Sunday, October 14, 2012

Have a plan

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"A real decision is measured by the fact that you've taken a new action. If there's no action, you haven't truly decided." - Tony Robbins

If you mentor then you've most certainly been asked by a mentee/protégé at one time or another "What should I do?".

This can be a pretty tough question depending on how heavy or sensitive the context. I try not to answer this question directly. Whether the topic is about an important career decision, how to confront a coworker, how to ask for a raise or anything else that comes up I think the ultimate goal for a mentor is to help their protégé discover the answer for themselves. Very often people already know the answer to their question but are blocked by emotion or ego or something else that can be worked through. It just takes a little bit of time.

But sometimes we mentors simply do not have that 'luxury'.

The protégé may be truly out of ideas or simply cannot break through whatever barrier and they desperately need an answer now.

I was recently asked this question by a mentee trying to figure out if he had a career path at his current employer. For a myriad of reasons which I won't delve into here the answer remained ambiguous. There was somewhat of a time sensitivity too as my mentee was already frustrated about his career situation and we were both concerned that it would impact his work relationships and performance.

In all these types of "what should I do?" conversations I do ultimately give this piece of advice: HAVE A PLAN!

What does 'having a plan' mean? It means 5 core things:

  1. Developing a set of specific, measurable questions relevant to the situation that will help guide the mentee towards resolution.
  2. Deciding on a course of action to get those questions answered within a certain time frame.
  3. Deciding on courses of action, resolutions or possibly additional questions based on the answers received to the initial set of questions. (If additional questions, return to step #2).
  4. Committing to a timeline.
  5. Tracking to that timeline.
There is a 6th step actually, which is to adjust the plan along the way as more data and experience is gained.

In the case of my mentee mentioned above we decided he would have 2 conversations with his boss about 2-3 months apart about his career path. He'd discuss certain questions about the future of the company and request taking on additional scope and responsibilities including a leadership role. We also created a short list of criteria he'd monitor about his company and immediate environment to help him judge his chances of success at moving up the ladder. I also made sure he committed to a 6 month timeline. Within that timeline certain answers/results would trigger a job search sooner. This way he didn't lose 6 months simply waiting and have 'nothing to show for it' so to speak.

Having a plan does a couple of important things for your mentee:
  1. If your mentee doesn't know what to do then building and acting on a plan will, by definition, move them forward. It will at least scope the problem down in their minds and make it 'real'. With steps and a timeline this plan will be a flexible tool useful in developing an answer within an acceptable time frame.
  2. If your mentee thinks they have an answer or they've made a decision then developing a plan towards implementation of this decision will confirm it. Many a time someone told me they made a decision but really they didn't. They were simply trying to convince themselves that they did despite revisiting the question repeatedly. Challenging a mentee to create and act on a plan forces them to imagine their future in a concrete way. That imagining process gives many people pause. It's designed to do just that. As Tony Robbins says there is no real decision until there is action. And a plan sets their feet on that course.
I'll end with my most favorite quote about planning:
"Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” - Dwight David Eisenhower