Plan Backwards; Move Forward


So there I was in front of 16 unemployed people yesterday. I was wrapping up a 7 day Career Exploration workshop I was co-facilitating with a colleague, and we were down to coming up with a plan to move from their unemployed status to reaching their individual career or job goals.

Having identified barriers to success, I was at the point where we were collectively discussing the steps necessary to eliminate the barriers. After all, eliminate your barriers and then you’re closing the gap between wherever you are at present and where you ultimately want to be.

One of the barriers someone self-identified was the lack of grade 12 education; which in 2015 is pretty much the bottom of the barrel from most employer’s points of view. Without it, your relegated to entry-level minimum wage jobs much of the time and the prospects for advancement reduced.

So I asked the group if we took the lack of grade 12 as a barrier we wanted to overcome, what would be the first step to eliminate that barrier. Their answer was a unanimous, “Go to school and get your grade 12.” Not entirely unexpected but the wrong answer. You see this answer is just like telling an unemployed person that the steps to resolve their dilemma is, “Just get a job.”

The problem you see is that if you write down, “go to school and get my diploma” as the step to resolve your lack of grade 12 and then turn your attention to your other barriers, when you DO want to put that plan into action, you’re no closer to knowing HOW to go about getting your grade 12! After all, you don’t really just go over to the school and ask for your diploma and then get it. We know all that.

And this is where so many get stuck by traditionally planning forward. It seems to make sense to plan forward, and that’s why so many plan this way and so many fail miserably. The logic says, “Here I am, I want to get my diploma, what’s the first step? But no matter whether you are wanting to address the lack of grade 12, a poor resume, literacy, criminal record, a lack of proper interview clothing or even figuring out what your career goal is, forward planning will often get you stuck, not knowing the steps you need to take.

Look at things using backward planning however. So the first thing I asked the group was to imagine themselves being handed their grade 12 certificate, and I wrote that on the board. I wrote all their replies on the board from under the goal achievement. Here’s what the question and answer exchange looked like:

“What happened just before you got the certificate?”

“I passed all the necessary courses.”

“And before that?”

“I was in the classes.”

“And before that?”

“I signed up for the classes by registering.”

“And before that?”

“You have to attend an orientation over at the school.”

“And before that?”

“You have to find out when the orientation sessions are by calling them or going to the school.”

“And before that?”

“You have to decide you want your grade 12 bad enough to go back and get it.”

And that last statement brought us back to where we were sitting together in the room – to that moment; their present.  With all those 7 steps laid out on the board as they said them out loud, they could quickly see that from where they were the first step was to decide they wanted their grade 12 and wanted to do something about it. They could see all 7 steps required, with the 7th step being handed the diploma.

The next thing we did was put some timeframes beside each step. “How much time is required to decide you want your grade 12?”, I asked. “Already done” someone said. And the group assigned a timeframe of a day to call the school and find out when the orientation sessions were all the way up to six months to actually attend the classes. It turns out they figured 7 months from step 1 to step 7 was required for one person to achieve their goal.

By utilizing the backward planning concept, the group became aware that what they had in the end was a workable plan that was realistic, had definite timeframes and they could see that by following the steps they’d eliminate their barrier. Now I have to tell you that I presented them with a list of potentially 20 barriers. Most people in the room had several barriers and each one requires its own backward planning process to identify the steps needed to eliminate it.

Here’s the beautiful thing that’s going to sound attractive to YOU. While eliminating a barrier sounds great, taking 7 months to do it might seem a long time. But if you break the barrier into smaller steps like I suggest, your self-esteem will rise with each small step you take. So even when you just call the school to determine the next orientation date, you can check off step 1 and say, “I am one small step closer to my goal.” The longer steps work the same as you remind yourself, each step is part of your bigger plan.

When you work out your plan, get someone to look it over and confirm you’ve got all the steps covered. Like anything new, it takes a little time to get the hang of it!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s