Why You Should Create Formal Written Plans

Posted: July 4, 2011 in Uncategorized
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I’ve often observed how thinking through and writing out a plan of action leads to clearer ideas and much greater success in achieving objectives. However, most managers and entrepreneurs tend to resist this type of formal planning, especially the act of sitting down to write. These are some of the most common fallacies related to formal planning and written direction:

•My plans are all in my head.
•I don’t want to create needless bureaucracy.
•My team already knows what I want.
•I don’t need to write down my plans to be committed to executing them.
•I don’t have time to write a formal plan.

Thinking Instead of Ruminating

One of the most powerful benefits of a written plan is that it forces its creator to express his thoughts in terms that others will understand. Authors consistently note that the process of planning out a text and compelling oneself to write out one’s thoughts is what ultimately produces the thinking. The alternative is to just ruminate about problems, issues, objectives, responsibilities, etc. A leader who ruminates out loud in front of subordinates can compound this effect by leaving them wondering what he or she really wants. Putting ideas on paper also tends to unburden the mind and makes subsequent reflection and writing much more focused and impactful.

Unwarranted Fear of Bureaucracy

In most of my client organizations, there is a fear of “bureaucracy,” usually equated with mountains of paper and “theoretical” plans and reports. There are certainly organizations where the focus on written documentation rather than action is the rule. Many government organizations suffer from that affliction. However, this is hardly a problem in most businesses and not for profits, especially smaller ones. They are in no immediate danger of bureaucratization. Moreover, bureaucracy isn’t really about paper and reports; it’s about how individuals use their position within organizations to advance their own personal agenda and power. Endless reports and paper trails are merely the means of obfuscating their own responsibility or of forcing clients and potential collaborators into doing things that are against their own interest. But that is a completely different problem.

Giving Clear Direction

The greatest benefit of issuing written plans and direction is that it gives a clear idea to everyone around you what you are in fact doing, or want to achieve. This avoids the inevitable game of mind reading that many people resort to when they are operating in an information vacuum. Even more important is that it quells rumours, because the boss has actually written out what she expects from everyone. It also helps to clarify resources, relationships, and responsibilities. A draft plan can be issued, and then collaborators and subordinates have something to critique and improve, rather than just vague assertions like “I’m thinking of doing this.”

Creating Public Commitment

Psychological research has shown that most people easily and willingly renege on verbal promises and commitments, sometimes without even realizing that they are doing so. On the other hand, people tend much more to adhere to public commitments, not because they actually want to, but to avoid the embarrassment of backing away from a commitment. This is what transforms vague wishes into actual action: the need to save face. What can be more “public” than actually writing down and issuing your commitments and the intended means of achieving them?

No Time Like Now

“I’m too busy to plan” is one of the most ludicrous things that a manager or executive can say. If you don’t take the time to think through your next course of action and to plan it out, how will you avoid being in the same situation tomorrow, next week, next year? Planning is an investment, in that you reap many of the dividends down the road, but you can also create peace of mind and focus in the short term by writing out your intentions.

Most people have a deep-seated bias against writing things down, other than maybe to create “to do” lists. In fact, planning is probably the most critical task that an executive or leader must undertake. By formally planning what you want to achieve and how you intend to achieve it, you create the necessary conditions for successful execution. It creates a common basis for understanding between the parties expected to execute the plan. It contributes to the leadership of the executive in charge, because he or she will show they have thought through the implications of their undertaking and have made a start at turning the vision into a reality through (more or less) detailed planning.

© Alcera Consulting Inc. 2011. We encourage the sharing of this information with attribution. All other rights reserved.

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