A common problem that surfaces in planning sessions is returning to topics that have already been discussed, decided, and directed to be done, but that have not been completed.

It happens for a number of reasons.

Sometimes the action steps that were defined regarding the topic have been completed and it has been reported to the Board, but when it is brought up no one remembers that it is actually done.

Other times the action step has been advanced but is not yet completed, so it surfaces again as still needing attention.

And occasionally the action step meant something different to the staff than it did to the Board, so the action taken is seen as missing the mark.

The common gap here is communication–there is no regular update focused on the specific (and hopefully limited) action steps that were defined at the last planning session, so when the next planning session rolls around the same issues surface again.

Here are three possible ways to avoid these problems:

1. Define the update frequency as part of the action step and be clear about the specific measures that will be used to track progress, making sure that everyone agrees regarding the scope, impact, and desired outcome.

2. Kick-off your planning session with a review of the specific action items defined at the previous planning session, giving each item a thumbs up for completion, a thumbs down for non-completion, and a big question mark for no action taken to date.

3. Define a set of questions you will use to assess why things did not get done and use the discussion to decide whether they should be rescheduled or dropped. Questions might include:

  • Did it not get done because either the staff or the Board did not see it as important?
  • Did it not get done because there were too many items on the to do list and there simply was not enough capacity to tackle all of them?
  • Did it not get done because to was too vague or the outcomes were unclear?
  • Did it not get done because it should not have been done and should never have been put on the list in the first place?
  • Did it not get done because it was made irrelevant by unforeseen developments that occurred after it was put on the list?

These three simple steps can reduce dissatisfaction and help to keep your planning session on track because they will eliminate the mental distractions that arise from the mismatch of activity and accomplishment, and because they demonstrate the shared accountability of everyone on the planning team.

ACTION ADVICE:  Take a serious look at the Action List from your last planning session and make sure that all of the the items on the list merit attention, that the outcomes are clearly defined, that someone owns the accountability for getting it done, and that the time frame for completion is specific.  More important, define the process for making adjustments if things change and for communicating any changes as soon as possible, along with the criteria you would use to remove an item from the Action List.  Make everyone accountable for achieving the target outcomes you are pursuing and commit to keeping the conversation alive between planning sessions, not just once a year.