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Ressler’s Rule #10: If you don’t systematically plan, life is a series of random events

There is a great old George Harrison song, which is titled “If you don’t know where you are going, anyroad will get you there.” Presumably, there is a corollary “if you know where you are going make sureyou pick a road that gets you there”.

Moving forward without any direction appears to be the preferredmethod for many people’s lives whether it is professional or personal. The net effect of this process isto leave them frustrated and under achieving. Many times I’ve heard the old refrain “I want to do realwork” in contrast to planning which is often boring and seems to have little output. Many times the methodology imposed for planning becomes so elaborate and time intensive that individuals lose interestand focus. Planning can and should be a pragmatic exercise enabling you and/or your organization todetermine what is important, where are you going and lastly how you are going to get there.

Planning your future is one of the most important and positive things you can do for yourself and ultimately the organization, for which you work.

Most organizations use a four-step approach to Strategic Planning (SP)-(1) Mission Statement, (2)Goals, (3) Objectives, and (4) Strategies.

When employing SP on yourself, a simpler three step processutilizing steps #1, 3, and 4 will be ample. You should begin the process with a “Mission Statement”, a simple declaration of what is you purpose in life or simply your self-definition, both personallyand professionally. Many organizations agonize over the wording of their Mission Statement, as they want it to resonate with a larger audience however, you should consider writing a personal MissionStatement that truly captures what is important in your life (it does not need to resonate with anyone but you).

An example might be “I will provide exemplary IT support by constantly upgrading and expanding my knowledge and skills” The Mission Statement is an opportunity to make a basic career changingdecision such as “do I aspire to management positions” or “do I want to stay in Government Serviceor do I intend to be open to private sector positions”. A Mission Statement helps frame the entire planning effort and provides a sanity test for planned actions as you move thru the process (e.g. “whyam I planning to get a graduate degree in Accounting when my Mission Statement is focused on amanagement career?”).

Objectives in your personal Strategic Plan are simply the long term goals or targets to which you aspire.Long term, in this context, is looking forward three to five years. This time frame allows you to move forward in an orderly and pragmatic manner. If you attempt to plan beyond five years, it becomes moreof a “star gazing exercise” then true planning. The number of Objectives should also be limited toapproximately three to five with a mixture of personal and professional. Remember, this is a pragmatic approach and if you attempt to create a plethora of objectives you will have neither the time nor energyto address each in a significant fashion. We would all like to solve world hunger, find a cure for AIDS,and redistribute wealth in a fair manner; we just don’t have time to address all of these honorable topicsat the same time.

Objectives should logically flow from your Mission Statement (MS) and support your effort to becomethe person described therein. Objectives should be obtainable in the three to five year timetable butshould “stretch” your capabilities. Careers, like Rome are not built in a day; however nothing isaccomplished without taxing your abilities and pushing yourself beyond your comfort level. Ultimatelyit is better to slightly fall short on one of your objectives rather than set the bar so low that littleis achieved. Dare to be great just don’t be ridiculous. For example, if you are a grade 12 with no management experience, it is unrealistic to set an objective that in 3-5 years you will be an Executive. Conversely, setting the objective as simply being a grade 13 in that same time frame would appear to be a tad underwhelming.

Strategies are simply the “how” by which you obtain the “what” described in your objectives. This is the simplest and most difficult part of the exercise as in many cases you have insufficient knowledge as tohow you should go about achieving your carefully thought-out objectives. You know where you wantto go now you need to find the right set of roads. The answer is simply research. Discuss your plan with individuals you trust and particularly with those individuals who have already achieved that to whichyou aspire. Look on line for sources of input and develop trusted advisers. Reach out to as many sourcesas possible and then critically examine the wealth of input you receive. Most people love the opportunityto be teachers/mentors-capitalize on this fact by securing input from the largest pool possible.

Once you have created the SP, the real work begins. You need to be very directed and honest with yourself in order to devote the time, energy and resources to the strategies you have developed. Movingforward will require trade-offs. If you have determined that you need more education, more exercise,or simply more time spent at work, some other aspect of your life will get less attention. Be honest withyour loved ones so they understand and accept (buy-in) to the changes required.

Lastly, your SP is a living document and should be reviewed on a regular basis (at least quarterly).Again, be honest with yourself and if you are not making progress toward your objectives determinewhether it is inherent in the strategies or reflects a lack of commitment on your part. Annually, youshould perform an intensive review and possible update/redirection of the SP. Learn from your mistakesand celebrate your successes.

Past Blogs
Rule #9 – It is Ok to be Stupid, It is Ok to be Arrogant, Just Don’t Be Both

Rule #8 – You Can’t Always Get What You Want But If You Try Real Hard You’ll Get
Rule #7 – Common Sense and Common Courtesy are Uncommon

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Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

I try to do something akin to this on the first weekend of a new year…the problem usually isn’t the planning, but the execution – keeping the goals in front of you, laying out bite-size chunks to make a larger project manageable, etc. Appreciate your thoughts on that…

Profile Photo Candace Riddle

@ Andrew – I agree. I’ve actuallyl implemented 90 Day Action Plans to break these larger tasks down. It’s a habit I picked up when I worked in Finance. I used to hate it! But I’ve found it works excellent in my new job. I’m managing a pretty large project with a 3 year goal. It’s easy to break that goal down into one year increments, but that doesn’t really help the short-term tactical moves, so I break it down into 90 day increments and execute one at a time.

I keep it pinned to the wall by my computer…so if ever I reach a stopping point where I find myself asking: “what now” or “when was that due” … I can reference my 90 Day Action Plan.

Not to mention, it keeps management pretty happy when they ask where I stand on a specific issue.

Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

Candace – do you use any special software to keep yourself organized? I have been using “PlanPlus for Windows” – FranklinCovey software that I just use for personal planning…I supposed it’s not much different from using Outlook or similar, but it makes it easier to sort out by the A, B, C, 1, 2, 3 prioritization method.

Profile Photo Alan L. Greenberg

Well said. I always said that I was a better story-teller than manager. In my book, Confessions of a Government Man: How to Succeed in Any Bureaucracy, I go through a similar set of principles, as applied to negotiating. It doesn’t really matter what you’re negotiating for – a new suit at a wholesale tailor shop, or, in my case, close to $1 billion in construction.I use a few rather crude analogies from the sporting world. The point is, you need a mission statement, objective, strategy, timetable and limits. Without being prepared your negotiations, or whatever you are planning, will go astray. The tools available depend on the situation. You don’t necessarily need anything fancy – sometimes just an outline in front of you.

Profile Photo Michele Costanza

Most people are capable of planning for major life events such as education, career, marriage, kids, retirement, illness, death. It’s the random events in life that challenge even the most strategic planners and goal-setters. Planning for illness by having insurance isn’t necessarily adequate preparation when a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness. I learned not to take my plans so seriously because plans change.

Profile Photo Curt Canada

Planning for me is making sure you’re leaving no stones unturned! I am stuck on your last sentence which states” learn from your mistakes and celebrate your successes. I would simply like to add the following two words “Give Thanks”. I like Michele’s comment “about not taking plans so seriously because plans change. Great blog entry!

Profile Photo Victoria A. Runkle

As we all begin to do those annual work programs, it is also good to make certain you review the past year and see where the direction is taking one… did we accomplish our objectives last year? If so, how do they fit in for the future? If not, evaluate why not? Thanks for the moment to make me think.

Profile Photo Victoria A. Runkle

Also, Candace, thanks for your 90 day thought. I am in a Finance world right now, and am convinced this forces incredible timelines on us, but the large projects can get lost. Hence the reason I keep a work program and refer to it often. Keeping it in 3 month bites is an interesting concept.