Text posted Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Schedules are useful tools only if they reflect accurate planning. Often what looks like a perfectly good schedule turns out to be a fantasy – a wishful projection for how we’ll spend our very limited time.
Here’s a story told to me by the manager of a new young employee in a massive international consumer products company: “Greg, an ambitious young man, was missing deadlines from the get-go on his first project. I was thrown off because when he started the project, he had impressed me with a plan very carefully broken out into short-term goals with short-term deadlines along the way.” When the manager sat down with Greg to talk about the missed deadlines, they both realized that the initial schedule Greg had drafted was based on unrealistic time lines. “They were all just guesses. Uneducated guesses at that. The big lesson for Greg was that timetables are no good if you don’t figure out how long each goal is actually going to take to complete.” After their conversation, the manager explained, “Greg was able to make new timetables and meet every one of those very realistic new short-term deadlines.”
Before you can make a realistic plan, you have to know how long each task is actually going to take. That sounds obvious, but we’ve seen over and over again in our research that Gen Yers miss deadlines because they are missing this basic step. “The big lesson for me,” said the manager at the consumer products company, “was that you really have to teach them how to make a plan. Greg knew enough to take a big project and break it down into a timetable, and he knew enough to make a plan. But he just didn’t know how to make a plan.”
Teach them how. Teach them how to start with a big project, how to break it into manageable tasks, estimate accurately how long it will take them to complete each of the tasks, and then set a timetable of short-term deadlines based on those realistic estimates.
Sometimes Gen Yers resist planning because they are so certain that things will change anyway. In an uncertain world, what’s the point in planning? It’s worth explaining to them that one of the hidden benefits of plans and schedules is that they can be used by managers to provide employees with more flexibility while still strictly enforcing deadlines. But also let Gen Yers know you understand that no matter how great the plan, they are always subject to real-life interruptions. Emergencies, wild-goose chases, and distractions often spring up and disrupt the progress of a perfectly realistic plan. Teach Gen Yers not to be thrown off when real-life interruptions veer them off course from their well-made plans. Teach them to pay close attention to real life and be prepared to revise and adjust their plans every step of the way.