Goals vs Plans

September 22, 2021

Woman typing out some goals on her laptop

Context and planning approach

Setting goals is one of the critical parts of every manager’s job. But, in order to achieve goals you need a strategy or a plan.

The nature of the organisation and the team will significantly affect the approach to whether you are developing a more comprehensive strategy or an operational plan.

Leadership teams; develop strategic plans that are not only for the team but for the whole organisation. These are fundamental to ensure clarity and alignment across the organisation.

Functional teams: these are often developed to align to company goals. There may be an annual planning cycle and quarterly reviews. Due to the significant volatility in business many are adopting more rapid, agile approaches to planning.

Cross functional teams: these teams are project based and so the plans will depend on the timescales of the project. There’s much to be learned  from how project based teams plan.

Learning teams: driven by broader learning objectives. It’s critical to think through and plan how those learning objectives are likely to be realised.

Organisation planning cycle

Planning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Any team that’s within a larger organisation will need to align to the broader strategic planning cycle.

The nature of this will vary a lot by industry and organisation. For example, if there is more volatility and uncertainty, the planning cycles are typically shorter and organisations hope to provide greater autonomy to teams on the ground. In some highly regulated industries there may be less freedom.

Your team goals and plans need to be aligned with other teams and the organisation objectives. This requires strong awareness of company strategy and effective stakeholder management.

Planning, project management and the rise of agile

It’s often the case that organisations have vision and planning at a corporate level and individual performance objectives, but there is a lack of clarity at a team level.

A Team Plan is a detailed plan to provide:

Direction: clear on the destination (not necessarily how to get there).

Focus: focus energy on a few, pivotal objectives that lead to favourable outcomes.

Actions: clear logic how activities will drive results.

Progress: track progress towards the desired performance levels.

KPIs: performance levels of the team

There are no strict rules as to the format of a team plan, though they normally contain at least some of the following information:

  • A team vision or team purpose statement
  • Performance measures/ Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Agreed actions required to achieve goals
  • Specific goals for overall team development and goals to improve team competency

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to planning. In the era of digital transformation, new forms of agile management have emerged. Agile methodologies encourage frequent inspection and adaptation and facilitate rapid responses to changing conditions. Short development cycles focus on continuous improvement, allowing teams to work towards short-term (sprint) goals.

Dealing with gaps in strategy and planning

Also, no plan is ever entirely successful. It’s important to understand how to manage gaps between what you planned for and what actually happens.

Stephen Bungay has an interesting model to reflect on gaps in strategy, dividing them into three types of problems: a knowledge gap, an alignment gap and an effects gap.

If a plan doesn’t succeed, Stephen Bungay's model can help us reflect on where the main gap is. Our instinctive reaction to finding a gap is to demand more and more detail and “control”. But this can often make the problem worse. We need to balance adding more controls with other ways to address gaps:

Knowledge gap

Reduce direction to defining the overall intent but not defining in detail the how. It’s also critical to connect your team plan with an understanding of the whole organisation's vision and plan

Alignment gap

Reduce the alignment gap by inviting participation from the team in developing the plan. It increases team understanding of the plan and also buy-in to delivery.

Effects gap

Reduce the effects gap by giving individuals the freedom to adjust their actions in line with the overall purpose.

A plan or strategy on its own isn’t enough. It’s a key piece of the puzzle to Getting Set, alongside clear shared purpose and goals:

  • Roles are clear and competent people are in those roles.
  • Responsibilities are clear in the structure, so that there’s clear accountability.
  • Stakeholder communication ensures alignment of purpose, goals and plans.
  • The meetings have been set up to coordinate delivery of the plan.

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