This article describes the concept of Action Planning in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful strategy and deployment tool.
What is Action Planning?
Action Planning is the process of translating strategies and goals in actions, allows ideas to become tangible. It is characterised by a separate plan for each component and intermediate step, all eventually leading to the ultimate goal. It is an approach that is not only meant for personal goals, but also serves as a useful tool within organisations to keep employees motivated in working towards their goals.
Action Planning is an effective tool for time management and provides insight into tasks that do or do not contribute to the desired strategic outcomes. By developing a strategy with a team and setting clear objectives, everyone’s tasks become immediately clear. When drawing up an effective plan, one must always create a detailed timetable and a set of clearly defined steps. Only then can the intended goal be achieved. It helps to solidify ideas and provides an answer to the question ‘What should I do to reach my goal?’.
If a team doesn’t know what direction it wants to head towards, it becomes very difficult to set a concrete goal. By acting with a goal in mind, the team knows exactly what steps it should take to arrive there. Action Planning is a process that can help in realising this. Ideas become concrete and, because everything is clearly outlined, team members know exactly what is expected of them. By drawing up an action plan and a timetable, one can take the first step towards Action Planning.
One essential element to Action Planning is to create clear objectives (rather than vague ones). For example, when an organisation merely indicates the desire to increase its turnover, this objective is too vague. By mentioning a specific percentage (e.g. 3% increased turnover ), a time limit (during the upcoming year) and a comparison (compared to the previous year), all parties will know exactly what the intended goal is. From there one can create intermediate steps to achieve this particular goal.
Action Planning Approach
There are multiple Action Planning models. Below is the most common model, which assumes that Action Planning is a cyclical process that continuously restarts. At the same time though, targets can always change in the interim. The steps are as follows:
1. What is the current situation
This is an analysis of the current situation. Example: ‘The turnover up until now was 750,000 on an annual basis’.
2. Where do I wish to head towards
This indicates the ultimate goal, something which is strived towards. To make the goal attractive, it is recommended to write down a list of benefits resulting from the goal. Example: ‘3% additional turnover and thus working towards 772,500 for the upcoming year’. The organisation can then use this money to, for example, invest in a new production hall.
3. How do I get there
This is an essential and extensive part of Action Planning. It involves the creation of intermediate steps with corresponding actions, leading to the ultimate goal. Think of all the possible actions a team member could take to come closer to the goal, regardless of size. Every large step can be broken down into smaller components again. This makes everyone motivated and also decreases the changes of premature disenchantment. Also mention the largest obstacles and potential risks. Make sure every manager and employee has an action plan that contributes to the ultimate goal. All individual plans should lead to this goal. Who is responsible for what actions and within what time frame should they act?
4. Check progress
Determine an endpoint for each step and, in order to motivate everyone, present them with a small reward on achieving these steps. By placing the intermediate steps in a logical, chronological order with a start and end date, they become clear to each team member. It is important to regularly (daily or weekly) evaluate with the team and check the progress.
5. Where am I now
This is the time of evaluation, which examines whether the ultimate goal has been achieved. The cycle ends and restarts with a new goal.
Action Planning prevents postponement of tasks and ensure everyone can achieve his personal/ department goal. It is gratifying to work with this approach. It supports all team members and everyone is aware of the ultimate goal. As a result, it becomes easier to approach colleagues and openly discuss non-compliance with certain agreements. Below are several tips that can make Action Planning even more effective:
- Use lists and visualise intermediate steps. Every time an action is complete, it can be removed from the list. The list becomes shorter, which incentivises employees not to stop prematurely.
- Keep a log of daily activities and progress. This makes planning as concrete as possible. Start keeping the log after two weeks already and assess the situation.
- Allow all team members to express their opinions about the progress and point out each others’ mistakes. Be open to new ideas and opportunities that may arise during the process and possibly revise the plan.
- Inform the environment, so that colleagues and other team are encouraged as well.
- Create flexibility and create a plan in advance about what to do if not everything goes accordingly or if the intermediate steps are not practically feasible. Try to map out any other paths that lead to the goal.
- People tend to greatly underestimate how long a project or task will take. Discuss this aspect in advance with the team and consider problems as challenges or opportunities that can always be solved.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Is Action Planning still applicable in today’s modern business world? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions? What are your success factors for good deployment strategy?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Goodstein, L., Nolan, T., Pfeiffer, J. (1993). Applied Strategic Planning: How to Develop a Plan That Really Works. McGraw-Hill Education.
- Johnson, S. (2015). Strategic Planning That Actually Works: A Step-By-Step Guide to Get it Done Faster, Cheaper, and Better Than Ever. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
- Prinz, W. (1997). Perception and action planning. European journal of cognitive psychology, 9(2), 129-154.
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