By the end of the first month of a new year, two of my clients are already “on edge” regarding the probability of their teams making a plan for 2016. As their coach, I consider them the lucky ones – and it’s not because they’re “off plan,” but because they’re noticing and they have the time, the disposition and the skill needed to act.
Back in the 1990s, I had the privilege of working closely with Stephen R. Covey and his leadership center when they were preparing to launch what has become one of the most renowned time management approaches in modern business. Among other concepts, one big aha for leaders centered around the connection between “why” things are being done and “what” those things/tasks are.
Put plainly, leaders learned to help team members discover how the tasks and the outcomes were linked to the passion and purpose of each of the performers on the team. Another big aha was that “what” needed to be done inevitably involved others and managing those relationships was clearly a domain where action needed to happen. The high leverage tasks and relationships came to be known as the “big rocks” and that concept has guided a generation of leaders in the right direction for planning.
Then came the 2000s – and despite an explosion of information technology and systems to help people execute better, it became evident that a big piece of the puzzle is still missing.
People generally have a good idea of what to do and why they’re doing it and can be counted on to generate plans with high-leverage actions and due dates for deliverables.
But the conversations between leaders and their teams that build the story of the future they’re committing to produce as situations change and breakdowns occur are MIA.
Once the plan is crafted and the year, the quarter, the initiative or the project is underway, as leaders you and I either forget about it for some reason or another think we’re done – or we simply don’t how to deal with the most predictable parts of the process:
- The customers for the plan (i.e., leaders and bosses) change their minds about what they want, or weren’t very articulate to begin with.
- The customers for the plan (i.e., leaders and bosses) live in a changing world and their conditions of satisfaction will likely change over time.
The competence and willingness to notice what’s happening and initiate the conversations to attend to and resolve these breakdowns are missing for 21st century leaders and performers.
With our hair on fire, we can’t see that it’s not the plan that counts — heck, it’s not even the willingness and capability of our teams to perform the tasks or even the right tasks – but rather, it’s our ability to hold the right conversations along the way that makes all the difference.
The big idea: Effective leaders know that traditional planning is only part of the process. They learn to stay connected, open and most of all present with their team members as the planning process evolves and they take responsibility for having the right conversations.