Planning Ahead

We’ve all had those editors for whom an editorial calendar might as well be the liner for the bird cage. The editors who call up the freelancer or the newsroom to tell them they need 1,500 words on XYZ by Friday. Do what? More often than not, those are the least effective editors.

Jill Geisler at the Poynter Institute recognizes this and wrote about it last week with “What Great Bosses Know about the Joy (and Agony) of Planning.”

Some of her advice:

Here are five times when plans really matter.

  • When plans inspire. Planning can demonstrate a vision for success and the beginning of a road map that others join in to complete.
  • When plans smooth the way. Colleagues along the workflow process benefit from knowing the big, projected picture as early as possible. Think of the last person who might touch a project before completion. How could front-end information benefit that person?
  • When the planner has subject matter expertise. The expert can kick start the whole team by laying out the problem and solution, assigning support roles and responsibilities, and encouraging people along the way.
  • When others on the team aren’t adept at planning. If you have the strongest talent for planning, or if others are just too busy, take the lead. Just make certain you get their input.
  • When plans help demonstrate progress. Having a plan with benchmarks lets a team show the status of its work, which can be important to higher-ups and funders.

But here are five warnings for those who love to plan.

  • Planners can become controllers. Planners sometimes assume that because they do the organizing work, they get more votes than others on the team. Even when you’re the boss doing the planning, people are more likely to be engaged if they have a voice in the project.
  • Planners can resist change. The parent of any plan sees its path more clearly than everyone else and may want to drive to the finish line on that route only. Suggested alternatives can seem like criticisms. The more you love planning, the more you need to recognize your need to be flexible.
  • Planners can button things up too early. Remember the value of people who aren’t like you. Folks who aren’t born planners are often born innovators and adapters. The reason they don’t keep lists and beat deadlines by a mile isn’t because they’re lazy, it’s because they keep their options open while they think — and often add great value to a plan in progress.
  • Planners can get the blame if things go astray. If your name and yours alone is on a plan that fails, your reputation may suffer. Being a collaborative planner builds both buy-in and shared responsibility.
  • Planners can get work dumped on them. You can become the “planning nanny” for people who know it’s a lot of work and are happy to let you do it. Train others to help so you don’t become the default planner for all projects.

Our advice: plan ahead. It is worth the extra effort.

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