I was sitting in a fairly typical smallish meeting recently, and feeling rather unsettled. The unsettledness was caused by a lot of Why’s. (Sometimes I hate those Why’s but they seem to be so ingrained in my mental make-up that I have just got to live with them.)
Why were we wasting our energies, considerable expertise and thought-power on trying to figure out a way of “tying” one kind of “delivery plan” (the older one that we hadn’t fully delivered on yet) to another “priority plan”? How would distilling one set of written intentions to a format from which they could be better aligned to another set of headline aims really help with improving service or learning how to improve service? And why were so many of the written intentions basically things which neither the public nor the frontline staff would recognise as Useful Things?
As I mulled on these and other questions, displaying a facial expression of someone who was deeply concerned about the task in hand (well, I was concerned, just not in the way I think I was meant to be), I suddenly remembered what it all reminded me of. Aha, I thought. Now there’s a lesson in here somewhere, for someone.
When I was young – and somewhat less self aware – I used to live my life by To Do lists. I made several per day. They had plenty of Really Valuable Tasks on them, such as: paint nails, cover biology folder w. wallpaper, make revision study plan, ring Liz, finish beads. I got a huge sense of wellbeing and fulfilment from ticking things off, and, sorry to say, quickly became addicted.
Oddly, I could never manage to completely tick off a whole list, but no matter. The completion of a list was irrelevant. What mattered was the sense of order and control which I achieved by writing down something before it happened, then it happening, then being able to give a big happy tick to show that I had made something happen. I had control over my own destiny! I could change the future!
Alas, this quickly spiralled out of control. No longer satisfied with actually having to set out to do something – which usually took some effort and sometimes discomfort if it was something that kept getting put off – I sought a “tick high” from ever more pathetic tasks. Sometimes ones I had in fact already achieved. Here is an example of a list, written in the order it was written at the time.
Ring employment agency.
Put washing away.
Chazza shops: baking tray? Wide belt?
Do washing up.
The thing is, I already had made breakfast (OK, toast, for myself only, hardly challenging unless your only life choices at 9.46am are to go back to sleep or read book), so I could give myself one tick straight off. And I had “nearly” gotten up, so once my teeth were cleaned then I could get another tick. By the time I’d cleaned my teeth I could probably have thought up another quick-win list-addition, such as remembering that when I had made my toast I had also spent 20 minutes cleaning the toaster. So Clean Toaster deffo has to go on the list. Three ticks already, it’s only ten thirty, that means… three-eighths of my total raison d’être for the day is already achieved – woohoo! Better slow down. If I am over one third of the way through already, I’ll be finished by 3 o’clock and what’ll I do before dinner?
Guess which tasks got put forward to tomorrow’s list? Not the easy, quick-wins, that’s for sure. It might have taken me over a week to phone the employment agency – well, I was really busy cleaning out a different kitchen cupboard and arranging the bookshelves in order of spine colour.
So the moral of this story is: Action Plans and Delivery Plans at work are like To-Do lists for procrastinators. They’re a never-ending list of “too difficult” good intentions carried forward to the next quarter, next year, next leadership regime, muddied with an even longer list of “well, I fancied doing that anyway, and/or it’s pretty urgent, so I might as well write it down, it makes me look busy and feel good”.
Bosses, policy officers, performance managers and corporate governance advisors please note: “Get Up” should never go onto your Delivery Plan.