Leaders are often made up of people like me. We often lie awake at night or feel inspired randomly with new ideas. When these ideas come to us, it’s like a bolt of lightning. We think: “Wow! This idea will change my business for the better. Let’s do it!”
Then, we rush to work the next day and steer the company on its new path. Well, it often crashes and burns, or it works… until the next idea comes along, and then we change direction again. I call this having a driven mind, and many leaders feel this rush of ideas all the time. I know I do.
Part of it comes from a desire to be the best we can be for our company and our team members. There’s nothing wrong with this desire. We need to be careful, though. Ideas are OK; but plans are better. It’s hard to manage ideas and turn them into actionable plans. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into hundreds of times — and still do on occasion. I’m better now because of these three strategies I use to temper my ideas and forge them into practical plans that translate into successful ventures.
What’s the first thing you do when an amazing idea strikes? Slow down! This may seem like the opposite of what you want to do, but trust me slowing down actually helps your ideas grow into more applicable plans.
If you have an idea, write it down — write down everything you think about in regards to it, and then put it away for a time. Let it sit a day or two. My mind is always going a million miles a minute, so this is tough. In the long run, this will stop you from making mistakes and poorly implementing plans. It’s not that your ideas are bad, but ideas aren’t a path to success. They’re just the first step.
After you slow yourself down, now you need to build in strategic thinking time. I want you to literally schedule time in your work day, week or month to pull out these ideas and write out your plan. When you force yourself to wait for a specific time, your brain doesn’t stop working on the idea, but it gives you time to work out the specific steps of the idea. This turns it into a plan.
If you’re like me and have a million ideas per week, you’ll need strategic thinking time more often. If you just come up with ideas on occasion, maybe you only need to schedule the time as your ideas come up. The important part is to put aside the ideas and get to work the rest of your time. Most likely, you won’t need to tweak everything you do already to implement this new plan. But the risk you run by jumping into your ideas without a scheduled time is forgetting to do what you already need to.
Here’s another big point to this scheduled time. Let other people know when you’re in this strategic time. I don’t want you to lock the door, but let it be known this time is important. Distractions will make you lose the focus, and more things will fall through the cracks. Ask someone to field important issues as they arise. Set this time and yourself up for success.
Once you reach the scheduled time, you need to write your plans down and ask yourself the big questions. This is it, the moment your ideas become plans. It’s the steps you and your team need to take to tackle your idea that changes it into a real plan.
Start with the big questions. These questions will guide you when your plans don’t work as well. The big questions may include:
- What benefit will result as part of this plan?
- How will our customers receive better service?
- How will my team become more impactful?
- What will we be losing by implementing this plan?
- Then, ask yourself the specific questions for how the idea (now a plan) gets started, such as:
- Who will lead the plan?
- What training and resources do we need?
- How much will the plan cost initially?
- How long will the plan take to be implemented?
- When are the checkpoints to reflect on the plan as we go?
- Do I need to hire someone?
- How will I find the people I need?
- How will I know if the plan has been successful?
Following these steps will help your ideas transform into real plans. Nobody is perfect, and I forget to do these three steps sometimes as well. It usually ends up badly. When I take the time to follow them though, it has a much larger chance of success. Let’s look at an example real quick.
Idea: Let’s use this new sales technique for upselling additional services to customers when we go to provide an in-home service.
Rushing through: The next morning we tell the team our idea. They have questions on specifics, and we don’t have answers. A few people try it, but it doesn’t seem to work. We and they get frustrated. You, as the leader, drop everything to do research and find answers. You forget important parts of your normal tasks. The idea fails and you forget about it.
Doing it right: We write the idea down and let it sit. We schedule thinking time for the end of the day that Friday, and let others know we’re planning on it. On Friday, you do the research and ask the big questions. You discover a training that’s affordable and applicable. You make a plan that includes follow-ups to see how the plan is going. Maybe you realize one of your customer service members is killing it at upselling. You ask them to lead the new technique.
After implementing and training the team, you notice things are going well, but there are some members not doing as well. You realize with help from your leader, they’re missing a key part of the technique. You keep in mind the goal and set up reflection and training and fix the problem. At the end, you and your team notice an 87% increase in additional sales from in-home service calls.
This is a semi-fictional example, but as a leader, I’ve seen this same thing play out time and time again when leaders take the time to implement ideas the right way. Slow down, schedule time for thinking and ask yourself the big questions to make a plan.