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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Planning is Mandatory – Progress is Optional

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #156
 

Progress is optional, not because it is inconsequential but because it demands a willingness to adapt and evolve.




Benjamin Franklin once remarked, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." My journey into structured organizational planning began in 1989, my rookie year as a school superintendent. That year, the Pennsylvania Department of Education introduced a mandate for a comprehensive five-year plan. Following the footsteps of seasoned superintendents in my circle, I enlisted the help of a consultant from the Intermediate Unit to spearhead this endeavor. What followed was a series of meetings with key stakeholders, numerous internal discussions, and several iterations before finalizing a 68-page document that would chart the course for the next five years. Once approved by the Board and the Department of Education, this document was archived, only to be revisited five years later as a template for the next cycle. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Fast forward a decade, in a new district as superintendent, I engaged Chuck Schwahn, the co-author of the book, "Total Leader," to facilitate a "strategic design" process with 69 stakeholders. The outcome was a concise 28-page guide that steered the district until 2007, when I embarked on my life's next career chapter.


At first glance, "Planning is mandatory, progress is optional" might seem paradoxical. Yet, a deeper dive uncovers a vital insight: while thorough planning lays out a path to our aspirations, it doesn't guarantee arrival at our desired outcomes. This paradox sits at the heart of our expedition - the necessity to strategize and gauge our advancement towards these aims. This post delves into the nuanced balance between planning and progression, challenging the conventional narrative of this journey. Let's explore the dynamics between planning and making progress, navigating the uncertainties of this voyage while staying faithful to our end goals.


Despite significant investments in crafting a strategic plan, its practical application as a navigational tool often falls short. This shortfall mainly stems from the tendency of strategic plans to turn into static artifacts rather than dynamic instruments. Once finalized, they tend to be shelved and overlooked, seldom revisited, or revised to reflect changing circumstances. Moreover, aligning these strategic plans with day-to-day operations proves challenging, complicating their integration into organizational routines. Without distinct accountability frameworks and the backing of essential stakeholders, the strategic plan may fail to resonate with those tasked with its realization, leading to diminished engagement and execution. Effectively bridging the divide between strategic formulation and its execution underscores the need to foster an ethos of perpetual adaptability, ensuring strategic plans evolve in tandem with the organization's shifting needs and aspirations.


Embracing Agility

Embracing agility in planning entails setting objectives while recognizing the potential need for adjustments in response to unforeseen future events. This demands a versatile and open-minded approach, equipping individuals and organizations to tackle challenges with the awareness that plans might require alterations yet keep the ultimate goal in sight. Planning with agility also bolsters resilience, enabling swift responses to unexpected opportunities or setbacks. Cultivating adaptability allows for rapid pivoting, leveraging new developments while mitigating risks. An environment that values flexibility flourishes by viewing obstacles as catalysts for advancement and endorsing experimentation.


Periodic reassessment of goals and strategies is essential to embedding agility into the planning framework. These evaluations ensure plans remain relevant and in sync with evolving priorities and external variables. Fostering transparent dialogue and teamwork facilitates the exchange of ideas and viewpoints, yielding more innovative and adaptable planning solutions. By adopting these practices, planning can become more flexible, empowering individuals and organizations to thrive amidst uncertainty.


Navigating success with a malleable plan that monitors progress involves striking a delicate balance between goals and reality. Here are some tips:


  • Set Clear, Adaptable Goals: Define specific, measurable targets with flexible timelines. Favor key performance indicators (KPIs) and milestones over rigid deadlines, allowing adjustments as needed.

  • Establish Review Checkpoints: Schedule regular reviews to assess progress and reevaluate objectives. Reflect on successes and areas needing adjustment, using these insights for plan modifications.

  • Identify Adjustment Signals: Designate clear indicators or benchmarks that prompt plan reevaluation and potential adjustments based on changing circumstances, project advancements, or other relevant factors.

  • Allocate Resources Strategically: Be prepared to reallocate resources to address shifting priorities or unforeseen challenges, ensuring a responsive approach to changing scenarios.

  • Encourage a Learning and Experimental Culture: Promote an environment where experimentation is welcomed. View setbacks as growth opportunities, continuously refining the plan based on lessons learned.

  • Leverage Technology for Oversight and Assessment: Utilize project management software and tools for tracking progress, analyzing data, and identifying areas for improvement. Automation can streamline tasks and provide timely insights for informed decision-making.

  • Empower Decision-Makers: Grant autonomy to those intimately involved with the tasks, enabling them to make timely adjustments. Trusting team members with decision-making authority enhances flexibility and rapid response capabilities.

  • Celebrate Achievements and Adjustments: Acknowledge and celebrate both milestones and plan modifications. This fosters a culture that values adaptability and creativity, maintaining accountability toward achieving objectives.

I trust this post illuminates the equilibrium between planning and progress. The rift between planning and execution often emerges when plans solidify into static documents, disengage from daily operations, and lack continuous stakeholder involvement. To mend this rift, embracing planning agility is critical, where objectives are steadfast yet adaptable to new realities. We've explored effective strategies for infusing flexibility into planning through regular assessments, open communication, and experimentation. Individuals and organizations can maneuver through uncertainties by valuing flexibility and tracking progress while aligning closely with their ultimate goals.


Reflection Questions:

In light of the content of this blog, reflect on these three quotes and how they relate to the topics discussed. Can you determine who is credited for each quote?


  1. "Plans are worthless, but planning is everything."

  2. "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way."

  3. "The best way to predict the future is to create it."

A. John Maxwell B. Dwight Eisenhower C. Peter Drucker



 

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