Thursday, December 18, 2008

Work the Goal, Not the Plan

Having a plan is a good thing, but too often The Plan keeps us from achieving our goal.

I had an interesting meeting with a potential client, and we were discussing his ambitious vision for his company. His comment was, "Yes, we do need to sit down and put together a plan for getting things done..." My sense in that moment was that the process of planning was so daunting for him the "planning" may never take place.

I know this place. I too have seen a goal in my head and never sat down to plan just because it can feel like there was no place to start. If I do start the planning, too often the process becomes its own monster -- a new goal that keeps me from actually moving forward on my original purpose. And I have also participated in planning meetings where the debate is not about reaching the goal but instead is a discussion on how to plan the plan and all of the endless variations of analyzing choices before a single step has been taken (a common roadblock when working with committees).

What I asked my potential client to consider was; "What will it look like if you reach your goal?" This simple question permits me or you to determine (and write down) where we want to be.
  • How many people will be working here?
  • How many projects or clients will you have?
  • What kind of cases or projects will you be working?
  • What will your income be?
  • How will you feel at your goal?
  • Etc.
Then I asked this gentleman, "What if instead of planning from here forward, we work instead from there backward?"

"Why don't we put the goal on the wall and walk backward through all of the little goals that will get us there? And then, from here forward why can't we look at The Goal, and the little goals in between, and for every idea that comes along we throw it at the wall and see if it sticks?"

In action it is like working a case study in success.

Now there are pundits out there that will throw sports and combat analogies at this theory. They can talk about how having a concrete plan in place first is the only method to succeed. But to them I say; here-forward planning for an action that will happen in a brief period in controlled environments is completely different from aiming for a goal that will happen over an extended period of time in a culture and environment that is constantly changing.

I say, if you are aimed at a goal that is months or years out there, don't work it from here to now. Work it from there to here. That way, your next step each day is still aimed at The Goal, not The Plan.