Back to School For Planners

My grandson started kindergarten a few weeks ago. My wife and I both assist my son as caregivers to his kids, so we have been deeply involved in the process. As I reflect on the experience, I am stuck by how much has changed since my son went to kindergarten twenty years ago and how today planning for the start of a school year and the execution of that plan are similar to the planning and execution process of any organization. In fact, these similarities form some best practices of which we can all take note.

Any plan—whether for a school or business—starts with a goal that is understandable and acceptable to the majority of the stakeholders. In the case of starting kindergarten, the goal is having kids transition to full time school, ultimately preparing them for first grade and developing the foundation for a strong 12-year education. Everyone involved—the kids, parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators and even the community—has a stake in this goal. The goal is easy to communicate and remember, and gets strong buy in from almost all stakeholders. This same sort of support and acceptance is what should be true for your organization’s mission and vision.

Before the first day of school, a supply list was sent to all the students, and the school held an open house. During this open house, the teacher met with parents and students to explain the expectations as well as the acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Students needed to bring their supplies and the teacher made sure everyone had their supplies. This ensures students will get off to a good start. Problems can happen when a family doesn’t attend the open house as their students aren’t as well prepared the first day and do not understand what is acceptable behavior. This is no different than in an organization; if everyone understands the values and expectations and has the correct tools to do their jobs, it is much easier to achieve their organization’s plan. If some are not on board, don’t understand the expected behaviors (the organization’s values) or don’t have the correct tools to do the job, the best planning will still lead to poor execution. Taking time to explain what is expected and to check to make sure everyone is prepared is critical to executing the plan.

The school also sent out an email to all parents and guardians to sign into an app which gives daily updates on your child’s behavior, what was covered in class today, an overview of the next day, and anything that needs to be worked on at home with the child. This daily feedback allows the parent to know how the plan is working, what adjustments are needed and helps prepare the child for the next day. The parent can also email the teacher with questions related to his/her child’s progress and let the teacher know if there are issues that arise. This level of transparency and communication is key to the successful execution of the plan and is much different than when my son was in school. Back then, we really only knew what was happening with his education if he got in trouble, when the teacher sent home occasional class updates and when there were parent teacher conferences.

Unfortunately, today most organizations’ planning and execution practices are more like my son’s educational experience twenty years ago. The best practices of transparency and timely communication/feedback regarding progress to a plan are missing in many, if not most, organizations. People’s daily work is disconnected from the plan until quarterly updates are requested, and then it is a scramble to gather what is needed to try to show progress on the plan. Adjustments to the plan are only made after some length of time has passed, instead of immediate course corrections that can happen with there is transparency, open communication and feedback. Ultimately, organizational stakeholders don’t feel connected to the plan, and the plan never reaches anywhere near its full potential.

There is one area where the school’s planning process makes sense for the school, but really isn’t a best practice. Most of the planning and execution rests in the hands of the teacher. There is no broad collaboration with the parents or kindergarteners regarding how to adjust the plan as needed and no collaboration between the parents—all communication is mostly top down. This is understandable as the teacher knows what the students need to learn and the best ways to facilitate learning. The kindergarteners are too inexperienced and most parents don’t have a background in teaching.

In our organizations today, we have smart, qualified people at all levels that in many cases know their portion of the business better than the people at the top. Yet, we don’t uses tools as powerful as the kindergarten app to help with planning and execution. We are still using spreadsheets, word documents, quarterly updates and limited communications to execute plans.

You could in an organization have your plan on a big piece of paper in some common room for everyone to see. People could put post-it notes on the plan to update everyone as progress is made or situations arise. This would be similar to the kindergarten app and could work in a small organization where everyone is located in the same space. Most organizations, however, are not so small or simple for this technique to work. In these cases, using technology would make more sense. At MPOWR, we believe a strategy execution cloud-based software is key.

So, the next time you see a school supply list or all the back-to-school supplies at your local store, remember all the planning and execution that are behind this. Remember that starting off on the same page with a clear understanding of expectations is key to planning and that transparency and on-going communications will make execution much easier. Also, if you find yourself in your child’s or grandchild’s classroom or your company’s board room, stop and think about what transpired before this visit. Was there clear understanding of what is expected? Did people have the right tools and was there adequate transparency and effective communication to support the plan and its execution? 

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Jeff Fahrenwald

Jeff Fahrenwald

Jeff Fahrenwald is Vice President of Strategy Development and Execution at SupplyCore, Inc. He is also a partner in one of SupplyCore’s international affiliates. Jeff has served as an Assistant Professor of Business and the MBA Director at Rockford University, and has taught classes related to Strategic Planning and Leadership. Jeff is responsible for working with the entire senior leadership to team to develop and guide the strategic direction of all of SupplyCore’s interests. He has an MBA from Eastern Illinois University.

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