Five Key Steps for Planning Anything, Step 5: Knowing the Benefits by: Phil Alsup

Five Key Steps for Planning Anything, Step 5: Knowing the Benefits

Congratulations! You made it to Step 5! If you are just jumping in we have been working through a five-step process on how to build plans for your personal and professional goals. We’ve had the chance to examine the importance of a clear definition of the goal, understanding the current state, articulating a future state, and building the appropriate actions steps. Now comes the finishing and often overlooked touch. The other four steps are a great start but being able to nail this last part is a real differentiator and, in the scope of winning influence, can be the “point of sale” for many if your goal involves getting others on board. The premise of the last step is understanding the benefits of the plan or goal.

Doesn’t everyone notice the obvious and jump on a good plan to solve problems? Well, not always.

Now, this wasn’t a part I had figured out. I’m a pragmatist by and large as far as work-ethics and goals go. By that I mean you figure out the right work to solve the right problem and once you identify the steps needed you’ve got it, right? Doesn’t everyone notice the obvious and jump on a good plan to solve problems? Well, not always. It was my friend, John Kramp, of the Riverstone Group, who challenged me on this and as a result this has become a point of focus for us in our planning strategies at Impact 360 Institute. A solid plan can die because those who needed to buy into it didn’t quite get why the work was vital. This goes beyond a good “why.” The original purpose remains vitally important but still can sometimes still feel a little antiseptic and non-motivating to some. Just because it’s the right thing doesn’t always bring the needed energy to a goal. Being able to nail the benefits ideally connects with the heart and the head. Let’s take a look at why this is such an important part of a plan.

Stop for a few minutes and think about the things in your life on which you choose to take action. We are all busy people and are bombarded by messages throughout the day that are asking for time, money, or resources. What is the trigger for you that calls you to action among these options? Likely it’s something you see as a benefit. You understand there is a key result that you desire if you take action. This is foundational in sales and something one learns in basic business courses but it has application in building a good plan. To make the distinction between an expected outcome, a feature as it is known, and a benefit let’s look at an industry that confuses the two more than any other: auto sales. Many car companies will hawk their reliability. Being the most reliable car on the market sounds like a good sales pitch, right? But isn’t reliability an expectation? If one were going to invest tens of thousands of dollars into something wouldn’t they presume it is reliable? People want it but the level of financial commitment demands it so in reality one only stands out if one provides unreliable cars (which isn’t the attention one wants). The benefit comes when the individual understands what that feature brings. If a salesperson can show that the car they are selling averages hundreds of dollars less per year in repairs than the competition then the potential buyer sees savings in future repair bills, less time spent sidelined in the repair shop, and a likely higher resale value. That’s the trigger. They see the real and practical benefit for this choice and will be more motivated to take action on it, even if it might cost them more on the front end.

Only 8% of all New Year’s resolutions are achieved.

So, that’s integral for sales, but how does this apply to building a strong action plan? I think it applies well to either a work plan or a personal one. Although figures vary we are told most New Year’s resolutions fail. In fact, a University of Scranton study revealed only 8% of New Year’s resolutions bear out. Why do you think this is? Could be a number of reasons. The goal wasn’t realistic, the action steps were not thought through well, etc. I would argue the likely culprit was in the end motivation (or lack thereof). Lack of motivation, I would then argue, stems from a true lack in understanding of the benefit of achieving the goal. If the motivation is compelling then the person is more likely to see it through.

Let’s take a goal of regular exercise for example. Most everyone thinks that is a good thing and would like to make more room for it in their lives. But regular exercise really should be a basic expectation for anyone’s lifestyle so what is the motivating benefit? If the benefit for that goal is seen as specific improvement in quality of life (heading off a family history of heart disease, knowing it will give more energy to be with kids, more focus as work, etc.) then it is much more likely to stick. These are the compelling reasons that keeps one putting one foot in front of the other on a long run or motivates someone to get outside even if the weather isn’t perfect. The logical features of something are rational but the benefits are emotional and the drive that comes with our passions is what can keep one pushing on through the inevitable challenges that come with goals.

It’s not enough that they think what you are doing is a good thing, they have to believe it is a necessary thing.

The same broader concept applies with working in a larger group. It’s not enough they that think what you are doing is a good thing, they have to believe it is a necessary thing. That’s where buy-in comes. Sometimes the key with winning influence in a group is altruistic on their part. Sometimes it is because there is something in it for them. In order for you to convince a group or your leader that this goal and action plan is necessary then it has to be demonstrated how the plan will either improve current work challenges or stresses, make for a better customer experience, solve a significant staff problem or possibly even take work off of them. All of these are valid benefits and when the group or the leader sees that there is something in it either for the customer, the employees or themselves you will find that they become much more open and supportive of the plan. To go back to our language, your “why” (purpose) can be noble and your “what” (future state idea) can be dead-on as a solution but to gain traction in influence you as an individual, your team, or your leader has to care about this idea coming to fruition. That’s where clearly articulating and being able to communicate the benefits of your goal or plan sets you apart from the others and adds a real traction that can help it all come to an ultimate fruition.

Three ways to isolate the benefits

So, what if you are stuck on figuring out how to add the final zing? Here are three quick ways to isolate the benefits:

  • Think of the goal or plan as a story and walk through the narrative of it. As it plays out you can often find the benefits in what the goal or the plan does for the team, customer, or yourself.
  • Think the “Bizzaro” approach. As with the character from Superman who does everything opposite or backwards think of how you could make the situation worse. Oddly enough sometimes this will lead to some new perspectives on what is good about the plan.
  • Answer the “so what?” Imagine getting to the end of your idea and someone asks that simple but deadly question. Often buried within the answer are the benefits you are looking to find.

So, there you have it. Five steps to planning anything. Take ‘em, tweak ‘em if you wish. The main objective is to find the strategy that helps make you the most effective and productive you can be. In the end choosing to adopt a strategy helps allow you to do your best thinking because you don’t have to waste mental energy on the process itself. Let the operating system handle that for you so that you can dedicate your total energy toward developing solutions. Having the ability to generate compelling solutions will help you to expand your influence and become the leader you aspire to be.