Over the past few years there has been a lot of debate and writing about company culture (no matter how small or big your team is). More frequently in this conversation managers believe it’s about bringing people together and putting on breakfasts or Friday evening drinks. But this misses the point entirely.
Aside from the problem that it seems to be setting aside ‘culture’ to predetermined time periods, it forgets that culture is also cultivated through job enjoyment and satisfaction which fosters happiness, positivity, and up beat motivation that translates to action, productivity and increased profitability.
As I work with more and more companies I’ve come to see that one of the biggest failures of culture, and lack of experimentation and innovation, is planning. It is the lack of planning that confuses people. It is the lack of committing to plans that renders work redundant from one week to the next. It is the lack of communicating plans that reduces the stickiness of a team working together towards achievable goals; ones they feel good about.
The bigger your startup or business gets, the higher the risk that you will fail if you do not plan.
We all love the swooshing sound of marking something off our list. We also all love when we know what that task was contributing to in the larger scheme. We enjoy working with people also heading for the same result and we hope we don’t need to revise what we did yesterday because the goal changed today.
Planning impacts how much you love your job, it affects how you well you can sell your ideas internally, how you sell your products externally, the work you produce, the future of your company, how much potential employees will enjoy their job and perceive your company, your ability to scale, your capability of leveraging opportunities, ability to be creative and deliver the best out of everyone etc.
Opportunities come up. You can’t capitalize on them if you’re stuck in everything else.
Planning, good or bad, is ubiquitous everywhere. Let me give you an example. Have you broken down your year? Does your team know what you’re focussing on this year? Do you stick to it, pivoting only with thought and careful consideration? I’ve taken to breaking our year down into quarters as this is generally how I work and can understand where things fit in (our projects often run in twelve week timeframes). For bigger clients, or those with many more projects and tasks in a year, we break their years down into the individual months. We then plan out staff holidays, major internal & client projects, opportunities and monthly large tasks. We can then toggle this between a general overview and Gantt chart for yearly timings to know where we’re fully loaded up, where things need to shift and what the focus is to align our work with.
Planning also entirely impacts the direction, delivery and outcome of the projects you work on. When we start working on interface projects for example, we do a lot of pre-planning work prior to ever touching a design. This means sitting down with key stakeholders, analyzing past data, understanding current structure, speaking to customers, clients & employees (where relevant) and then sketching out information architecture. From there it’s getting buy in for that and crafting it up more formally.
Once the outcome of that work gets approved, we break down into the next action step. For a website/interface, that then means drafting all the user stories and process flows before we wireframe anything. It might sound like a lot but all that work dictates the best way we should move forward. Without it, we’re really just guessing and throwing spaghetti at a wall. But only once because the spaghetti costs thousands of dollars and you’ve only got one bowl.
Another example? You and your team move through processes every day in a lot of the things you do. You might recognize them or not. They might be working really well, or they might not. When we sit down to work on a business system or the improvement of a department we map out workflows. What does it take to go from point A to B? What are the steps involved? Where are the bottlenecks? How can we make this work better? The result of this planning is of course, process improvement and significantly more effective work and job satisfaction. It also has intangible improvements in creativity, leadership, and simply freeing up brain space. Having this structured also means that when we change something, we can go back to this and understand what the impacts of the change are and anticipate any issues long before we just go ahead with it. Process improvement put into action, is a direct outcome of good planning.
Signs of poor planning include endless meetings, confusion amongst managers and teams, feeling overwhelmed, often asking people (or yourself) to do things at the last minute, changing goal-posts for your staff frequently and setting unrealistic timeframes and not achieving them.
When we work with overwhelmed or frustrated clients we tend to take a quick initial approach to planning rather than spending months talking (more immediate action is needed in these situations). Firstly, we get the next few months planned out, clear and agreed on, and then later built out to a year from there (that needs more alignment work). Once you’ve got that in front of your eyes, we analyze the projects and determine a consistent methodology for best managing them. Start with that and the processes that need priority from there will fall into place; all whilst everyone knows what’s happening for a while which will make for a far calmer workplace and happier employees & customers.