Fighter pilots hate surprises. It’s hard enough hanging onto a jet at 700 miles per hour and 9 G. It’s enough to fly formation, work the radar, listen to calls and monitor the dials and displays. It’s harder still in combat when tracking multiple targets, being locked onto by enemy craft, or dodging a surface-to-air missile. The last thing you need is something to come out of nowhere, something you really have to think about or you’ve lost your ass. There is no time to think. The time for thinking is on the ground. Effective planning is the key to a successful mission!
Yet surprises do happen, and they can be nasty. Or, on the positive side, we might see the opportunity to pack a little bit more into a mission, to help out a unit on the ground, or take out a target that’s come into view. We need the headspace to think when our operating environment changes. So the mission plan needs to be simple enough for us to take it all in at the briefing, but dynamic enough for us to respond when we need to.
You have to assume your team knows their standard practice. Remember: standards are your wings. You can’t fly without them.
That’s why we plan missions thoroughly. It’s not enough to know what to do, all going well, or even what to do if something goes wrong. We have to plan for every threat, for every contingency that any one of the planning team can think of. We want to minimize the things that can take us by surprise. That way we can respond as planned to things that pop up and have the headspace to think if something completely unexpected happens.
Does that sound like your latest project, negotiation, or presentation? Well done if it does, truly. You know what it takes to get there. But for most of us in business, it sounds unrealistic. If we did that much thinking, we’d never get anywhere, right?
But high-performance companies do. What we’ve described above gives the impression that planning occurs in isolation. In reality, it is part of a cycle. You’ve just completed a similar mission, and you’ve debriefed on what worked and what didn’t. Yes, you have to plan for every contingency, but you’ve done the same thing last cycle. You know what is likely to happen. This becomes standard practice. You have to assume your team knows their standard practice. Remember: standards are your wings. You can’t fly without them.
The planning process is fast, yet considered—so that you have an effective plan when you need it.
In fact, the secret of high-performance planning is the way it balances three seemingly opposed sets of things. The planning process is fast, yet considered—so that you have an effective plan when you need it. The resulting plan is simple, yet dynamic—so that it nails the objective, changing as it needs to. And for those executing the plan, it is direct, yet empowering—so that they have clear accountability while being allowed the leeway to take the initiative they need.
Planning is the first step in any high-performance framework for action (although a good plan requires lessons learned from a debrief, that’s a story for another day). The plan sets both the tone and the direction for the rest of the cycle. You brief the plan, the mission is the brief, and you debrief against the plan. That’s why understanding how high performance thinking is harnessed at the planning stage is fundamental to accelerating the performance of any individual, team or organisation because it’s the plan that will flow through the rest of your performance.
Do your plans answer who, what, when . . . and why and what-if?