Thursday, October 23, 2008

Put a Bullet In Your Plans

Plans are fragile. Just ask Robert Burns. His poem, “To a Mouse,” contains this: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” So things are not entirely within your control. But surely you knew that. Everyone does.

But are they as out of our control as we most-times imagine? Take on the role, for just a moment, of the pain management nurse, and rate your pain (lack of control, in this case) from 1 (complete control, no pain) to 10 (no control whatsoever, unbearable pain). Be honest! Write it down.

Now reconsider. Might you be your own worst enemy, a villainous saboteur, blithely shooting down your own “best laid” plans with one of these bullets?

  • Laziness - You assumed too much and didn’t bother to vet your assumptions. These often center in two areas: availability and process.
    • Availability - Four points.
      • Don’t assume that everyone will simply show up. Were they notified appropriately? Was the list complete and accurate? Was there an opportunity to have them sign up, to commit?
      • Don’t assume that the things you want to work on are going to be available. If it’s movable, is it going to be there? Is it going to be in use by another group? Are you absolutely certain that you have permission to tie the resource up for this long?
      • Don’t assume that your time frame matches the required time frame of the resource. Talk to the right people.
      • Don’t assume that the necessary tools and supplies will magically be on site. You may have to make arrangements.
    • Process - Three points.
      • Do you have the necessary know-how? In other words, do you know the process?
      • Do you have the necessary leadership ability? Do you command enough respect to assign duties? Here’s what I mean: if nobody thinks you know the process, they may not believe you know what you’re doing with your assignments.
      • If you don’t have the best handle on process, you might need to hand control over to an expert. Next question: should the control you cede be advisory/technical, or should it be administrative also? If the expert is no good with people, you might need to run interference for him, continuing to be the administrator.
  • Naivete - You underestimated the situation. You ran all the traps listed above, but just underestimated how much trouble some of them could be, or you overestimated your or your group’s ability to handle them. “We can handle it,” are four words that can kill your plans.
  • Denial - You refused to face up to certain truths about your situation. Someone told you something about availability or process, and you said to yourself:
    • They’re lying.” Come on. Really? Maybe you’re not only in denial, but paranoid as well. Why would they lie? If the answer is not immediately obvious, then this conclusion is not obvious either.
    • That’s not true.” You may not be calling them a liar, but what’s the alternative? They’re an idiot? Someone’s lying to them?
    • They don’t really understand the situation.” If you’re told something by someone you thought should know, and your response is, “That’s not true,” then maybe you need to ask at least one more question. Maybe several.
    • That was then, this is now.” This assumes that your information is more current than theirs. Is that warranted? Nail it down.
    • That’ll never happen.” Watch out, now. Never? You know what they say about pride. It happens right before you fall on your face.

I’ve been at several work days over the years at church or school or the ball field, and plans that fell apart through one of these factors were really just as discouraging (and damaging to future recruitment efforts) as no plans at all. So take care not to put a bullet in your own best plans.

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