10 LIES ABOUT WORK/Lie Nr. 7 – The best plan always wins.

Intelligent plans may overcome the best plans.

This is again something that many managers think so. They really thing that THE BEST PLAN ALWAYS WINS. Sometimes I just stay alone and ask myself, why the business world and (not only) is ruled by so many incompetent people which are easily promoted in management position without having done anything remarkable, except the fact they were just in some favorable circumstances or as many of them are just there because their company is a incubator of assholes (and here I include big multinational organizations which are quite favorable places for such things) where if you reach the maximum level of being asshole then you have the chance to become the biggest asshole in that company and then when you are on the top, you think you are “The one and only”. Those guys,in fact have no idea how to grow a business. Some are literally stupid. I fail to understand who the hell they become managers, no matter how much I try.


Do The Best Plan Always Wins??== Absolutely not. My answer to that question is: a big FUCKING NO. The more in detail you plan, the more in detail you’ll fucking fail. The level of details you put in that plan, is equivalent with the level of how deep you go in the shit afterwards. Or at least perhaps you succeed in some proportions, but you still get some tracks of bullshit as payback reward. So here is the thing, don’t plan to much, play smart and you will have 10X changes to win than by doing the best plan in advance. You don’t need to waste your time trying to plan something in too much details which in almost 100% of cases it won’t happen as foreseen anyway.

Let me give you a simple example. Have you seen the movie “Mission Impossible” with the main cast Tom Cruise?

Available for sale.

I guess this is a stupid question, right? :-).   Of course, that even if, there is someone who didn’t see the full movie set, at least saw a trailer with this movie.  The first movie in this set was so successful that until today the 6th installment has been already released and it is still not over. The directors already announced that the 7th and 8th installment are on going and prepared to be released in the near future. So for those who didn’t see the movie yet, I really recommend you to watch it. It is an action movie full of adrenaline and it keeps you awake and alert all the time. It’s a movie full of special effects and includes very dynamic action scenes.

For those who already have seen it then, I am sure that you may have noticed that in this movie called “Mission Impossible” in fact, what Tom Cruise is doing it turns to be “Mission Possible”. In the movie the flow of actions are very diverse and the suspense is always there, showing that everything which was well planned in advance didn’t truly happen as expected. Instead Tom had to deal with all sort of difficult situations which he all the time make them turn in his favor, but not because he planned to be like that, but because he played his role perfectly and his intelligence made him succeed without planning anything in advance at all. He had good fellows around him and they trusted in each other. But this is in the movie, in real life the opposite is happening. So as we talk about work, let’s put this in the context of working in an organization. The opposite is happening in business every day.

So what exactly will you do?

If you’ve recently been promoted to team leader, the first thing you’ll be expected to do is create a plan. You’ll be asked – before you even start, most likely – what your plan is for your team, or, more specifically, what your 90 day plan is for your team? You’ll have to sit down, think hard, survey your team members (many of whom you will have inherited), and then do your best Tom Cruise impression and make your plan.

And when you do this: you’ll quickly realize one of the many differences between your team and Cruise’s: his team works alone, while yours appears to be connected to a whole host of other teams, each with their own version of the plan. In fact, poke your head above the parapet of your team for a second and look out across all the other teams in the company, and you’ll discover something of a planning frenzy. Every team is about to go, or is away on, or is just back from, or is just debriefing from, their off-site, during which they formulated, or perhaps reformulated, their current version of the plan.

It won’t be immediately obvious to you, but after a few years you’ll discern that there is a pattern to this planning, a predictable rhythm that repeats itself year after year: in September, in advance of the November board meeting, the leaders of your company will go away on a senior leadership retreat. They may do a SWOT analysis (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats – and it’s just as fun as it sounds); they may bring in outside consultants to help them; and after much analysis and debate and proposal and counter-proposal, the white smoke will emerge from the chimney, and the leaders will emerge with:

The Strategic Plan.

This is what they expect you to follow.

They will then present this plan to the board, and once it’s approved, they will share it with their direct reports. This plan will then be sliced up into many other plans (departmental plans, divisional plans, geographic plans, and so on), each slice-finer and more detailed than the preceding one, until you, too, are asked to take your team off – site and construct your version of the plan.

We do this because we believe that plans are important. If we could just get the plan right, we think, and weave every team’s plan into the broader company plan, then we could be confident that our resources were allocated appropriately, that the correct sequence and timing were laid out, that each person’s role was clearly defined, and that we had enough of the right people to fill each required role. Buoyed by this confidence, we’d know that we’d only have to galvanize our teams to give their all, and success would follow. At the same time, there is a yearning quality to all this planning. We are attempting to shape our future, and our plans can feel like scaffolding stretching out into the months ahead, upon which we’ll build our better world – their function is perhaps as much to reassure us as it is to make that world real. Plans give us certainty, or at least a bulwark against uncertainty. They help us believe that we will, indeed, walk out of the casino with the cash.

And yet, just as this cycle of big plans leading to medium plans leading to small plans is familiar to you, so – surely – is the nagging realization that things rarely, if ever, turn out the way you hope they will. Sure, planning is exciting in the beginning, but the more you sit in all these planning meetings, the more a feeling of futility creeps in. While it all looks great on paper, tidy and perfect, you sense it’s never really going to play out like this, and that as a result you’ll soon be back in yet another planning meeting. You’ll leave this one with the broad contours of your plan sketched out, and you’ll agree on the next steps necessary to refine those contours into something specific and actionable, and then the meeting to make things actionable will get postponed a bit, and then, when it finally happens, it will drift off in another direction. And then, when your team finally gets around to nailing the details, some new idea or thought or realization will emerge that leads you to rethink what you started off with. Tom Cruise never had to deal with this.

But in the real world you’ll have to. The defining characteristic of our reality today is its ephemerality – the speed of change.

Then deal with it.

Everywhere we look we see this speed of change. When you put your plan together in September, it’s obsolete by November. And if you look at it in January, you might not even recognize the roles and action items you wrote out in the fall. Events and changes are happening faster than they ever have before, so dissecting a situation and turning it into a meticulously constructed plan is an exercise in engaging in a present that will soon be gone. The amounts of time and energy it takes to make a plan this thorough and detailed are the very things that doom it to obsolescence. The thing we call planning doesn’t tell you where to go; it just helps you understand where you are. Or rather, were. Recently. We aren’t planning for the future, we’re planning for the near-term past.

And where are the people who are making the plan? So far behind the front lines of the company that they don’t have enough real-world information upon which to make the plan in the first place. How can you make a plan to sell a particular sort of product to a particular sort of customer when you’re not out selling every day? You can’t, not really. You can make a theoretical sales “model” based on your conceptual understanding of an abstract situation, or on an averaged data set that summarizes trends. But if it’s not grounded in the real-world details of each actual sales conversation-when do the prospects’ eyes glaze over, when do the prospects lean forward, when do they start to finish your sentences-your plan will always be more assumptive than prescriptive.

Your people want and need to engage with the world that they’re really in, and to interact with the world as it really is. By harnessing them to a prefabricated plan, you’re not only constraining your people but, quite possibly, also revealing how out of touch with reality you are. This is not to say that planning is utterly useless. Creating space to think through all of the information you have in your world, and trying to pull that into some sort of order or understanding, has some value. But when you do that, know that all you’ve done is understand the scale and nature of the challenges your team is facing. You’ll have learned little about what to do to make things better. The solutions can be found in the tangible and changing realities of the world as it really is, whereas your plans are necessarily abstract understandings of the recent past. Plans scope the problem, not the solution.

So, though you are told that the best plan wins, the reality is quite different. Many plans, particularly those created in large organizations, are overly generalized, quickly obsolete, and frustrating to those asked to execute them. It’s far better to coordinate your team’s efforts in real time, relying heavily on the informed, detailed intelligence of each unique team member.

If you move information across an organization as fast as possible, and do so to empower you will get a immediate and responsive action. Underlying the  assumption that people are wise, and that if you can present them with accurate, real time, reliable data about the real world in front of them, they’ll invariably make smart decisions.It’s not true that the best plan wins. It is true that the best intelligence wins.

Play smart and you will win.

What can you do as a team leader to create such an intelligence system for your team?

  1. First: liberate as much information as you possibly can. Think about all the sources of information you have, and make as many of them as possible available to your team, on demand. Planning systems constrain information to those who “need to know.” Intelligence systems don’t – they liberate as much information as possible, as fast as possible. So don’t worry too much at first about whether your team will understand the data or be able to make use of it. If you think the information will help your people gain a better understanding of their real world in real time, share it. And encourage your team to do the same. Help them understand that sharing what they know about the world, frequently, is vital. Make sure your team is swimming in real-time information, all the time.
  2. Second : watch carefully to see which data your people find useful. Don’t worry too much about making all this data simple or easy to consume, or about packaging it for people, or weaving it together to form a coherent story. The biggest challenge with data today isn’t making sense of it – most of us deal with complexity all the time, and are pretty good at figuring out what we need to know and where to find it. No, the biggest challenge with data today is making it accurate-sorting the signal from the noise. This is much harder, and much more valuable for our teams. So be extremely vigilant about accuracy; watch which information your people naturally gravitate toward; and then, over time, increase the volume, depth, and speed of precisely that sort of data.
  3. Third : trust your people to make sense of the data. Planning systems take the interpretation of the data away from those on the front lines, and hand it off to a select few, who analyze it and decipher its patterns, and then construct and communicate the plan. Intelligence systems do precisely the opposite – because the “intelligence” in an intelligence system lies not in the select few, but instead in the emergent interpretive powers of all front-line team members. You are not the best sense maker. They are.
SUCH MEETINGS ARE COMPLETELY USELESS, nobody gives a shit on that.

A pretty good way to ruin someone’s day is to fill it with meetings. Meetings, for most of us, are a way of taking time that could be put to good use in doing real work, and instead using that time to hear presentations of varying relevance to our immediate challenges, or to discuss topics that might appear important in the grand scheme of things, but that hardly seem urgent on any given day. And while countless meeting “best practices” (have a written agenda, document follow-up items, and so on) at least – ensure some degree of utility, the fact remains that most meetings contain one or more people thinking to themselves that they could be doing something useful, if only they weren’t doing this.

If you study the best team leaders you’ll discover that many of them share a similarly frequent sense-making ritual-not with 2000 people, but with 2. It’s called a check-in, and in simple terms it’s a frequent, one-on-one conversation about near-term future work between a team leader and a team member. How frequent? Every week. These leaders understand that goals set at the beginning of the year have become irrelevant by the third week of the year, and that a year is not a marathon, planned out in detail long in advance, but is instead a series of 52 little sprints, each informed by the changing state of the world. They realize that the key role of a team leader is to ensure that Sprint Number 36 is as focused and as energizing as was Sprint Number 1.

So, each and every week these leaders have a brief check-in with each team member, during which they ask two simple questions:

  • What are your priorities this week?
  • How can I help?

They are not looking for a to-do list from the team member. They simply want to discuss the team member’s priorities, obstacles, and solutions in real time, while the work itself is ongoing. Making sense of it together can happen only in the now. The generalizations that emerge once the passage of time has blurred the details are not the stuff of good sense making. So, doing a check-in once every six weeks or even once a month is useless, because you’ll wind up talking in generalities. Actually, the data reveals that checking in with your team members once a month is literally worse than useless.

A weekly One to One check-in will increase the team engagement.

While team leaders who check-in once a week see, on average, a 13% increase in team engagement, those who check in only once a month see a 5% decrease in engagement. It’s as if team members are saying to you, ”I’d rather you not waste my time if all we’re going to do is talk generalities. Either get into the nitty-gritty of my work and how you can help right now, or leave me alone.”

Each check-in, then, is a chance to offer a tip, or an idea that can help the team member overcome a real-world obstacle, or a suggestion for how to refine a particular skill. Check-ins can be short-10 to 15 minutes – but that’s plenty of time to do a little real-time learning and coaching. And, like all good coaching, this has to be rooted in the specifics of the particular situation the team member is facing, the psychology she/he is bringing to it, the strengths she/he possesses, and the strategies she/he might already have tried. Again, the only way to surface these sorts of microdetails is to make sure that the conversations are frequent.

This leads us to one of the most important insights shared by the best team leaders: frequency trumps quality. They realize that it’s less important that each check-in is perfectly executed than that it happens, every week. In the intelligence business, frequency is king. The more frequently and predictably you check in with your people or meet with your team-the more you offer your real-time attention to the reality of their work-the more performance and engagement you will get. In this sense, checking in is akin to teeth-brushing: you brush your teeth every day, and while you hope that each brushing is high quality, what’s most important is that it happens, every day. Twice-a-year super-high-quality teeth-brushing is as absurd as it sounds. So is twice-a-year super-high-quality intelligence. A team with low check-in frequency is a team with low intelligence.

And this realization in turn gives the lie to the complaint-heard so often from senior leaders and HR executives-that “our team leaders aren’t skilled enough to coach their people!” The data reveals only that those team leaders who check in every week with each team member have higher levels of engagement and performance, and lower levels of voluntary turnover. It doesn’t have anything to say about the quality of those check-ins. We know for sure that if a team leader checks in often with a team member, the team member gets something really positive out of it. And besides, if the team leader struggles initially with his check-in quality, at least he’s able to practice it 51 more times with each team member every year. No matter what his starting point, or his level of natural coaching talent, he’s going to get a little better.

Then take your role as team leader very seriously.Think of helping the others to become leaders too.

Now, you, the team leader, might think: “Well, I would love to check in with my people every week, but I can’t. I’ve simply got too many people! “If that’s you, then yes – you have too many people. One of the longer-running debates in the world of people and organizations is the span of control debate, which grapples with exactly how many team members every team leader should manage. Some say between 1 and 9 employees. Others say between 1 and 20. Some nurses manage staffs of 40; some call-center managers lead 70 or more.

But by pinpointing the weekly check-in as the single most powerful ritual of the world’s best team leaders, we can now know the exact span of control that’s right for every single team leader: it’s the number of people that you, and only you, can check in with every week. If you can check in with 8 people, but you can’t fit 9 into your schedule, your span of control is 8. If you can find a way to check in with 20 people, then your span of control is 20. And if you’re one of those people who can legitimately manage a weekly check-in with only 2 people, your span of control is 2.

You must define yourself what it your best Span of Control.

Span of control, in other words, isn’t a theoretical, one-size-fits-all thing. It’s a practical, function of team leader’s-capacity to give attention thing. Your span of control is your span of attention.

In the service of intelligence, then – in the service of making sense of real – time information together – the weekly check-in is the anchor ritual. You need to design your teams, and their size, to enable it. And if ever you become a leader of leaders, you’ll need to ensure that your leaders know that this check-in is the most important part of leading. Checking in with each person on a team –listening, course-correcting, adjusting, coaching, pinpointing, advising, paying attention to the intersection of the person and the real-world work-is not what you do in addition to the work of leading. This is the work of leading. If you don’t like this, if the idea of weekly check-ins bores or frustrates you or you think that once a week is just “too much” that’s fine-but then don’t be a leader.

In many situations it can be critical for team members to come to trust their team leader. Frequent sense making together in your weekly check-ins-can help with this since it leads not only to better decisions but also to the building of trust. 2 of the 8 engagement items (as I mentioned in my previous post about Lie Nr.2-People do care which company they work for) directly address this issue of trust:

  • “In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values” and
  • “My teammates have my back.”

When these items receive low scores on a team it’s easy to assume that the problem is one of intent-that team members don’t really care for one another or want to support one another. More often than not, however, low scores are a function not of bad intent but of poor information: team members don’t know how to support one another, because they don’t know what’s going on in enough detail to offer assistance. If they don’t know what one another is doing, how can each learn what the others truly value?

Likewise, if they don’t know what work each is engaged in, how can any one of them feel safe? You can’t watch someone’s back if you don’t know where his or her back is. The more frequent sense-making rituals you establish on your team, the more information you will liberate, the more intelligence you will generate, and the more trust you will engender.

SO, then do it often.

It is far more powerful for a leader to free the most information and the most decision-making power than it is for that leader to craft the perfect plan. Another of the 8 aspects (see LIE NR. 2) that distinguish the best teams, as we’ve seen, is the sense of every team member that:

  • “At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.”

Whether informed by any number of management truisms in between, or simply by what seems intuitive, our assumption has most often been that the best way to create clarity of expectations is to tell people what to do. It turns out, however, that by the time you’ve managed to do this, your directions are wrong because the world has moved on. In this way, the systems we’ve built to tell people what to do at great scale-planning systems-fail. The best, most effective way to create clarity of expectations is to figure out how to let your people figure it out for themselves. This isn’t a question of removing complexity, but is rather one of locating it in the right place-not hidden from view as the input for a grand plan, but rather shared for all to see. To do this, give your people as much accurate data as you can, as often as you can-a real-time view of what’s going on right now-and then a way to make sense of it, together.

And they will trust you too.

If you only care about your future projections in career, then your team will behave accordingly, meaning that they won’t give a fuck on your plans.

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