In many ways, the working world around me is in a shambles. People have left or are leaving, transitions and uncertainty abound. I hear daily that things will get better soon, but I see many institutions with which I associate, that this is clearly not the case. The further fragmentation and agenda hunting is clear and ongoing. I see newcomers and hangers on as having basically the same core attribute, and that is for being incredibly distrustful (of what is here now, of what has come before, and of anyone who is trying to create change that they didn’t think of themselves).
And I have come to the conclusion that many of these institutions are engaging in activities that look like planning, but actually give the exact opposite effect to anyone else who is watching I would like to take a moment to explore a few examples of what I am talking about.
Powerpoint presentations– These are a really good way for a given individual, or better yet, a branded institution to look like they are in the throws of intense organizational restructuring and action. The bullet points that are coming across the screen seem to hint at a greater depth if one were only permitted to ask a few key questions. The intentionally business-only themes chosen aim directly at just how serious everyone is taking the current economic situation. The fact that these presentations are given at a break-neck pace also gives the illusion that there is just too much going on to slow down and talk through the details.
While a good presentation lets us see how carefully crafted words and images can persuade an audience to rally around an idea, these presentations seem to only be about conveying information that could have been put into an e-mail, or even more likely, a single tweet.
Putting Draft on Everything– I have seen this on so many documents recently that it makes me think that I’m beta testing a single piece of paper just to find out that the only revision that is happening is the removal of the “draft” watermark. I have seen the full page DRAFT background recently so as to not confuse folks that anything on the page is worthwhile. I have seen the upper-corner lowercase “draft” label and it seems to be casually motioning to the horrific display of “tables as content.” This kind of drafting is someone’s way of sending out an idea that has been touched by no more than three people but is going to be made into binding language for hundreds or thousands. It is done because version control is too abstract and collaboration too difficult to muster. It is a way for the illusion of planning to really take root, but in reality, it is simply pursuing the easiest path to the finish line, never mind the consequences of backlash or loss of buy-in.
Holding lots of meetings (or holding none at all because you are too busy)– The two sides of the coin to this particular issue are equally terrible for trying to show people that planning and action is taking place. When people hold lots of meetings, many of which are scheduled at the last minute, it is incredibly rare for anything of importance to be said. It is much more likely, for someone to call the meeting convener on the fact that the meeting is ill-planned. More likely still, the originator of the meeting will lose all credibility with the participants because they feel as though their time is being wasted. The participants will most likely be back-channeling about how bad the meeting is being run, which will further deteriorate any support that the leader is trying to instill in a given project.
If no meetings are being held because the stakeholders are just too busy, this is also the illusion of planning for the future. By appearing busy but having no work products or communication to show for it, you look like you have been squandering valuable time. It also looks like you lack passion and a direction for all of the work that you have done. It looks like you are replaceable. Being busy means that you schedule things in advance and stick to those appointments. It means that ongoing meetings don’t work, but purposeful e-mail exchanges do. It means sending updates and new ideas out to people and letting them think about it while you work on something else. Planning and action are not the product of an empty schedule with nothing but “work time.”
Arbitrary Deadlines– I have seen a rash of deadlines that are tied to almost nothing. There is a hint of importance in creating a deadline, but only if that deadline has a real purpose. It only makes sense when there is something really driving that date to have meaning. The deadlines that make sense are ones that come from laying down a series of dominoes and nocking them over. The ones that don’t are a single event that could affect a future event, but only if the stars align correctly.
We all feel an impetus to get something done, but there must be consequences both good and bad for doing those things. The deadlines that are self-imposed seem to require more planning than a lot of the arbitrary ones that float around in times of “almost planning.”
And while there are many other examples of other things that look like planning, I don’t think that beleaguering the point will do any good. Suffice it to say that I am looking forward to the day when planning and getting things done are one in the same and when all stakeholders are consulted for the future. I also look forward to the day when collaboration makes sense for everyone and not just as a cherry on the top, and when transparency isn’t an excuse to do things half-cocked.
Planning should be a part of the art of creation instead of the art of obfuscation.
(This came off as more condescending than I had meant it to. I should state for the record that I have been guilty of all of these except putting “DRAFT” on things. I get why people do it, but I just can’t bring myself to put the word on a Google Doc.)