The 6 P’s of Planning

The snow packing beneath our ski boots offered a steady crunching sound as we tirelessly, trudged towards the still stopped ski lifts. The heart of winter offered no warmth and the sun was in no hurry to crest over the rugged mountain peaks. There was little noise and these early worms were not in fear of being eaten by any birds. No, we weren’t part of any Ernest Shackelton expedition. My eldest and I were making the trek from our rented condo to the chairlifts where he was enrolled in a ski racing program in which his father was coaching. The stroll to the lifts was the better part of ten minutes up a gently sloped access road.

As we arrived at the base of the unopened lift we met the others of our group who were, in spite of the cold, enthused to be spending their weekends sliding on the slopes. Catching up on each other’s exploits from the evening prior while waiting in the lift line my son realized he had forgotten his pass. Uselessly uttering Homer Simpson’s “D-u-ohh” didn’t help solve his situation, nor did it inspire any sympathy from his father. The stupefied skier was sent on a solo-stroll of shame with no one to blame back to the condo to retrieve his pass. His reward was another twenty minutes of squandered effort and separation from his group. It became his responsibility to catch up with the group. His group also was set back as we had to remain by the lower mountain lift in order to make it possible for him to join us. This kept the blood boiling in his father for a while which conveniently helped him stay warm.

Not wanting to let a lucid learning moment be lost, I harped about this to him throughout the balance of the day and evening. The next morning as we prepared to repeat our program, I micro-managed every step for the boy to ensure nothing was forgotten this time around. To further reinforce the importance of planning ahead, I made a checklist of “to dos” which I had laminated and put on a lanyard which I presented to the boy like an Olympic medal the following week. The checklist was one step down from having it physically tattooed on his body. The checklist covered getting out of bed, going to the bathroom, putting on long johns, all the way to walking out the door. With rigid adherence to the checklist, performance was assured.

From experiences such as these, our children have been introduced to a favorite platitude. The 6 Ps of Planning is a well worn business concept. It, apparently, has its origins in the British military where it was presented as the 7 Ps of Planning.

The 7 Ps are Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Other configurations with slight variations have been offered and used by varying groups. I was introduced to the 6 Ps of Planning in a coaching course where they were detailed as “Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”

There’s no question that the stakes of decisions made in the military are higher than that of forgetting a ski pass. Planning in the military is essential to maximizing opportunity for success of a mission. Beyond the military, space explorers are doing dangerous things. Whether you’re Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise or a humble NASA astronaut headed off to the International Space Station, the cost and consequences of space travel are extreme. Most space efforts continue to be publicly funded. This puts further pressure on performance. Space programs must justify their existence to the powers that be and the press are closely watching waiting to amplify any error or accident. Moreover, space is an environment completely hostile to life. As a result of these realities, efforts in this arena have no margin for error. In order to provide themselves with the best chances for success, space programs are meticulous about planning. The ratio between planning and doing is likely larger in the field of space science than anywhere else. Astronauts and their supporting crews train for years in order to prepare for missions that may be only a few months or even days in duration.

At the core of the message is a connection between planning and performance. If we want good outcomes, we need to invest some energy in advance with respect to planning. Including a gentle expletive helps make the message memorable. Regardless of which configuration is preferred, the phrase is, effectively, another way of expressing Benjamin Franklin’s quote of “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”

Even though most of what we do doesn’t have life threatening consequences, our efforts at planning should be encouraged. Planning always serves a useful purpose, even if done casually, and the 6 Ps of planning are a memorable reminder.

Planning provides clarity. It helps us understand our role and for what we’re responsible. Having a plan ensures that we’re not standing around wondering what to do.

Having a plan also provides a base of evaluating our actions retroactively. What was the result of our efforts? Did we follow the plan? Did we achieve what we wanted? If we did follow the plan and achieve the desired outcome, that validates our planning capabilities. If we did follow the plan and did not achieve the desired outcome, then we can deduce that there is a flaw in our planning. Even though we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, we still learned something useful. If we didn’t follow the plan, why not? Where did things fall sideways?

Planning can serve to provide peace of mind. Contrary to public perception, Astronauts are not fearless daredevils. They are more often curious explorers. They are not interested in taking chances. They are motivated to train and prepare for years in order to protect their well-being and get the most out of the short experience they will have in space. Astronauts plan every step of every part of their journey in detail. They then train for problems that may arise during normal situations. What do we do if x fails? How will we react if Y doesn’t work? Thinking through all the problems that may be encountered doesn’t raise anxiety, developing detailed plans to manage these contingencies decreases doubt. Chris Hadfield writes in “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”, “We felt competent to deal with whatever happened—a sense of confidence that comes directly from solid preparation.” Hadfield goes on to offer, “The best insurance policy we have on our lives Is our own dedication to training.”

Developing a plan reflects a degree of ownership. A plan signifies that we believe we can make a difference with our actions and efforts.

Though the disruption that the Coronavirus has imparted may have been difficult to anticipate, there are other events which we should be well prepared to manage as insurance brokerages. Even though we may not be able to predict when certain events will occur, we can safety anticipate them occurring at some point. That is, it’s not a matter of if X occurs, but when X occurs that we are seeking to develop a crisis management plan of some kind well in advance. There are two examples of likely circumstances that Insurance Brokerages will inevitably face. Departure of key staff and loss events that disproportionately impact a particular segment of your customer base. Proper planning prepares us to manage these as they arrive. We shouldn’t be surprised or startled by these kinds of events. Can there really be any excuse to not have a developed plan in place ready to execute when these certain events arrive uncertainly?

Floods, fires, hailstorms are all examples of natural disasters that have and will occur. These are the exact events from which insureds are seeking protection. As brokers, do we have a plan to implement when these events show up in our marketplace? Are we waiting to react to incoming insured calls or will we be ahead of the crowd and add value to our impacted insureds in a rich and meaningful way? Embracing the 6 Ps of Planning will help us be in the best position to help our insureds. Could we, for example, have someone tasked each week to monitor news in order to anticipate the likelihood of significant events that may have an insurance impact? The responsibility could rotate amongst a small group of key staff. They would be charged with reporting the what, where, and when of any impending weather related issue that has a reasonable likelihood of touching your brokerage’s insureds. A threshold to distribute these details to a wider group at your brokerage could then be crafted. From here, a crisis management checklist could be drawn up that would be pursued. The checklist could include:

  • Staff X to craft and release note to either core team or all staff at brokerage indicating likelihood and severity of issue.
  • Ensure that sufficient staff on hand to be able to respond to incoming inquiries for next business day.
  • Develop a plan for staff to be available to respond outside of regular business hours (if weekend or evening is period where problems are occurring).
  • Determine the portion of your customer base that is likely to be impacted. Postal Code, industry, other. Have a list created with phone/email/contact name.
  • Prepare (or better yet, have prepared) a communication to provide impacted insureds. Express concern for their well being. Recognize that they are struggling and have many things on their mind. Reassure them that you are there for them when they need you. Provide ways that they can contact you. Communicate, if available, additional information resources for them about the problems they are facing. Communicate what you are doing in advance to ensure their needs are being looked after as best as possible.
  • Release this communication to insureds.
  • Ensure core group of staff is available to manage incoming inquiries from impacted insureds (ideally, available outside of standard business hours and in close proximity to timing of crisis).

Consider the customer service experience from the perspective of insureds working with a brokerage that reflects this type of checklist against that of one that encounters zero proactive response from their broker. The insured that is left on their own to figure out who to call and can only do this when the brokerage opens during “regular” business hours is likely to have a very different perspective than one that is being helped along by their broker.

Outside of catastrophic losses that may impact a portion of your insureds, key staff departures are another common crisis that has the potential to disrupt your efforts. Again, this is an event that though the exact timing is unpredictable, the inevitability of occurrence demands prior planning.  For example, where a producer/broker departs, what kind of process/checklist could be prepared that reflects the 6 Ps of Planning?

  • Generate a customer list for this producer.
  • Prepare communication (ideally, a template has been drafted and is ready to go that indicates the change, new contact info, how your brokerage remains best suited to serve, and what this means to insured going forward) to distribute to this customer group.
  • Assign the book of business of the leaving producer to a different team member.
  • Task that team member to initiate contact, written communication and reach out verbally call/meeting within x period.
  • Review producer departure with legal in order to ensure a plan in place in case any non-competes apply.
  • Monitor marketplace for any reduction in client activity. Do so monthly (weekly is even better).

Perfect Plans aren’t the goal. Neither should we think of them as being rigid or set in stone. A Prussian military leader almost 170 years ago is credited with the well worn phrase, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Or, as boxer/philosopher Mike Tyson offered eloquently in an interview, “Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the mouth.” It doesn’t matter how well we prepare, something inevitably sends things sideways. We then need to readily adapt as best we can. Man plans and God laughs is the English translation of a Yiddish proverb that captures the idea that even the best plans can be disrupted with real world events. The fact that life conspires to get in the way of our plans isn’t an argument against planning.

Finally, exhibiting the 6 Ps of planning, reflects action in support of the 3 Cs of Character. Planning reflects competence. Planning is a sign of commitment. Learning to adapt our plans based on prior experiences reflects coachability. Planning is worth the investment of energy and effort.