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Are You Holding Everyone Back?

Issue 53: April 28, 2022

Some people are quick processors, others way slower. Some people are decisive, others less so. Some people thrive on structure, others won’t be boxed in. And some people are planners, others can’t be bothered. We all know the types: Planners get to the airport hours before the flight; their nemeses are always running to the gate.

What happens when key members of a team don’t process quickly enough, are indecisive, resist structure and don’t want to plan ahead? The individual versus the demands of the group is not a psycho-social theory. We see it all the time in organizations when progress is held hostage by a few individuals who aren’t showing up for the team. Or worse than that, an entire organization is disrupted when it is unprepared for unexpected changes in market conditions, customers … or say a global pandemic.

According to management developer Robert Tanner, “Today’s environment changes often and quickly. Despite the disruptive and unrelenting pace of change, planning is an important function in the workplace. A good plan provides a framework for organizing organizational resources and it provides direction for employees on how they can help the organization fulfill its strategic goals.”

Like it or not, planning is everything when it comes to organizational success. And planning includes the flexibility to pivot and course-correct along the way. Above all else, planning cannot be based solely on what has worked in the past. The past informs the future but is not a roadmap in today’s disruptive, quickly changing dynamic marketplace.

The Best Laid Plans

Planning and creating a process to ensure smooth operations and execution to maintain efficiency and effectiveness can improve an organization’s relationship with customers and stakeholders. Conversely, the lack of prior planning on anyone’s part does not. and should not create an emergency for others. It has been said that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. Systems need to be put into place that ensures an organization will not be held back by one or a few individuals. This requires a chain of decision structures that provide for contingencies and backup systems. We believe critical thinking is both a necessity and a critical competency that every individual and organization should embrace along with openness and active listening skills to ensure constructive critical conversations can take place.

At 2040, we help clients prepare for the unforeseen and help develop a workplace culture that is built on interconnected, co-reliant team play. Here are a few tips we can share with you that focus on the human factor and planning. Much has been written about the many tech solutions developed as planning tools. That’s not what we are interested in sharing today. Our focus is on how people can make or break the planning process. First, the common barriers to planning.

Barriers to Planning

  • Lack of Information

Without accurate data and updated information, planning is hindered and likely to fail. The best-conceived plans based on faulty facts have a risky future. Individuals and teams must remove their defensive postures and recognize that no individual or team knows everything they need to know, nor can they understand every factor or variable that may cause or influence a situation or issue to arise. It is important to recognize what gaps exist and what is not known and then seek out those who can contribute and share. We are a species that is programmed to solve problems together with each individual contributing. As such, relish collaboration and contribution: don’t fear it. When the gaps are filled, seek out information that can substantiate the possible plans and approaches. Objective, evidence-based and fact-based information should be factored into any plan to avoid building a strategy on intuition or a hunch.

  • Holding Onto Bad Habits

Many organizations rely on a specific team for scenario planning. We have found that a better approach is to have a multidisciplinary team participate in the process to ensure the discussion is inclusive and robust. This reliance on the same go-to team tendency is also true in depending on the same creative team to solve all problems. The collective wisdom of a diverse group of problem solvers is more advantageous to produce an actionable, multidimensional plan.

  • Resistance to Change

If managers are not committed to the plan, they are likely to resist it or subvert it. Lack of commitment may be the result of fear of failure in executing the plan or simple disagreement with the overall strategy. Additionally, if the plan does not seem vital to personal success, individuals may ignore it and devote their time to something they deem more important. Plus, some people do not like to be constrained and see that working on a plan they did not personally create is not essential to their individual success.

  • Unconscious Bias

People typically focus on what they can control and understand. Planning, on the other hand, requires a broader vision to be able to anticipate and conceptualize a different and unknown set of factors. Curiosity combined with learning needs to be baked into a workforce culture to encourage employees to think big and stretch. Another inherent bias could be that some managers have luckily succeeded without any planning and therefore do not recognize how important the process is. However, as these managers gain more responsibility, the pressure to succeed without planning and self-discipline will be unsustainable.

  • Short-term Gain

Planning that focuses on short-term gains does not account for preparing for a longer-term future. It is tempting to plan for the quick wins, but if these gains are not integrated into a bigger picture of how to anticipate and prepare for future market conditions and customer changes with the talent and tools it requires to meet these needs, failure will rear its ugly head.

  • Poorly Defined Goals

If the goal and even the planning process are poorly defined without clear goals and a value proposition for the organization and the workforce, it is nearly impossible for employees to do their jobs. Ambiguity can create a planning paralysis that sidelines success. A vision that is misaligned with stakeholders’ buy-in is apt to fail. First, be sure the purpose of the plan and its anticipated results are clearly articulated. It is also critical to identify any roadblocks to the planning process ahead of time with strategies to overcome them. Establish realistic benchmarks and measures for success and ensure that the entire workforce is aware and supportive of the goals. Don’t lose your focus with distractions and resistance; the means justify the end.

  • Lack of Leadership

Last, but surely not least, is the failure of leadership and management to provide the necessary support to the team to execute plans. This requires a delicate balance of leading without micromanaging and empowering employees to accept and support the plan. Failure to communicate and invite feedback from others can also stop a great planning process dead in its tracks.

Managing the Planning Process

Keeping in mind that the human factor is the driving force to mastering any planning process, we have identified five tips for helping organizations of all sizes to smooth the planning process toward success.

1. Critical Thinking

The working mantra at 2040 is the necessity of critical thinking to advance any strategy, transformation, or plan. Technically, critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue to form a judgment. When practicing critical thinking, an organization solves problems by tapping into new and creative ideas. We have seen too many organizations operate from legacy models (doing what they have always done), assuming they know better than stakeholders (not using objective fact-based data in developing new products and services) and lacking diversity and inclusion in decision making (depending on a silo organizational structure). Using systems thinking and a holistic approach to making decisions and planning are tools for deploying critical thinking to its optimal level.

2. Shared Knowledge

Dr. Andrew M. Peña asks, “What happens to an organization when its best, brightest, most experienced, and knowledgeable employees are walking out the door? What do they take with them, and what does the employer lose?” Organizations must develop strategies for knowledge transfer to ensure business continuity is maintained when there is a loss of institutional knowledge. Pena continues, “Today, as Baby Boomers retire, next-gen employees are not remaining employed in one organization long enough to learn from their older colleagues. As a result, the institutional knowledge, history, and business continuity possessed by the veterans and Boomers might vanish with little or no knowledge being retained by younger workers.” One way to address the risk of losing knowledge is to create a knowledge vault, managed by a chief archivist. The vault contains a workforce assessment, documenting and identifying critical knowledge held by existing employees.

3. Everyday Leaders

Develop a workplace culture that creates everyday leaders. These workers should be supported and recognized for stepping up to fill gaps created by employees who miss a deadline or do not complete a task. All too often when this situation happens people are quick to assign blame and point fingers. Instead, an everyday leader culture ensures that the team pulls for the greater good, while at the same time working with employees who have missed goals to get them back on track. This is not to say that inferior work is accepted or tolerated. But rather than punishing employees, they are positively coached into higher levels of performance and held accountable.

4. Common Sense

Peter Drucker was known to say, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” What he meant was that organizational culture determines success regardless of an effective strategy or brilliant planning. It is the human factor that dictates success. According to the Alternative Board, “Culture is about the ways your employees act in critical situations, how they manage pressure and respond to various challenges, and how they treat partners and customers, and each other.” We call this common sense. The Board continues that “if employees aren’t passionate about your organization’s vision, they won’t be enthusiastic about executing the plan, and then your strategy stands no chance. We know that culture represents the core of the organization and most of it is created by the business founders—sometimes unknowingly.” The Board adds, “Knowing your culture means knowing what to expect from your team. Your plan has a greater chance of being efficient if you apply a realistic perspective to it.”

5. Communication

The platforms for communication with a workforce can derail true communication. One employee prefers email, another Slack (or a similar group platform) and another would rather talk in person. The medium could obfuscate the message if it is not standardized for everyone. According to author Laura Quiambao, “inefficient communication and collaboration are two of the top causes of stress in the workplace. When stakeholders have to dig through pages of emails or constantly ask for updates, they get frustrated and their motivation dips.” Find the best platform by asking how the team wants to communicate and then having the majority rule. This is not a draconian decision; every planning team needs an effective, predictable, and reliable way to communicate.

Planning a Successful Future

An organization obviously cannot plan for every issue or situation, but diligence and foresight are needed to manage the human desire to expend as little energy as possible to address what may happen. Essential to the process is critical thinking to prepare individuals and teams to address, adapt, and solve new problems they are confronted with. At 2040, we have encountered a number of barriers to ensuring that planning, change, and pivots are successful. We are here to help you dig into your organizational culture to identify how, when, and why the human factor prevents you from moving forward and how to unlock the human potential for success.

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