Your brain — that powerful driver of your career success — has set you up for failure.
Every time you create shiny goals and plans, they likely have some fundamental flaws that will soon tarnish.
Here’s what you can do to make the results more useful and your process more engaging.
How Leaders Plan to Fail
How did you prepare for setting business goals this year?
If you’re like most leaders, your first choice was beginning with your own experiences at your current company or earlier jobs. (“I think we can do …”)
Your second choice — because leaders generally are optimistic — was to make your estimates closer to the best-case scenario. (“I bet we can reach …”)
And when things go wrong, your third choice will be irrational persistence: not changing your approach when all the evidence suggests you should. (“We just need to give it a little more time and effort …”)
Your Lazy Brain
These three choices reflect what’s called the planning fallacy. It’s the result of your brain not wanting to do the hard work of coming up with a realistic plan, because it’s easier to do what you’ve always done.
Here are three actions you can take to wake up your mind — and everyone else’s — and create plans that are less likely to fail, or adapt the ones you have so they won’t.
Start with Research
Get out of your own head. Whether it’s a plan for a business or a department, look at what your competitors or peers are doing. Discover what has worked well or not for them with similar products, services and markets. See if there are any statistical databases you can tap: particularly on market growth and pricing.
If you have trouble finding this — or even if you’re successful — do informational interviews with current and potential customers. Make it clear you’re not “selling” anything. Ask what they see and come away with a more realistic benchmark for what to expect.
Get All Your People Have to Give
This is not what you think. Too many leaders pull their folks together to discuss things and get a consensus. The problem with this is that, in general, people listen to those who speak passionately or aggressively at the beginning of a meeting and then line up behind them. That means plenty of good ideas never surface.
Instead, ask people to send ideas to you in writing in advance of the meeting. This way, you get the benefit of everyone’s thinking — rather than just the people who are loud about or confident in expressing their ideas. Access the diversity in your organization.
Plan for Breakdowns
Once you have a solid draft of your plan — but haven’t yet finalized it — pull your people together again. Do a “pre mortem.” Tell them to imagine a year has gone by. You’ve implemented the plan, and the result has been a disaster. Then give them five or 10 minutes to write a history of what happened. This unleashes everyone’s imagination, and helps you overcome group-think and overconfidence. The process also identifies some areas for potential pitfalls, which you can investigate and may end up incorporating into the plan.
Look at these 11 Good Ideas from Smart Leaders. This is one page of some of my favorite quotes on planning.
Move Beyond the Numbers
Of course it’s essential to have financial goals. But too often annual plans become little more than dropping in new numbers — because that’s the lazy brain thing to do. Reinvent your planning process so you and your people get more out of it. Then your business will, too.