Many of us can dream up big visions, and set inspiring intentions for where we are headed. Others among us are wildly productive doers, with countless achievements to our names. Unfortunately, those who can cast visions and then put them into successful action are a much rarer breed. As a result, the dreamers fail to reach their goals, and the doers lack satisfaction from their deeds.
What dreamers and doers both need is an effective plan of action. That plan is the balancing force between the two extremes—both of whom lack the secret of an effective action plan. For those of you who have been following along in this series on becoming a better leader, you have your ONE thing picked out and ready to work on from last week’s blog. This week it’s time to take ACTION.
The secret to an effective action plan is:
Clearly define a set of orderly steps to reach an inspiring goal, then focus on each step in turn.
Except, here’s the dirty little secret about the secret:
Most of us, whether we are dreamers or doers, rarely stop to outline our action steps, focusing instead on the far-off goal instead. What’s worse, over 80% of businesses have no business plan or strategy whatsoever – a percentage that correlates directly to the number of business failures.
(Cue scary music)
This doesn’t need to be you. There’s no time like right now to create an action plan that will enable you to do your ONE thing.
Be specific. Ensure that it’s attainable, not frustrating or unrealistic. Break it down into steps to take. Have an end date for each specific step.
Let’s go back to the example of having lunch/getting to know an employee once a week. (You’ll recall that this originated from one aspect of your mission - to use your skills or position for the emotional good of the company.)
Specific steps would be something like this:
● Choose 4 people.
● Contact each one to choose a date, time, and location. Assure them that there's no underlying agenda!
● Confirm and add each date to your calendar.
● Enjoy your lunch and conversation with them.
This is a very simple example, but you can see how each step is do-able and you know when it’s been completed.
Your ONE thing may be a little more complex. Or a lot more complex! Take the time to break it into manageable components, each of which will be completed before moving to the next. Your steps could take a month, a week, a day, an hour, or just a minute or two. Whatever increments you choose, be honest with yourself about how you work best, how many distractions you face, and what amount of time might feel too daunting.
The goal is focusing on your ONE thing to the exclusion of other projects, but let’s be realistic - there are often urgent situations, sudden demands, unexpected phone calls and more that will interfere with even the best of plans.
Knowing where you are in the sequence of steps helps you to recover and get right back to what you were doing before an interruption came along. You’ll find you can accept those interruptions a lot more peacefully.
Once you complete your ONE thing, prioritize what you’ll be tackling next. Getting one item done leads to achieving your next one thing and starts a healthy chain reaction.
Using the ONE thing you decided on last week, write out the specific manageable steps you’ll take to ensure completion.
Now, to be fully transparent, while the small steps are the secret to a successful action plan, there is a little bit more we need for bigger goals (and I am all about bigger goals!) Here are a set of questions that help clarify what those steps need to be, and also the right order in which to tackle them:
Where am I now? It is important to recognize the current situation, its potential challenges, and where we will be starting from. Like in weight loss, our journey is not only defined by the weight we reach, but by our starting weight. A business’ profits are determined by what was sold, at what margin, over a finite period of time. We all begin somewhere. Where are you now?
Where do I want to be? We all know the saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do.” I like to add, “If you don’t decide for yourself, others will decide for you.” So, even though it might seem intimidating, impossible or unlikely, name your goal. It’s your life. Be in it all the way.
How will I get there? This is where you identify not only your steps, but what resources you will need, how long it could take, and where you can get help.
How will I know when I have gotten there? This might seem self-evident, but it isn’t always. What proof of success will you consider adequate? Is it publishing a book? Or is it having a best-seller? Is it selling a million copies? Is it changing just one reader’s life?
How will I know if I have been successful? Again, this may seem like a redundant question to the one above, but we can reach our goal, and find it has not delivered the impact we imagined it would. So, besides stating our goal, it is helpful to also define its underlying “why” that is the true success metric. Why am I writing the book? Why a book and not a TED Talk? Why this book and not that one?
When you have clarity on the answers to those questions, you are now ready to assess if your overall plan, and each step leading up to completion, appears to be realistic? If not, make adjustments to the plan, keeping in mind there will likely be unexpected challenges along the way. You get to alter your plan as you go, but by writing it down, you are doing so with clarity and intentionality you otherwise would not be able to. If you try to hold it in your mind it is easy to lose track of where you are. It becomes difficult to get back on track as well. As a result, your goals stay out of reach.
The best leaders work to be clear on where they are headed, and stay the course. But, of course, leadership and action are about more than the leader alone.
Next week we’ll explore how to clarify your team mission.