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Planning to Action in 5 Easy Steps

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So, you want to jump right into implementation…

We have in our management culture, all of the catch phrases and such that tell us to analyze and plan before we move forward. “Measure twice, cut once,” “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” and the like ring in our ears as tried and true advice regarding the perils of blindly running forward. Why then, do leaders vault over analysis and duck planning, and jump right into implementation when things really have to go right? The only thing I can think of is that there is a belief that analysis and planning have to be overly complex to work, but that’s just not true.

Planning to Action in Five Easy Steps

Basic action planning can be done, and done well, in five basic steps, with the first being the most important for reasons I hope are obvious.

First, establish a common frame of reference. You can’t begin to plan or execute unless everyone understands the concepts in play and what they really are. Be explicit and be exhaustive. If you want a good succession plan, make sure all of the relevant ideas are shared because you will find your process crashing around you if senior leadership has a view of employee development that includes succession planning for the long term, while HR feels that employee development is training in place, and local managers believe succession planning means grooming their direct replacement only.

Second, define the perfect end state. Yes, magical-pink-unicorn perfect, in the terms and concepts defined previously. Why perfect? Because you can never grow beyond your own vision, and any meaningful, strategically-aligned plan needs to be able to grow over time and improve as perspectives mature. Oh, and be sure to address the end state, not methods or procedures. Not yet. This is the visionary part.

Next, analyze the difference between the perfect end state and now. We’re still talking about conceptual differences and aren’t yet to determining the process for fixing it, but this is where the magic starts to happen. Be exhaustive and keep everything in the terms and concepts developed and agreed upon in the first step. Watch for conceptual drift.

Fourth, now that you have a huge list of difference (“deltas” for the engineering types), pic the ones to address that have the biggest strategic impact and best ROI — but make sure to think of all of the values of “I” and the tradeoffs made to get there. It may be that just one or two out of dozens are worth taking action on, which is great and has probably saved more time and energy than would have been wasted jumping right to implementing a fix.

Finally, and this is important, get an explicit commitment in some form from everyone that either has to take action or has to get out of the way for the solutions to work. All actions worth taking are, in some way, contingent on the cooperation of others, so we need to make sure they understand and value what we understand and value. Whether you are talking about a supplier understanding the intent of changing the way you do business that affects them, or getting your spouse to not interfere with your gym time, this explicit commitment to get with it or get out of the way is important, and often challenging — this is where you get to see how good your stakeholder management is.

Five simple steps, expressed simply.

Sure, implementing may be a bit more work up front, but the outcomes you get will more than pay for the attention and “level setting” done upfront. If you need more help or clarifications, get in touch.


About the Author:

Dr. Philip D. Mann is an experienced trainer, speaker, and problem solver who gets things done. His primary expertise is employee engagement and the people side of how organizations grow and (resist) change. He also knows a thing or two about the government works, and those principles apply to all large, bureaucratic structures. If you need help getting things done, reach out to Dr. Mann here on LinkedIn or at

Published inDecisions and Decision AnalysisEmployee EngagementLeaders and Managers

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