“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
General George S. Patton
After all the instruction and practice on the beach, it was time to actually put my board into the ocean and paddle out to the break. I knew how to surf—well, I knew what my instructors taught me–but I’d never actually put my board into the water and paddled it before. I was a little intimidated. The waist high waves weren’t particularly big that day, the sea was smooth and glassy, and the wind was light. I had no reason to be nervous yet there I was hesitating on the beach pretending to continue to watch the waves. My surfing buddy and instructor walked past me and shouted over his shoulder as he put his board in the water, “C’mon Mick! Can’t surf on the beach!”
In my previous post I wrote about the process of understanding the environment to lead change. This month, we’re going to talk about making a plan. Great teams understand the world changes and they need to lead the change to be achieve and remain at the top.
Know Where You’re Headed
Effective leadership requires we establish a clear vision of what future success looks like. Having a vision gives you a clear focus, and can stop you heading in the wrong direction. The world doesn’t stop spinning because we’re planning, so remaining aware and flexible during the planning process is key. Returning to my surfing analogy, once we know where and how the waves are breaking, it’s time to paddle out. When paddling out to the lineup, conditions can change–it’s the ocean after all–so we have to be ready for it. We might go over or under a wave, depending on its size, and we have to be alert for other surfers. This is analogous to the planning process.
The Planning Process
The process of planning a change involves taking the intelligence we developed during the Survey the Environment phase and creating a specific plan with milestones and planned decision points to reach our goal. There’s many methods for planning, but the simplest and most commonly used in the US military is creating a Plan of Action and Milestones–POAM for short. To create a POAM, we need to follow the following steps:
- Write a clear definition of your endstate.
- Break the job into tasks.
- Map the tasks from start to finish
- Establish intermediate milestones
- Establish intermediate decision points
- Establish criteria for passing the milestones and decision points
A couple of those steps are worth a little emphasis: (1) writing a clear definition of your endstate and (6) establishing criteria for passing milestones and decision points. Besides the obvious project management benefits of smart planning, the leadership benefits are what I want to emphasize. Leaders cannot lead if they don’t know where they’re going. You absolutely have to have the end in mind when creating a plan–and believe me no one will follow a leader who doesn’t know where he’s headed! The same is true for establishing intermediate criteria. To effectively maneuver the change once you start to implement you’ll need to be able to know if you’re on track. For example, proceeding with a project might be contingent of raising a given amount of money, or securing the concurrence of local officials, etc.
Prepare for Disruptions
Finally, understand the world will change while you’re planning so be prepared for disruptions. Key to leading teams to greatness during the planning process is anticipating and mitigating problems. Planning for the unexpected and leading through the planning process is an important part of leading change. One of the best illustrations of this idea comes from General Norman H. Schwarzkopf’s memoir It Doesn’t Take a Hero where he wrote about his technique for planning for the unexpected. After he and his staff were caught completely unprepared for helicopter crash, he began to write down each day three bad and good things that might happen based on the day’s activities. It was his way of anticipating trouble and preparing to lead through it. Planning ahead for road blocks is central to leading teams to greatness.
In my next post, I’ll wrap up the series with a system for implementing the change we’ve planned using this process.
Mickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.