Effective Planning: Plan For Perfection, Prepare For the Worst
Fighter pilots hate surprises. It’s hard enough hanging onto a jet at 700 miles per hour and pulling 9 G, and 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 aircraft, or dodging a surface-to-air missile. The last thing you need is something to come out of nowhere or something you really have to think about. There is no time to think. The time for thinking is on the ground. Effective planning is the key to a successful mission!
Standards Are Your Wings – You Can't Fly Without Them
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. In order to create headspace to be able to account for surprises, the mission plan needs to be simple enough for us to take it all in at the briefing, yet 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 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 deep-performing companies do. What we’ve described above gives the impression that planning occurs in isolation. Really, 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 the likely outcomes.
Planning Should be Fast-Paced, Yet Considered
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 needed. It can sound contradictory, but it is our tried and tested reality. 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 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, which I will touch on in a tick. 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 deep-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.
Learning how to plan effectively is the first step to deep-performing teams, individuals, and companies. The beginning of the New Year is the perfect place to begin implementing effective planning so that your year ahead is revolutionised in ways you never could imagine. If you're stuck on where to begin, start with a debrief…and where to start in a debrief, keep reading!
Lessons From A Debrief
Effective planning requires reflection post-mission, otherwise, if no evaluation occurs, you end up going around in circles and never master effective planning. At the end of a mission, carve out intentional time to debrief the mission. Gather the troops and engage in honest conversation as to how well your plan played out and what you need to change before the next mission to ensure the same mistakes aren't made.
Remember: a debrief isn't a time for criticism, it is an open conversation, that values the psychological safety of the members participating, to simply become 1% better in the next mission. Debriefing is the time when we discuss the result, the reason, and the response to the mission. It is a time of personal and collective reflection and where we commit, as a team, to fill the gaps! Conceptually, debriefing is simple. However, executing a debrief can be challenging because if we want to find the root cause of the result that occurred, it takes collective commitment to honesty and openness, which can be difficult at times to elicit from the entire team!
A debrief is intentional, it is leader directed, and it is respectful, open, and honest. There is a clear agenda, and it only goes in the direction of creating a better-performing team, even if some egos get a little bruised in the process. Which direction are you wanted to head? Around and around achieving no real result? Or up and up, stepping on steps of success? I know which direction I want to be heading, and that is why I value debriefing as a critical step in effective planning. You can't have one without the other! Do your plans answer who, what, when . . . and why and what-if?
Surprises Are Inevitable, Effective Planning is Intentional
Surprises are always going to pop up – they are simply inevitable. What isn't inevitable and takes lots of effort and intentionality is effective planning. Effective planning will give you room to handle surprises as they pop up. Take it from a fighter pilot, effective planning saves lives! There is no room for thinking when we fly our missions, the time for thinking is on the ground.