Plans, Planning, and other Types of Engagement

Dwayne Phillips

Revision History
Revision 1.0 3 June 2009

Plans are important to me; they are not important to everyone. The same is true of many intellectual products in our workplaces. One challenge for managers is to arrange situations where the right people become interested enough to think and communicate their thoughts.

Dwight Eisenhower is credited with saying something about plans and planning. He actually repeated a story he was taught early in his Army life about planning being far more important than plans. I agree with with that thought. Some experiences, however, have showed me that the planning may not be the  most important part.

On more than one occasion, the important part was the presentation of the plan. I had to present the plan to a group of managers. We could not commence the work until they approved the resources required by the plan. The presentation engaged the managers. Committing resources was important enough for them to engage, think, and talk. They asked questions, gave suggestions, and plainly gave orders.

I have also lived through projects where the plan, the planning, and even the presentation were not enough. People still sat back and only feigned interest. A conversation involving three or four persons was the more important event. These conversations engaged persons enough so that they would finally think and say something.

These "extra" steps of presentation and conversation are frustrating to me. People, I think during my weaker moments, are supposed to appear at work ready and anxious to work. Plans are essential to meaningful work. People should understand this and behave accordingly.

My frustrations finally made something clear to me: some people don't care about plans. It doesn't matter how much the plans affect them, these people don't care. What is more: some people don't care about many things that are produced by my hard work - even things that they "should care about."

Now I am starting to sound like an old man. "These kids today..." No, that is not it. Often these people who don't care are in their 40s and 50s. Age is not the determinant.

Let's go back to Eisenhower for a moment. Most Army officers "come to work" excited about planning as they have a good reason to be. If they aren't excited enough to engage, they could die the next day in battle. In business endeavors, bad outcomes are possible. Death, however, is usually not one of the possible outcomes. Us business and IT managers lose one of the big motivations for plans.

In today's economy (unemployment at 10% plus or minus a couple percent), some people are not moved by "get with the plan or get out." Out goes another motivation from fear. In a strange twist of circumstance, the motivating fear often falls on us managers. Regardless of high unemployment, it is still expensive to replace the uninterested with people who treasure the things I treasure.

My conclusion is that the burden of proof lies with me. I have to convince the other person that the plan, or whatever the item, is important to all of us.

I recommend more hard work for myself and other  managers. Arrange the planning, arrange the presentations, and if need be, arrange the conversations. Arrange whatever situation is required to engage people where they will think and communicate their thoughts. Turning red in frustration and pounding the walls asking "why?" only wastes my time and energy. Thinking and communicating are the essence of our work. Sometimes we have to squeeze pretty hard to extract that essence.

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