Many years ago, I worked for a manager who made the following comment:
“We have to execute this plan absolutely perfectly, and there can be zero deviation from it!”
There were about eight people in the room, and we all agreed. It was essential to carry out the plan exactly as written, and we were going to stick with it no matter what! After all, the leadership team was involved in creating the magnificent plan, so we thought it must be good!
After the initial phase, we realized it was already falling short of expectations. For example, the plan required managers from several departments to be engaged at the same time, and this aspect never materialized, as some of them were continually putting out fires. They were too busy to help execute the plan. We needed to allow room for modifications to be made.
Is Planning Bad?
It makes sense that lacking a plan is counterproductive. However, a good mindset to embrace is that plans are inherently going to have weak areas. Therefore, plans should be built on the idea that changes will need to take place.
For example, let’s assume you drive the same route to work every day. You leave the house at the same time and usually arrive at your workplace on schedule.
One day, your city is deluged with a strong and persistent rainstorm. A street on your work route is marked as a low-water crossing area and should be avoided.
It’s early in the morning, and the city officials have yet to close off this street, but you know it’s dangerous.
From your standpoint, the plan calls for you to drive this direct route to work, but things have changed. Given the warning signals, choosing the longer route in this situation is the best course of action.
The point here is, yes, the planning exercise is smart, but it’s even smarter to be aware when it’s time to pivot from the plan or even abandon it altogether.
Electrician Who Became a Dentist
Many times, our career paths and goals can change as different opportunities arise.
I have a friend here in San Antonio who came to the States from Lagos, Nigeria. When we first met, he mentioned his job at a busy electrical company in his home country. He enjoyed the work, and he earned enough to keep his family comfortable.
However, when he moved to San Antonio, he realized his passion was dentistry. At the age of 44, he applied and was accepted into dental school. At 49, he graduated as a dentist, and set up his own dental practice shortly thereafter.
I spoke to him recently, and he is delighted with his new career. He specializes in helping low-income families receive dental care. I’m sure he could earn significantly more by targeting a more affluent demographic group, but that’s not why he became a dentist.
He changed his career plans to do something he loves, which is to provide important dental care to people who may not be able to afford it otherwise.
The planning effort is good but be willing and ready to take a different course of action when you observe a problem or an opportunity.