A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
November 13th, 2013 by William

A Lack of Planning on Your Part Doesn’t Constitute an Emergency on Mine

Last week’s post talked about how organizations get so obsessed with understanding their past “failures” that they end up virtually “planning to fail.” While this can be a definite problem in today’s business environment, I’m not sure it’s the only culprit in why many of our best laid plans fail.

We’ve all heard the quip: “A lack of planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on mine.”  It’s always been one of my favorite sarcastic retorts that I never really had the suicidal gumption to use as often as I’d have liked−I’m sure many of you are thinking the same−especially when it was a boss that was guilty of not planning properly.

Despite our starting every project (or day for that matter) with the best of intentions we quickly find there are many reasons we fail at executing our responsibilities successfully on time. We plan down to the most minute detail of what we believe needs to be done to make a project successful, parsing out hours to complete each task as if there were nothing else in the world that needs to be done but that task and nothing will get in our way. However, as we all can probably attest, most of these plans end up being derailed within weeks, if not days, of the project kickoff. Why does that happen?

First, and most prominent, is the problem that the title of this post implies. We end up spending most of our time doing someone else’s bidding, not the important (planned) things needed to make ourselves, or the project we’re working on, successful. In other words, we let the lack of planning by others constitute an emergency for us. We let other people’s urgent issues, poor time management, poor planning, obsessive-compulsive psychosis, personal agendas, and procrastination, to take priority and control over our workday agenda.

This is especially true when we look to our bosses. Boss interference has to be the single biggest reason why most people cannot stay focused on what they really need to do in any given day. Remember, poor planning on their part should not constitute an emergency on our part−yeah right. This is why we have a hard time really being effective, but we do however become efficient in doing the meaningless. The irony here is that you’ll spend most of the year doing the boss’ bidding and then at review time he/she will write you up for not producing results−a no-win scenario.

Of course we tell ourselves that the key is being disciplined enough to brush off the constant interruptions and “urgent” requests and do our own important tasks. They’ll tell us (and we erroneously begin to believe) that only if we were more “proactive” we could “multi-task” our own stuff along with their stuff. But that’s wishful thinking at best−it’s hard to tell the boss to “take his problem down the hall to someone who gives a damn.”

So, how can we ever be a success at anything when all of our time is spent just dealing with the meaningless crap other people drop on our desks. They come at us all day pushing their urgent “problems” that need our immediate attention?  We could practice learning to say NO! Of course that may be catastrophic the first time you try it because at the very least, you’ll be labeled as “not a team player” on you next performance review. At the most you’ll be written up for insubordination.

However, if you survive saying NO, and not letting yourself get dragged into other peoples’ drama, you’ll eventually be able to stop screwing up your own goals and actually find yourself being more successful in your job.

That all said however, you need to assume that occasionally “the shit will hit the fan” and you’ll get sucked into some crises.  This is the second reason the best-laid plans can go awry. Crisis management is inevitable in any project. There’s two ways this can derail you. First it can be a crisis totally irrelevant to the project you’re working on or it can be a crisis within your project. Keeping in mind last week’s post, and regardless of where the crisis springs up, crises management is often a sign of insufficient or poor planning (i.e., risk identification) coupled with insufficient time (to allow reacting to the unexpected) allocated into a project’s timeline.

If there’s to be any focus on past failures, this is where the retrospective lessons-learned exercises should focus−probing deep into the root causes behind the everyday occurrence of some form of crisis. These recurring crises can paralyze an organization. Most organizations would quickly find that they’re chasing the same old problems because they never really solved the “root cause” the first time the problem bit them in the ass. And, as I’ve written about in the past, sometimes the root cause of many crises is that pyromaniac that’s masquerading as the boss.

As I noted above, there’s also another rampant problem in today’s planning mentality−the lack of sufficient time being built into project schedules to actually do a good, thorough, job. Part of that is driven by that “sense of urgency” mentality that permeates business today−everything is always rushed. There’s never “slack” (to handle the unexpected) built into any schedule. The irony here is that you’d think all those lessons-learned probes into “what went wrong” would have uncovered this? The fact is that lack of sufficient time being allocated to do a good job is seldom identified for what it really is. The reason is that that would be a direct reflection on management and force them to accept some “accountability.” Instead it’s easier to ask everyone to “take a challenge” and then blame them for any failures because they didn’t work miracles with insufficient time.

This brings us to another underlying problem that “plans never go as planned.” It’s the age old problem of sociopathic management owing their success to their narcissistic view of themselves and not any real planning on their part. Some management teams do not even know “how to plan.” These “masters of verbal facade” are great at coming up with pie-in-the-sky vision statements but when it comes to laying out effective “tactical” measures to reach a certain goal they come up with the short straw.

And along this same vein, there’s the age-old problem of management solely focusing on results. It’s that urgent “get-it-done” and “get-it-done quickly” mentality, i.e., the obsession with “efficiency” over “effectiveness.” That’s the “ends always justify the means” line of thinking. However, well-designed plans address what needs to be done, i.e., the specific tasks (effectiveness) as well as how those tasks are to be done (efficiency). Of course allocating enough time to do the job right is also important as is recognizing that along any projects’ path the unexpected will undoubtedly happen and having a “Plan B” is as important as having the original plan.

In the end, you must be prepared to spend most of your career chasing the latest crisis du jour, or kowtowing to the things that other people find important, at the expense of those things you find important.

If there’s any skill that you need to hone (and its one not found on any performance appraisal form) it’s the ability to stay on track, focus on what’s really important, and not be derailed from the tasks you deem important, despite all those whose lack of planning is expected to be your emergency.


5 Responses to “A Lack of Planning on Your Part Doesn’t Constitute an Emergency on Mine”
  1. Anonymous says

    Blog looks nice. I’m still trying to make a blog but it won’t be as professional as yours /: Keep on blogging :)

  2. I actually love to help my boss. He’s super appreciative and, yes, he gives me last second projects that disrupt my daily plans but I look forward to opportunities to deliver for him.

    When this kind of thing happens and it’s clear my task is more important, I don’t get angry or trade barbs. Instead, my go-to response is, “I can do that but I have other work to do that you may find more important. Would you rather I do your task or spend time on my (obviously more important) task.”

    • That is key – letting them know the possible consequences of their decision….I will do that, but this other item I was tasked to do will be late by a few days. If they come to you a few days later and complain you didn’t complete your original assignment on time then you know it is time to start sending out resumes.

  3. Poppy Kirkwood says

    I love it when individuals get together and share ideas. Great website, keep it up!

  4. Dustin Yarborough says

    Excellent website you have here but I was curious about if you knew of any user discussion forums that cover the same topics talked about here?
    I’d really love to be a part of online community where I can get responses from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Kudos!

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