Flashback: you’re sitting in the audience, listening to a good speaker — a motivational speaker, perhaps, or business expert. You get excited by something they say, a good list, a useful tip, something you want to write down.
Think about it: how often is the most valuable take-away from one of these moments a reminder of what you already knew, rather than a new idea? Is this a common occurrence? Or is it that sometimes the best ideas are presented by the best speakers or writers in ways that make them seem like you already knew them?
For example, on this blog I’ve posted several talks by Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki, and talks from www.ted.com. Those are full of examples.
Planning particularly lends itself to the reminder business because it is one of those disciplines that’s more about actually doing it than knowing how to do it. True, there’s a lot of writing and speaking about how, with financial projections and frameworks and lists and outlines. But out there in the real world, the biggest problem with planning isn’t how to do it as much as just plain doing it. In this sense it’s a lot like diet and exercise — everybody pretty much knows they’d be better off, but knowing isn’t enough.
In The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, author Patrick Lencioni quotes Samuel Johnson, the 18th century writer, who wrote: "people need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed."
I heard him in an interview at HBR Ideacast, expanding on that thought:
I think that’s so true whether we’re talking about managing and leading or parenting or marriage. I’m a parent of four boys. And I know what you’re supposed to do to be a good parent. The question isn’t can I intellectualize it, the question is do I do it every day, day in and day out. And so, my challenge is to keep remembering to do it and that I think is the key for most managers. They know this stuff, but when they … until they read this again and they say: "why am I not doing this?" My book is just written to be a reminder.
Good planning process isn’t something that happens once. It’s a constant process. It’s about developing a plan knowing that you are going to track progress against it, review it, and revise it. It’s about developing management habits that encourage accountability and collaboration as part of the planning.
That seems to me to be something most of us already know. We just need the reminders.
Schedule review sessions when you introduce a plan, and follow through with plan review. Don’t miss the meetings. Don’t forget to review assumptions every time you review the plan.