Stop To Think. Rush To Execute.

About six months ago I found a page from a tear off "Life’s Little Instruction" calendar on my desk. My wife put it there with the note, "this is you!". The phrase on the calendar page is "Stop to think. Rush to execute."

I took it as a compliment. I have always prided myself on my commitment to the relationship between planning and execution.

"Hope is not a strategy. "

"Structure follows strategy."

"Effort without a plan is usually wasted."

These are just some of my pet phrases about the value of strategy and planning. I am nearly maniacal about having a clear objective, a well considered plan on how to reach the objective, and the discipline of sticking to the plan. Most of the time working from a plan delivers the desired results.

My planning mania applies equally to cleaning the garage and building our business. If the job is worth doing, it is worth planning for.

In any endeavor of relevance nearly every time I have ventured forth without the structure of a plan I have found that my time and energy have to say the least not been rewarded. I attribute any success achieved in the absence of a plan pure luck.

Spontaneity and whimsy have their place (perhaps that is an oxymoron) but when it comes to working toward specific objectives, let’s make a plan and get to work.

Recently I have had the opportunity to work with a group who has shown apparent disdain for planning, plans, a structured approach to execution and disregard for the phrase: "If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten."

The group is a political campaign office. This is the candidate’s fourth attempt to win the office he is pursuing. Since the candidate is not running as an incumbent you can deduce the result of the first three campaigns. The campaign team appears convinced that running the campaign in 2012 just like the prior campaigns is going to somehow result in a different outcome. Granted, this is a different time, these are different opponents, and the debate centers on different issues. But, it is still a big gamble to assume that previously failed strategies will result in a victory this time around.

The experience has caused me to reminisce about the basics of planning and how improved the candidate’s odds would be if his team willingly abandoned old beliefs and assumptions and started planning for success from the ground up. While winning wouldn’t be assured he and his campaign team would at least have a fighting chance by coming up with something that put their resources to the highest and best use in pursuit of their goal.

Planning isn’t really all that hard. Effective planning does, however, require taking a few moments to stop, really think about a few things, make some decisions, assign some responsibilities, and work as a team— even if that team is just one person.

What are you trying to accomplish? It is crucial to take the time to clearly establish the goal of the efforts about to be exerted. In the case of the campaign the goal is to win the primary. In this example everything else; raising money, organizing fund raising events, getting radio and TV interviews, are all means to the end of winning the primary. In and of themselves these tactical elements are only steps to the objective.

How will you know when you have accomplished the goal? While this is pretty binary in the campaign I write of, many goals don’t come with such clear cut, yes/no outcomes. Jotting down a definition of success is helpful for two reasons. First, it forces you to get specific. Second, it helps you hold yourself and the team accountable.

What do you have to work with to reach this goal and how will you distribute resources? Time, talent, tools, budget dollars, tech support, and many other types of resources are available. There are usually actually more assets at your disposal than you even realize. This is kind of like packing your back pack for a camping trip. You need to make sure you have what you are going to need because once you are out there you can’t easily come back.

Most resources are finite. Misusing them is wasting them. In the campaign the two most perishable resources are cash and volunteer time. Cash is hard to raise. Volunteers are willing to work if they feel like they are contributing and having success. Misuse any of your resources and your odds of success go down. Be prudent.

What is the sequence of events necessary to get to your goal? Plans by design are sequential. You complete step one, move to step two, adapt, adjust, and proceed. Without the plan the result is often a group working on step two before step one is even complete. Work out of sequence tends to result in waste and frustration.

Write it down and hand it out. Everyone needs to be on the same page, literally. It is not a plan if the entire team doesn’t know what it says and what their role is. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. And then communicate some more. Get people involved, invested, accountable, and owning the outcome. Communicate.

And finally, there has to be a boss, the manager and keeper of the plan and the ONE person who decides when to alter the plan. The plan boss is the Communicator in Chief. Things happen, both expected and unexpected. The boss is the one person who keeps everyone focused on the aforementioned objective and makes the necessary adjustments during the execution phase to keep the team pointed to the end goal. Without one person making the field adjustments every time something unexpected comes along, progress will grind to a halt.

Will our political candidate succeed? Who knows? But there is little doubt if the campaign team takes a little time to plan and prepare for success the chances of success are greatly improved.

The same is true of your team. You may or may not succeed in the pursuit of your objectives. Your odds of success are significantly enhanced if you are working from a plan.