Ready, Aim, Fire – 2 Ways That Poor Planning Can Hurt You

Ready, Aim, FireWhen someone asks you to help communicate an initiative, what do you do?

Do you immediately find yourself coming up with cool ideas about how to gain attention and generate coverage? It feels good to do that, right? It certainly impresses non-communicators – “oh, we could do a media event for the launch, podcast this and that, and approach this reporter I know at the Globe & Mail.”

If you do that, you’re doing your clients a disservice. You’re guilty of failing to plan – of putting tactics before strategy.

Plenty of people have written about the importance of proper strategic planning, whether in social media, in communications or in marketing.

Here are two strategic planning approaches that can hurt your company.

Ready, Fire, Aim

I recently left the public sector after several years in government communications. That experience gave me a few insights into the way communications is conducted in that environment.

One thing I noticed is the possibility of this kind of planning discussion:

“We’re announcing this on Friday… so we’ll need a news release and backgrounder, ok?”

This ‘ready, fire, aim’ planning process leaves the strategic thinking to hindsight. There’s little opportunity for consideration of alternative strategies, of the wider context or of stakeholder needs. That results in sub-optimal approaches and a resulting lack of awareness and understanding of how the public sector is serving the public.

As any communicator will tell you, unfortunately this problem isn’t just limited to government. Fortunately, the people I worked with are aware of this potential and are working diligently to address it.

Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Fire

Another tendency I’ve experienced falls on the other extreme – a tendency to over-plan, to think of every single possible scenario, to eliminate every single risk. This is especially prevalent when dealing directly with the public – for example, through social media. The fear of the unknown can lead to an ultra-risk averse approach, to constant checking and re-checking and a failure to act.

This ‘ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, fire’ approach can be as risky as the ‘ready, fire, aim’ mistake I mention above. By taking way too long in the planning process you can:

  • Miss a time-sensitive opportunity, for example an ideal time for an announcement or a gap in the market before competitors appear
  • Stifle an initiative with overly bureaucratic rules and procedures
  • Kill any enthusiasm that your people have for the initiative.

Ironically, by planning too much you can increase the risks within your communications.

Ready, Aim, Fire

Good communicators, in an ideal environment, will research, analyze and plan before executing their communications. However, they also let go when the time is right. Once you’re at that point, you can only achieve ever-decreasing returns on the time you spend fine-tuning your plan.

It’s obvious, right? Time to set your plan free.

How have you addressed these tendencies when you’ve noticed them?

(The guys over at the Manager Tools podcast have some great terms that they use to describe personality traits in the DISC model, which I’ve appropriated to describe these situations. I highly recommend you check out their show – it’s the only podcast that I pay for to get their premium content.)

(Photo credit: .:: LINUZ ::.)

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.