The Value of Planning

I talk with people nearly every week who tell me that they can’t plan because “things” change. The thing is, that’s exactly why you need a plan. The greatest value of the planning process may not be the actual plan, it may just be the fact that you stopped long enough to do some planning. 

Plans may not always work but planning always does.

In order to plan we need to think and thinking is always good. We need to think about where we are, where we want to be, and how we can get from here to there. A good planning process will include decision making on how much we are willing to invest to get there. Good planners remember to think of investment in terms of BOTH financial and time investments. 

Good plans of course include timelines for goal achievement to help build a little accountability into the plan and any plan worth the time it took to put it together includes periodic follow-up built into the plan to ensure it’s still on track.

That follow-up is where most planners miss the mark. 

German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke is credited with first saying that “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” In business it’s fair to say that no plan survives contact with reality. In sales it’s safe to say that there has never been a marketing plan that fully survived first contact with a customer. 

Yet many “planners” assume once the plan is complete that the planning is done. The most successful people, from any walk of life, will tell you that planning is never “done.”

All good plans begin with a clear view of the “as is” or current situation and many of those plans fail because they are never adjusted, even though the “as is” will often change.

That’s the biggest reason why what got you where you are will likely NOT get you to where you want to be. Things change, circumstances change, technology changes, customers change, everything changes… and so must your plans.

It’s a great idea to stop on your journey to success once and a while to see where you’re actually at. Look around, see what’s different from the day your initial plan was developed. Determine if where you are at is still aligned with where you want to be. 

If the plan is still aligned with your goals and objectives then perhaps a few tweaks to your plan will suffice. If the alignment is way off perhaps a blank piece of paper is the best place to begin again. 

Most importantly, when reviewing your plan is this: Don’t attempt this alone! If it’s “your” plan, if you developed it, it’s very likely that you’re to close to really see it for what it is. Get help, if you’re a leader then task your people with a review of the plan. If you’re an entrepreneur and just starting out then ask your mentor or someone you trust to periodically review your plan. 

However you choose to review your plan the key is to actually review it, at least a couple of times a year. Things change, if your plan isn’t changing with them then what got you where you are most certainly will NOT get you to where you want to go next.

Social Leadership

I’m a big fan of employee surveys. I like employee surveys because I like predictable things and few things in business are as predictable as the results of an employee survey. Anyone with a decent EQ can spend a week or so inside a company talking with employees and predict the results of your typical employee survey with reasonable accuracy. 

If you’re unfamiliar with EQ it is an individual’s ability to understand other people, what motivates them and the ability to work cooperatively with them. Psychologists generally agree that among the ingredients for success, IQ counts for roughly 10-25% and the rest depends on everything else, especially EQ.

Here is a very general statement but I think it is fairly accurate: most people in leadership positions have at least a decent level of EQ.

They just aren’t social enough to use it.

To be a Social Leader requires that the leader be “out there” with the people they lead. They need to constantly take the pulse of their people. Social Leadership provides the leader with insights that no survey will ever provide them. 

It gives them insight and awareness to how their people will react to organizational change by understanding what is important to them and what motivates them. Social Leadership gives the leader an opportunity to develop the empathy to understand their people’s attitudes towards organizational issues and provides a clear line of sight to the team member’s points of view. 

The trouble with surveys is that they are typically an annual “event” and because of that they measure nothing more than a moment in time. People’s responses are affected by their emotions of the moment and because of that the survey results are of limited value. There was certainly a time when annual surveys where considered “state of the art” for HR professionals but that time has passed. 

Direct downward social interaction is the new “best practice.” Social Leaders use technology to get themselves “out there” like never before. They use Facebook, Twitter and Blogs to inform their people of what’s happening and get instant feedback from their followers. I’m obviously a believer in those tools but nothing, nothing, will ever beat face-to-face human interaction. So along with those tools I urge Social Leaders to conduct daily “innerviews” with a member of their organization. To be clear, this is not an interview of the kind you would do when selecting a new employee. This is an INNERview, a conversation to determine the thoughts, mood and morale of an individual team member. It’s about a 5 minute process where with a few thoughtful questions the Social Leader gains a perspective about their organization that cannot be gained any other way. Social leaders pick one individual a day from their organization and have a learning conversation.

Now I’ve shared the innerview concept long enough with countless numbers leaders to know the most common reason leaders give for not using it. “I don’t have time” is the usual objection. It’s the same reason many leaders give for not taping into social media to connect with their people. 

Think about that, these are the same leaders who would proudly say that “their people are their greatest asset.” In the next breath they say they “don’t have” 5 minutes to invest with their greatest asset to determine how they are doing. 

It not hard to become a more Social Leader, it simply requires a commitment to invest a piece of yourself and a bit of your time in your people. It’s one of the few investments you will ever make that has a guaranteed return. It’s a return that makes leading not only easier but more fulfilling as well. 

Are you willing to make the investment to become a Social Leader? 

That Will Never Work

Have you ever heard those words? I certainly have and I’ve heard them many times in countless meetings.

I’ve heard this idea will never work, I’ve heard that idea will never work, I’ve heard we tried that before, I’ve heard every variation of it’s just not going to work.

It’s amazing, just how many people know something won’t work. But I wonder how they know it won’t work? And if they know it won’t work then they must know how it will work. But they never seem to suggest how it will work, they just say it won’t work.

That’s a negative attitude. That’s a can’t work attitude. That’s a I’m not going to succeed mindset. That’s a I don’t get much done mindset. That is most certainly not the mindset of successful people.

I’ve heard it said that success comes in cans and failure comes in can’ts.

As you go through this week check yourself, check your words and check your attitude. See how many times you say can’t vs how many times you say can. When you hear an idea that you think won’t work don’t say it can’t work, say it CAN work if we  _________.

Don’t allow yourself to say something won’t work unless you’re willing to say how it will work. If you don’t know how to make something work then don’t say that it can’t. Maybe you should consider holding on to the negative thought until you can back it up with something positive.

When you continuously say that ideas won’t work, without saying how they can work, people may begin to think that you have a negative attitude. They may just be right!

Think about it…


Somebody Ought to do Something

I’ve read with interest about a quandary facing the candidates who are running for President of the United States. They just don’t know how aggressive to be when talking about using ground troops to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 

They face that quandary because polls indicate that the American people have two competing interests. The want ISIS defeated but they don’t want much in the way of American assets involved in defeating them.

In others words, U.S. voters want it done but they don’t want it done enough to do it themselves.  That’s not a proven path to success, in fact, throughout history that mindset has almost always resulted in failure. 

Successful people have developed the habits of doing the things that less successful people are simply unwilling to do. It’s not that successful people always enjoy doing those things, they just know that if it’s going to get done it is going to be up to them to do it. 

So they do it. 

This post isn’t about a war, it isn’t about radicals or terrorism. It is about you and what you know needs to be done. It’s what you know needs to be done that you’re waiting for someone else to do. It’s about waiting for someone else to do something to help you succeed. 

Don’t wait.

When you accept responsibility, 100% responsibility, for your own success then and only then will you stop waiting. When you stop waiting then and only then does progress start to be made. When you stop waiting for others to do something that needs to be done then you’re only choice becomes to do it yourself. 

Everyone is better off with a little help and the most successful people certainly got some on their journey to success. But they didn’t wait for it, they kept moving forward and found it along the way. They didn’t wait for the help to find them, they went out and found the help. 

Waiting for someone else to do something to help you succeed is a surefire way to ensure that you DON’T succeed. Even making mistakes along the way is better than doing nothing because doing nothing to help yourself succeed is the biggest mistake of all. 

Don’t be a “somebody ought to do something” kind of person. Be a “if it needs to be done then I’m going to do it” kind of person. 

That’s the kind of person who succeeds!

Write Better Emails, Not Bitter Emails

Any idea which letters are the most dangerous letters in all of cyberspace? They are the ones which when strung together spell SEND! The most dangerous icon on some computers may be the one that looks like a little paper airplane. When you click on it you hear a little whooshing sound that lets you know the email you’ve just sent has permanently been placed into cyberspace. 

That’s why you should never hit send when you’re angry, what you send stays sent. (Yes, I know about that recall thing and I know how often it doesn’t really work)

Angry emails are almost always bad emails. 

You may feel better temporarily because you “got it off your chest” but you’ve just damaged a relationship, possibly your integrity or worse, both. So the first rule of sending better emails is to never send a bitter one. My mom used to always say “you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar” and it took me a while (still learning) to understand what she meant. She meant you’re better off being nice, in any situation, than not being nice. 

So be nice when writing emails. 

One way to be nice when writing emails is to write “better” emails. Better is a bit subjective but here are a few widely accepted ideas on what “better” looks like in real life.

Be concise. On average we spend about 25% of our workday messing around with email. Many, actually most, are filled with just one or two (if we are lucky) highly relevant points and the rest of the message is just filler. Don’t write like that!

I think it was Mark Twain who said, “If I’d had more time, I would have written you a shorter email.” Okay, he didn’t really say email but the point is the same, don’t be a lazy writer, put some thought into your emails with the goal of writing nothing more than needs to be written. 

Get to the point. Delete adjectives and adverbs. It’s absolutely unnecessary to add lots of additional words that make even your most important emails seem overly lengthy and too long and not short enough. Say what you mean and say it in as few words as possible, remember, when it comes to a well written email, less is more.

Reread before sending…twice. A great reason to keep your emails short is because the first person who has to read them is you. I’d be willing to bet that when you reread your emails you’ll likely just delete some of them after deciding they don’t really add value to anyone. Or you may just decide the tone is too harsh, or the whole thing is too meandering or that you’re repeating yourself or that your repeating yourself. 

End at the beginning. Most people begin an email by filling in the “to” field. That’s likely the last time they look at that critical field. To help ensure your email is received by the person you intended to receive it fill in the “to” field last and check and recheck the recipient’s name. NEVER assume the auto-complete feature can really read your mind. Be certain you know where your message is going because once it’s gone it’s gone for good…or bad. 

It’s a sad reality, at least it’s sad to me, that the majority of our communication today is of the electronic variety. That reality makes it imperative that we pay as much attention to what we write as we do with what we say. If you wouldn’t say it then absolutely don’t write it! 


Where Money Comes From

If you’re employed by a for-profit business then all your money comes from the same place. The money you spent on dinner last night, the money you use to pay the rent or mortgage, the money you invest in your retirement, that all came from the same place too.

It did not come from the company that employs you. It didn’t come from the boss. It didn’t come from HR and it didn’t come from the payroll department.

All of your money, every penny of it, comes from the customers who CHOOSE to do business with your company. The money you receive in the form of a paycheck is not your company’s money, it is the customer’s money, they simply allow your company to use it. The better the job a business does for their customer, the more money the business is allowed to use.

Businesses that employ people who understand that simply fact are businesses that do well. 

Sometimes businesses and their people get so caught up doing urgent things that they forget what’s truly important, the customer. Nothing, absolutely nothing, should be more important to a business than the customer. 

If you’re a for-profit business then your business cannot afford to be focused on measurements, a process or policy. The focus must be on the customer 100% of the time. Never allow yourself to be fooled into believing what you think is more important than what your customer thinks.

There is no metric, no policy, no spreadsheet and no problem that is more important than meeting and exceeding your customer’s expectations. When you forget that don’t be surprised when your customer forgets you. Measuring, surveying, accounting, and planning are all important to a business, but none of it should ever become more important than a customer.

It’s mere busy work when compared to the one vital task of every business interested in making a profit, meeting and exceeding the needs of the customer. They, the customer, that’s where the money comes from. No business, and no person who works for a business should ever allow themselves to believe that the business exists for them, it exists for the customers.

When you’re too busy to take care of customers don’t worry, that situation will rectify itself soon enough. 

Think about that the next time you’re annoyed by those pesky customers. 


The Courage to Confront

Authentic Servant Leaders have courage. This allows them to make tough choices, it allows them to take calculated risks. Courage is their “secret sauce,” it’s what often separates them from lesser leaders. 

This courage also helps them confront people who need to be confronted. Because they are Authentic Servant Leaders when they confront someone they will do it with compassion. They confront people for two reasons, there is a problem that needs to be corrected and they care enough to want to help the person correct it. 

Sadly, Authentic Servant Leaders are few and far between so this post on confrontation is not about them.

It’s about your everyday leader, what I’d call an average leader. They are by far the largest occupier of so-called leadership positions within organizations both large and small. They do a lot of things right and some things wrong, I guess that’s why they are average.

Confrontation, or rather lack of confrontation, is one of the biggest shortcomings of an average leader. They are just as clear-eyed as any leader in that they see the same problems as anyone other leader. It’s just that they don’t deal with it.

Some of these average leaders are just lazy. Some “hope” it will just go away, some figure “the next guy can deal with it.” A few just put their head in the sand and pretend there are no issues worth confronting. 

Some are just afraid. They lack the courage to confront.

Fear holds us back! Make no mistake about this fact, fear has kept many very talented people from succeeding. Fear has kept many people will the skill to succeed from using their skills in the pursuit of success. Fear greatly limits success.

The great Dale Carnegie once said the only place fear is real is in our mind. The point was that the only way to really eliminate fear is to change our thinking. In his book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” he writes that one way to overcome the stress of fear is to consider the situation you’re in and accept the worst that can happen. Once you’ve accepted the worst then you can begin to try to improve upon the worst in a much more clear-headed fashion. 

If you’re a leader who lacks the courage to confront then consider the worst that could happen. You could completely screw it up. Perhaps someone’s feelings will be hurt, maybe they will like you less. They may talk about you behind your back. You may fail miserably.

Just an aside, not confronting a situation that demands confrontation virtually guarantees each of those outcomes eventually. 

When considering how to improve on the worst that can happen think about these ideas:

Don’t confront when you’re angry. Let the dust settle a little bit before confronting anyone, things said “in the moment” are impossible to unsay. As a rule don’t confront someone about an issue when you’re still mad about the issue. That said, we’re talking minutes or hours here to settle your emotions, not months or years. The longer you wait to confront someone the bigger your mountain of fear will become. Take a small amount of time to plan your confrontation but the key here is small amount of time. 

Practice what you want to say. Go off by yourself somewhere and actually say it out loud. I know that sounds kind of weird but it will help you feel better about approaching the other person. 

Don’t turn it into an argument. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. Proving to someone that they are wrong will not help them correct the situation. Don’t get sucked into their argumentative tone and don’t turn the discussion into a point, counterpoint-point debate. Say what you need to say as often as you need to say it and then be quiet. Listen. Repeat your point as needed but do not be distracted by excuses and arguments that have no bearing on the issue or person being confronted.

Agree on the next steps. Any effective confrontation leads to a plan for resolution. Just telling someone about a problem is unlikely to solve the problem. Agree on what needs to happen for the issue or concern to be be resolved, or at least agree on some initial steps. 

Understand that this may not be a fun conversation, it may not be “clean.” You may not feel great about it when it’s over and it may not go exactly as you had planned. You might even have made things temporarily worse. 

But always know this: almost all big problems were once little problems. They became big problems because they were not confronted when they were small. You risk making a small problem bigger by confronting it, you guarantee it gets bigger by not confronting it.