As I continue my personal focus on better use of action planning, I borrow a lesson from this video blog over at the Brazen Careerist. The video hammers eight essential management techniques in two minutes, but today I am focusing on "Don't make people sink or swim. Set them up for success every step of the way."
It is easy to use the action plan as a disciplinary tool. Putting someone on the "30-day action plan" was a favorite management technique used by one of my former employers. The intent was to set a series of difficult-to-reach objectives in areas that you had already displayed a lack of proficiency in achieving. It was used as documentation handed to you in anticipation of sure failure. An HR thing. Many times, the action plan meant you had 30 days to brush up your resume.
A good manager never hands someone a ready-made action plan. Here are several steps for better action plan implementation:
1. Bring the team together. Anyone who will have a key action step needs to be part of the plan creation. Otherwise buy in will be low and goals will not be aligned.
2. Start with a blank piece of paper. Come to the table with ideas in your head, but if you've already hammered out a template, goal dates, or action steps, then you weren't following rule numero uno.
3. Make every small step a victory. Build some gimmees into the plan. I'm not saying add non-essential elements. Add items that you know are achievable. Don't make assumptions that you will do these "little things" and exclude them as given. Leave nothing out. This may include items that refer back to reviewing and updating the plan itself.
4. Keep them grounded. When developing action steps and goals, it is easy to look at the plate with big eyes. To set a team up for success, guide them to realistic goals. Sometimes this takes compromise from a manager seeking a deadline. Success a week late is better than coming up short a week early. We're talking morale of the team as well. No team wants the baggage of missed opportunities going into their next project.
5. Review and change. Remember that the action plan is a working tool, not the Ten Commandments. Bring the team back to the table after a short period to review progress, forecast next steps, and re-tool when necessary. As a manager, this shows your understanding that projects evolve and you are accepting of changes when they are managed properly. This sit-down review process adds accountability. Individuals who may have changed a step without team input will be forced to bring reason to the table.
While I am concentrating on action step/plans primarily for my own benefit, I hope that anyone reading this benefits from these steps. The action plan can be a road map to project success, but only if you set it up that way with your team. As a manager, one of my Directors says, you get paid for how well you team does, not how well you do.