Flexible Goals, Hierarchies of Plans, and Increased Productivity

Goals can be flexible, and not just metaphorically. Flexibility is what allows you to improve your reach. It’s what protects you when you move, fast or strong. Flexibility delivers stability and lets you breathe, in and out. Goals are the tip of your reach. The target. The final, scalable, observable destination. In the pursuit of goals, teams are relentless, yet not always productive. Hence, let’s find out how flexible planning, goals, and productivity interconnect.
Flexible goals, increased productivity

Flexible vs. (rigid) planning

Flexible planning is a context-reactive, environment-adaptive organization of plans that facilitates development and growth. As a complementary approach, it is non-rigid, unconditional, non-iterative. Flexible planning implies evading hierarchies of plans and issue-trees. Instead, it offers people spontaneity, allowing them tackle issues as they come about.

Here’s a great way to think about flexible planning. The destination (goal) is known. Everyone has access to the same resources: maps, various means of transportation, etc. Yet, there’s no prescribed, mandatory way of doing things. Whatever gets you from A to B. In fact, let’s hope you find a way from A to B when everything else fails. That’s what flexible planning is. The spontaneous re-application of skill and ability when confronted with un-planned for adversity.

To understand flexible planning, we need to know a bit about (rigid) planning.

Rigid Planning

(Rigid) Planning is a management process. Through it, management establishes plans (goals, objectives, strategies, tactics and operations). Refined and differentiated, these plans become “required steps” that teams should take. Teams are to use necessary resources in a preset manner, for achieving organizational aims. Teams are to follow said aims in an observable and measurably efficient way. In fact, even the necessary resources are pre-evaluated based on previous iterations. Hence, the overall purpose is achievement of goals with maximum efficiency. This cannot happen without reducing redundancies, limiting errors, evaluating margins.

Planning of any kind is a management function that has an oriented organizing component/dimension. The oriented organizing dimension of planning is a structured assignment of tasks. The orientation of the organizing dimension of planing is towards maximizing efficiency and accountability. In brief, it means deciding who does what, what’s the best way to do it, and how to evaluate performance.

Ironically, one can add a component of evaluating the evaluation component. This is a quality-control measure that ensures evaluation standards are compliant and effective. This would imply that planning is, to some extent, self-referential.

Since efficiency is at the heart of planning, so is setting performance standards. These are measurements of specific aspects, included in the initial planning. They allow a performance review of the efficacy of the planning design and segmentation. Moreover, they can measure the effectiveness of the organization, of task fragmentation, and delegation.

Flexible planning asks you to put the hierarchy of plans aside. Instead, set an “explorer” mindset: set goals and trust in achieving those goals. This is the key element in flexible planning: forget about hierarchies of plans. Instead, organize flexible reactions at the goal-setting level. Most rigid planning only allows flexibility at the tactics level. We need to upgrade this flexibility.

Goals and hierarchies of plans

Hierarchies of plans are a direct consequence of the scale of organizations and goal-setting. Planning happens at all levels of an organization. However, hierarchies of plans are also functional segmentations of plans: plans, “subplans,” “subsubplans,” etc.

The standard hierarchy of plans is:  mission, goals, objectives, strategies, tactics & operations. In essence, these are all objectives, which is, by definition, a target, something to aim at, a goal. It’s all confusing, so let us clear it up a bit here:

The mission is the main purpose of an organization

Most businesses would say their main purpose is profit-maximizing. The mission statement of any business, however, is a stable, general statement. It states what a business does, why it exists, what it wants to achieve. The mission gives character to an organization. For example, Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it accessible. Similarly, our mission at Hubgets is to help people work better and grow faster together. Lastly, to missions, goals are like pillars supporting a higher platform.

Goals are strategical derivatives of the mission

Goals establish secondary and tertiary narratives. If the mission is the identity of a business, goals are its temperament. They are the pillars that ground a mission; hence, they define what a business is all about.

Let’s use Hubgets as an example for goal setting. Care to derive goals from the mission statement? “Work better” and “grow faster” are two key areas of interest in the mission statement. The third, implicit one, is people. Hence, we can deduce the following potential goals. First, “research cooperative productivity and how to increase it”. Second, “Making people happy while at work”. Third, “centralize and maintain the knowledge produced by the entire team”.

What’s important, however, is that you can see goals as essential pillars of the mission. You should use this procedure to see how your goals derive from your mission. This also applies a step further, with objectives.

Objectives are the broken-down version of goals

Or the goals themselves expressed in ways that are quantitatively and qualitatively measurable. Objectives are the juxtaposition of thinking about doing and doing about thinking. They are the “soul” of planning.

Objectives are crucial to any business, and remain a key element in flexible planning. To follow the previous example, let’s take the goal of “making people happy while at work”. We will attempt to determine several objectives that support this goal. This is logical.

To reach this goal, we need to set an objective: “check how people feel”. We also need to set another objective – “learn how to change how people feel”. Perhaps, we could set a third objective “use what we learn to make people happy.” Amazingly, Hubgets calculates a happiness index and takes decisions to eliminate interruptions and reduce the level of frustrations. The Artificial Intelligence responsible for this makes team members feel less pressured.

Strategy is, essentially, “how-to”

Any strategy is an oriented pair of ordered actions and corresponding resources. The orientation is towards achieving a particular objective, in whole or in part.

Most often, strategies are rigidly presented and discussed in team meetings. Too many meetings are counter productive. Hence, starting flexible planning from the goals-setting level increases productivity.

Tactics are a sub-element of strategies

Tactics are specific actions that, in effect, create the change sought-for by a strategy. Even in rigid planning, they are flexible. Rigid planning becomes flexible starting from the tactics level.

It might seem unbelievable, yet this is the first moment that planning becomes reactive.

Operations are segments of tactics

These actions and practices are short-term, directly controlled, and well-detailed. Most of all, they are the most basic level of interaction. In fact, operations are the place where planning meets reality.

Flexible planning, goals, and productivity

Move flexibility from tactics, through strategy and all the way to objectives. You now have a flexible way of achieving your goals. This is a productivity maximizing solution which works wonders. Also, it only works with well defined goals.

To create well defined goals, formulate them the way you would state objectives. Yet, goals don’t have to be measurable, you might wonder. Due to flexible planning, you need to create the appearance of measurable goals. Hence, you can state goals such as “we need to increase our sales 3X times this year”.

First of all, notice the level of specificity. Almost objective-like, stating both by how much and for how long. Either way, make sure you use effective communication when communicating to your team.

Flexible planning in practice

Instead of focusing on the big picture, focus on the quick frame. Sure, it never hurts to train your “business mind” and develop 5-year-long plans. Still, the future is not so easy to predict, and being ready for any outcome takes a lot of effort. Rather, it’s best if you take decisive steps towards building the future you desire.

All you have to do is develop cross-team like-mindedness: communicate company goals. Also, allow for team members to organize and evaluate objectives. Make sure they all contribute to setting a general course of action. In effect, your team will always be in the right gear, ready to act on any opportunity. Furthermore, short-term plans are excellent in one more way: they engage team members. This leads to greater accountability and more trust. With teams, granted trust becomes gained trust.

Team members become more aligned with authority, more responsible, and better at self-delegating. This allows your team to perform better and ensures meeting and beating deadlines. After all, what you’re saying is: get from A to B, here’s a map, here’s a compass. Figure out the best way and get us all there as quick as possible.

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