It’s Not that We Don’t Plan, It’s That We Suck at Planning

We suck at planning.

It’s the end of 2012 and most of us are spending countless hours planning for 2013 and we suck at it. Maybe this is why, in spite of best efforts, most planning efforts are a waste of time, producing very few results.  Most plans end up on a dusty shelf.

I’m not making this shit up. According to research, most people don’t know how to plan and leave the nest with never having been taught how to plan.   Some learn it in college, but most enter the workforce still absent of any substantive planning skills.  What’s worse, few if any of us are ever taught how to plan and make it up as we go along.  This is a problem because planning is a critical part of successful goal and objective attainment. In other words, if you can’t plan, your probability of success drops big time.

One of the biggest business and sales faux-paux’s today is companies go through a planning process every year, assuming everyone knows how to plan. This is a recipe for disaster, only wasting everyones time and does little to improve the probability goals will be met.

Planning is a skill like selling, reading, writing, etc. There are good planners and bad planners and this is why too many plans fail. We go into the sales or business planning process assuming folks know how to plan and that’s just not accurate. Making things worse, it’s not just the front-line that lacks planning skills. Good planning skills can be absence all the way to the top. A bunch of bad planners, working on plans, makes for bad plans.

There is a process to planning. Planning has steps or elements that can be taught, if you know what they are.

Assess the Task:

Good planner start by assessing the task at hand.  They accurately assess what is it they are trying to accomplish.  Good planners are very good at understanding exactly what it is they need to get done.  They accurately assess the task to determine what’s needed to complete the it. They remove all ambiguity and clearly understand what the end goal and vision is. Believe it or not, not accurately assessing the task is key issue behind failed efforts. Too many people jump in with a muddy, poor or in some cases just wrong understanding of what needs to be accomplished.

Evaluate strengths and weaknesses:

In addition to accurately assessing the task, good planners evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses in relationship to accomplishing the task. In general, people are terrible at assessing their own capabilities. We tend to grossly over estimate our abilities relative to our performance.  Making matters worse, the least skilled make the greatest mis-calculations about their abilities, committing the most egregious over-estimations. In other words, if you think you’re good, you’re not. You pretty much suck. (Dunning: Unskilled and Unaware of It)  Although I don’t have data, I believe this applies to businesses as well.  Businesses are terrible at understanding what they are good at and what they aren’t good at, overestimating its abilities to accomplish its goals and objectives.

Planning Appropriately: 

Good planners spend more time planning than poor planners.  They don’t just jump into the effort, but stop and plan accordingly.  Good planners leverage their assessment of the task and an evaluation of their strengths and weaknesses to create the most optimal plan possible.  They look ahead and play out options before engaging in the effort, to avoid fits and stops and redos. Again, novices and those with poor planning skills tend to plan poorly, increasing the probability of poor work and missed goals.

We’re not wired to plan. Planning is taught.  We over estimate our own capabilities. We think we’re better than we are.  All this adds up to crappy plans and crappy planning processes.

Don’t expect your team to know how to plan. Don’t just chuck a template over the table and expect them to know what to do with it. Garbage in garbage out. Take the time to walk them through the objectives and goals. Ensure they understand exactly what is being asked of them.  Challenge the team to evaluate their skills and the resources they are planning to leverage to be successful. Are their assumptions accurate? Are they overestimating their own skills? Are they overestimating the companies abilities?

Shitty plans help no one. Help your team create good plans, don’t assume they know how to plan. That’s half the battle.

Plan, it’s how you win.  But don’t assume anyone knows how to do it.  That’s a bad assumption.