals. What did we miss?

The biggest problem in planning is the “shoot from the hip” goal setting exercise. Setting goals are important, and there are two critical steps that come first.

In my younger days, my alarm would go off at 3:30a. In a groggy stupor, I would sit up and reach for the clock. Something kept me from sailing it across the room. Something kept me moving, out of bed, lacing my shoes for a 15 mile run to the beach and back. It was NOT the goal of running 15 miles. In fact, the thought of running 15 miles at 3:30a was about as negative as I could think.

I was training for a marathon. And the one thing that moved me forward was NOT the goal of 15 miles for the day, not even the goal of completing the marathon. The only thing that moved me forward was the vision of me, crossing the finish line.

The first step in the planning process is to create a clear and compelling vision. It is the only tool, for the manager, to paint a picture of the future, to create enthusiasm and excitement in the team to go forward.

Yes, I was quite dapper, hair in the wind, tape across my chest, crowd cheering me on, slim in my running togs. Shoes laced, out the door, training for a marathon. The first step in planning is to create a clear and compelling vision.

Current Goal, Five Years Ago

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

It seems that long term goals are hard to articulate. In setting long term goals, would you agree that they are by nature more ambiguous? Should we worry less about being precise?

A long term goal, by its nature?

Five years ago, our one year goal was a five year goal. What has changed in the four years between?

The goal has taken shape, become clearer, better defined, more concrete. It has also taken turns and twists, met with contingency and unexpected, yes unintended consequences. It is now more certain, less left to chance. Murphy has less time to play.

It is the Time Span of Intention, the most important judgment for a Manager, to determine those things necessary in the future.



Things Change

Krista had a sheepish look on her face when I asked to see her list of goals for the next three months.

“I don’t really have a list,” she said. “I mean, I know what I am supposed to do. I keep it in my head.”

“Then how do you organize your list, if you don’t have it written down? How do you share your goals with other people? How do you change and update them? Most importantly, how do you make decisions about goals?”

“Well, when I started this job, my manager explained things to me. I had a job description and I signed off on it. Is that what you mean?”

“How long ago was that?” I asked.

“About two and half years ago,” she replied.

“Your customers have changed, your market has changed, technology has changed, regulations in your industry have changed, your team has changed. Do mean that your goals have NOT changed in two and half years?”

What Could Go Wrong?

Lonnie was working hard to change the way his team responded to problems on the manufacturing floor.

“I keep telling them that we need to be proactive,” he said. Lonnie wasn’t defensive, but you could tell he wasn’t having any fun.

“So, tell me what happens?” I asked.

Lonnie shook his head. “It’s just day after day. The problems jump up. You know, it’s not like we don’t have a clue. We know what problems customers are going to have. Heck, we even know which customers are going to call us. We just don’t ever get ahead of the curve.”

“Lonnie, being reactive is easy. It doesn’t require any advance thinking, or planning, or anticipating. Being reactive just happens. Being proactive, however, requires an enormous amount of conscious thinking. It doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen. You have to make it happen by design. At the beginning of the day, I want you to gather your team together. Show them a list of the work you are doing for the day and for which customers. Then ask these two questions.

  • What could go wrong today?
  • What can we do to prevent that from going wrong?

Lonnie smiled. “That’s it?” he asked.

“That’s it.”

Translator Role

The planning session was almost over. The team energy was pumped up. Well, all except for Audrey. Her expression was only remarkable in contrast to the upbeat tempo of the rest of the team.

“Audrey, what do you think?” I asked. She was startled, the question was unexpected.

“What do you mean?” she said.

“You are a senior member of this team. You have been around. We have been working on this plan for a couple of hours, what are we missing?”

Though Audrey had been thinking, she had not prepared herself to share these thoughts.

“You are right. I think we are missing a big step here,” she finally said. “I have seen plans like this fail before. Here. In this company. The plan sounds good. It is a worthy target, but we have to get there. We can get all excited, give stump speeches to all of our work groups, but until we translate.” She stopped. “Yes, that’s the word. Translate. We have to translate this plan into the things we do every day to make this happen. If we don’t figure that out, time will go by and we won’t see the progress we expect. We have to connect our everyday disciplines to this larger plan. If we don’t the plan will fail.”

Whose Plan?

“You have a team meeting,” I describe. “Someone has to talk and it’s not you, because no one listens to you. So, who talks?”

“My team?” Gordon answered slowly.

“Yes,” I nodded. “You describe the essence of the vision and the performance Standards. The team sets out the action plan.”

“But my team may not know what steps to take and besides, it will take too long to get them all to agree,” Gordon protested.

I nodded and smiled. “I didn’t say that your team would get there quickly. Sometimes you have to go slow now, so you can go fast later. You need your team, involved, engaged, thinking, solving problems and making decisions. You are not going to get there by telling them what to do.”

Gordon was skeptical, “But, what if I am not getting what I want?”

“If you are not getting what you want, then you are asking the wrong questions.”

Willie Sutton Strategy

Why did Willie Sutton rob banks? Legend says Willie robbed banks because that’s where the money was.

We’ve talked about strategy over the past couple of weeks because many of you are engaged in strategic planning. Successful companies bring their (right) product or service to the right market at the right time in the right way.

Strategic planning is not to create tactical goals for the following year, but to examine those external systems that will have an impact on your long-term success. Willie Sutton may lack moral turpitude, but he knew where the money was.

We Improvise

“Not one plan, but four plans?” I wanted confirmation from Roberto.

He nodded. “I was in the Marines. We had a saying, ‘We don’t plan. We improvise.’ But, improvisation only works if you are prepared with a plan. What’s the first part of every plan?”

“Purpose,” I replied. “We all have intentions, mostly unspoken. A plan is created when intentions become a documented purpose.”

“Improvisation only works when there is a commonly agreed-to purpose,” Roberto continued. “Without a purpose, improvisation becomes chaos. The chaos may be interesting, but it accomplishes little. Purpose drives the next step.”

“Visualization,” I replied.

“Everyone on the team must agree to the purpose and hold a similar vision of what that future state looks like,” Roberto explained.

“How do we know the picture each holds is close to the same picture of their elbowed teammate?”

“Simple,” Roberto grinned. “They talk to each other. It’s a discussion. It is the necessary work of improvisation. When all hell breaks loose, we have to be prepared to make the micro-decisions of the moment, in concert. Serendipity doesn’t happen by random chance. Serendipity is all about our intentions.”


“And only then can we create the mile markers to chart our progress, the goals, objectives of our micro-decisions. What looks like serendipity only occurs when we create the context of a plan in which to operate. It may appear we are winging it, but our actions require preparation to be effective toward our purpose.”