About Planning, Visualization 
and Improving Results 

By Jim Murphy

It might seem odd to say that visualization is a business tool but indeed it is. where the ball will be. Fighter pilots visualize. Before we get into the jet we visualize our mission. In fact, most of us like to set aside some time for visualization and “chair fly” the mission. That is, sit in a chair, visualize our hands on the flight controls, visualize our jets coming in towards the target, visualize how we’ll make our radio calls, the enemy threats, countermeasures, our formation, the terrain and how we’re going to get the heck out of there when we’re through.

That’s the power of visualization. We see our mission in our mind’s eye, and it starts to become second nature. But guess what? Visualization is just one of the many by-products of a far more powerful tool called a plan. That’s right, a plan - who is going to do what, when and where. There is nothing without a plan. You can’t play a football game without a plan. You can’t run a play without a plan. And  I can’t fly a mission until I know where I’m going, what the weather will be, what my target is, how many are on my team, what each of us will be doing, what the enemy might throw at me…well, you get my point:  Successful missions always begin with a plan.   Planning allows you to project your goals forward in time and space. A plan is how you intend to accomplish something, to achieve something, to attain some goal. At Afterburner we have a process for developing a plan that gets us back alive, we call it The Six Steps to Mission Planning.

Step Number One: Determine the Mission Objective: A mission objective is something you want to do in today’s mission. Close a sale with a specific account. A mission objective meets four criteria.

First, it has to be clear. State it in simple but direct language. If your people don’t know what you mean—or worse, if your words are subject to differing interpretations—you’re in trouble, and that means the mission is in trouble, too.

Second, the objective must be measurable on some quantifiable scale so you can ultimately determine whether it was successful.

Third, it must be achievable. That doesn’t mean it has to be easy. Tough missions are worthy challenges, but it does have to be within the realm of possibility. If you’re going to put people into motion, nothing degrades their abilities, motivation, energy, or enthusiasm faster than to give them an impossible task.

Fourth, a mission objective must support the overall future picture of the organization so your team knows the importance of the mission objective and can rally behind it.

Step Number Two: Identify the Threats: You want to know everything about what can stand between you and accomplishing your objective. For me and my mission, I know that a very tough fighter pilot stands between me and my mission objective. Somewhere out there is a very fast and very capable pilot at the controls and he doesn’t want me to blow up his site. So I want to know everything I can about this guy. I want to know what he eats, what car he drives, which hand he uses to comb his hair and how he brushes his teeth. What could undermine your next sales call? Do you know who your counterpart is and what their situation is? What is their motivation? What deal have they offered your client? What new product feature is better than yours? How does the company stack up against yours? Terms? Shipping policies? Anything that could beat you out for the sale.

Next we look for internal threats. How’s the communication inside your company? How good is that engineer coming with you on the trip? Can you count on your travel department (or agent) to get you there on time? Does finance stay competitive with terms? An untrained teammate or a communication breakdown can threaten success just as much as any external factor.

Step Number Three: Identify The Available Resources: Once you’ve identified your threats, what resources do you have to deal with them? These resources might be people, money, systems, technologies, products, clients, terms, services, or the unique skills of someone on your team. How do your assets stack up against your threats? Do you need to take an AV guy with you because you’re rusty on PowerPoint? Do it.

Don’t forget assets outside your immediate circle of influence. Do you know someone that knows the buyer? Have you met the owner of the restaurant that might give you a better table when you’re entertaining a client? Look at everything and everyone as a potential asset and think about how they might help.

Step Number Four: Lessons Learned: Everyone has experiences; someone has been there before. Step Four is to tap into those experiences and apply the lessons that best fit your mission. Has another salesperson been to this buyer? Does he or she know the buyer’s trigger points? Has someone been to the client’s office before? Is the parking lot five blocks away? One of my toughest customers liked silence. Had I not known I would have nervously filled the silence with chatter. Fortunately, I was forewarned and I sweated through his long moments of silence. I got the contract.

Step Number Five: Develop Courses Of Action/Tactics: At this point you and your team should be armed with a mission objective, know the threats, have identified the available resources, and have incorporated lessons learned. Now you must develop a menu of potential courses of action. How am I going to attack the target? To answer that, break into small groups and brainstorm ideas.

At this stage, you want creativity and ideas, and the more the better. Breaking up into small groups gives you just that. You’ll pick your final course of action from the ideas generated by these groups.

Now, bring the groups together and analyze and finalize your plan. This requires good facilitation and the ability to put ideas visually in front of the group, usually with white boards. Each team lays out their tactics; everyone walks through them and picks them apart. The strongest tactics will become apparent; the fit will survive. Analyze and finalize. Who does what, when?

Step Number Six: Plan for Contingencies: You will spend up to fifty percent of your time in the planning process on step number six. It’s time to plan for all of the what-ifs? What if the flight is delayed? What if your PowerPoint presentation locks up? What if the facilitator for your meeting resigned over the weekend?

Planning for contingencies must be detailed. Start by breaking down your mission into its smallest components, and then rank those components on the basis of their importance. What’s going to stop you dead in the water? What one component is the must-have component for the show to go on? Then work out what your solutions will be.

Successful Planning for the Future: Visualization is a great way to prepare for a mission but nothing starts until you have a plan. Planning provides a disciplined framework for approaching problems. It gives you courses of actions, planned response to contingencies, and resources to help you succeed. Use these six steps in your planning process and every mission in your business can be a successful one.

Read other articles and learn more about Jim “Murph” Murphy.

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