June 11, 2009

Planning is a good thing as long as it helps in reaching the destination. Often, planning gets too mired in details to the extent that it makes effective implementation virtually impossible.

The problem starts when leaders think that everyone down the ladder needs a step-by-step action plan to achieve a desired objective. Nothing could be farther from truth. The biggest fallacy of a leader is to do a micro level planning instead of letting people at ground zero do that. If the leader starts drawing a plan in extreme details, it may hold good as long as the situation at ground zero remains same at the time of execution. But situations frequently change. And too detailed plans often fail miserably at execution stage. Planning can be effective only if it has an inbuilt flexibility for modification to care take of surprises on the path to execution. Too much detail takes away this flexibility and makes the plan rigid and vulnerable to hit a dead end in face of unexpected situations.

Great planning is a necessity for great execution. But great planning in no way means detailing everything for your team. Great planning involves giving a road map and a destination to the team and letting them navigate through the road map on their own and trusting their judgement to bust foreseen as well as unforeseen obstacles on the way to reach the destination.

Great planning is all about letting your team know your intent in simple and unambiguous terms and empowering it to take suitable decisions for accomplishing it. At every level of leadership in an organization, the leader should strive to communicate his intent and let his team work out the details of a plan. Restraint should be exercised in delving into detailing every aspect of execution. At the highest level, the intent would be broad. With every leadership level down the line, the leader's intent would reflect higher and higher degree of detailing by taking into consideration the operative environment and increased availability of information pertaining to ground realities. Through this approach, by the time the intent of the higher level of leadership is passed to the execution team at the bottom of the rung, the original intent gets refined and structured by a number of minds by taking into consideration multiple sets of information, accumulated knowledge, and experience. As a result, execution is more effective and in line with the leader's intent.