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Make a New Plan, Stan...

Joseph Fearn

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All of us have heard the adage “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Of course, many have also heard “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.  One of my favorites, attributed to Abraham Lincoln and also appropriate to the green industry is “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” . Regardless of how we view planning, it is essential to achieving goals and successful team operation.

My career has now landed me in a position that requires me to assist in building an operation largely from zero, so I'm in the midst of creating an organizational plan. I'd like to share some of my thoughts around this important topic and hopefully hear from some dear readers on the subject as well.

Why Plan?
Creating a plan achieves a number of benefits for an operation. The first benefit is that a plan lays out a road map for success. Creating a destination and a route for getting there provides efficiency and prevents missteps. Surely you can achieve an objective without a plan, but there will likely be fits and starts along the way.

Next, a plan helps establish benchmarks. These metrics can help keep an operation on schedule. Demonstrating progress and achieving benchmarks is key to indicating/sustaining success. A clear and understandable plan also helps foster buy-in of stakeholders, allowing them to see the future. People outside your operation, but involved in it nonetheless, can help provide energy and resources. Sometimes they may even provide cover if unplanned glitches pop up in the plan. 

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Keep it Real, and Achievable
A key factor to any plan is to keep it reality-based. Only with accurate evaluations of your operation and avoidance of wishful thinking can your plan be achievable. Begin by completing an objective evaluation of where your operation currently is. Documenting the status quo can provide a quick start to your plan because even the most dysfunctional operation is achieving success somewhere. There is no need to start completely from scratch so thereby we avoid unnecessary work.

Including the thoughts of current employees has the dual benefit of providing a different vantage point and also helps foster responsibility for successful implementation of the plan. Employees usually will get behind any effort they help craft rather than one they are ordered to follow. Make objectives that are realistic and measurable. Small achievements can provide momentum plus maintain and enhance continued plan support.

Employees usually will get behind any effort they help craft rather than one they are ordered to follow.

Don’t Go It Alone
Creating a good plan requires broad participation from all facets of your operation. Regardless whether you are tasked with creating a new plan like I am, or simply updating an old one, seeking input is essential. First, this takes the responsibility for the plan off your shoulders alone. While you likely don’t shirk being on the hook, getting feedback usually creates a stronger plan.

Next, it helps to eliminate any prejudices or functional blind spots you may be subject to. People usually base a course of action on experiences they have had. While this isn’t entirely a bad thing, getting additional perspective can be invaluable. Lastly, getting someone else’s thoughts on your plan, especially from a boss, can give clarity as to expectations. What I believe we are pursuing may not be what my boss thinks. Seek feedback and be open to it.

Be Flexible, Aim High, and Reevaluate Regularly
Any plan should be like rubber rather than concrete. All plans should be precise and fact-based, but not so rigid as to ignore the specific realities of the operation and scenario it lives in. My situation has considerations that may be hugely different than other operations/locations. Your plan should be aspirational also. Set your sights high and create lofty goals. It is better to shoot for the stars and fall short rather than not go for broke from the get-go.

Again, basing your plan in reality and fact will accommodate realistic and achievable goals even if those goals are aggressive. Lastly, plans must be reevaluated regularly. Reviewing progress and considering whether adjustments are needed prevents wasting time and effort. The goal of the plan is progress, not necessarily perfection.

...believe in what you are doing and where you want your operation to go.

Plan for Success
Planning for success is one of those statements that has two meanings depending on how you read it. But both are critical to your operation and both are necessary at any time. First, the preparation and pathways for charting your course are essential. Things we plan to do may or may not occur. But I guarantee if you don’t plan something it won’t happen. Next is planning to achieve your goals. That is to say believe in what you are doing and where you want your operation to go. You, and everyone around you, will draw energy from a resolute mindset. In my experience, very little happens when we don’t believe in our ability to make it happen. So, make a plan, stick to it, and enjoy the results.

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