Action Plans and Action Proposals: The Tools of Positive Leaders

The process of preparing action plans and action proposals is crucial to powerful positive leadership. Positive leaders know how to make things happen and action plans and proposals are the tools these powerful men and women utilize to change the world around them. But what do we mean? What is an action plan and how does it differ from an action proposal? What purpose do they serve and to whom are action plans and proposals directed?

The Action Plan

Action plans are the essence of simplicity. An action plan is the statement of a specific objective and a listing, in sequence, of the actions you intend to take to achieve your objective. An action plan can fit on an index card or, for that matter, on the back of a business card. On the other hand, it can be a ten, twenty or even a one hundred page document according to the scope and complexity of the contemplated action.

An action plan is what you need when you are prepared and able to take action on your own initiative. If you are the only actor it can be brief. If the contemplated action requires the coordinated participation of other members of your team then the action plan may require more detailed descriptions and explanations. However long it may be, it remains a simple statement of objectives and the specific actions (steps, behaviors, tasks, etc.) that are to be implemented.

It is helpful if the action plan also stipulates the expected results or outcomes along with some discussion as to the manner in which the results will be measured or interpreted. Action plans are meaningless unless they lead to action and action is meaningless unless it is purposeful and produces measurable outcomes.

An action plan establishes a framework for accountability so that it can be evaluated both in terms of the efficiency (how well the plan was implemented) and effectiveness (were the desired results achieved.)

Any time you are faced with a challenge, think it through and prepare and implement an action plan.

Action Proposals

Action proposals are nothing more than a special type of action plan for situations in which you are unable to act unilaterally; when you lack the authority to act. In these situations your response to the challenge depends on your ability to influence other people and convince them that the action you propose is necessary. Necessity means that it promises an acceptable return on one’s investment and/or a probable solution to a critical issue. Hence action proposals require more articulation and all major assumptions must be identified at the outset.

The well-conceived action proposal should include:

1. A statement of the overall mission or purpose which is often the identification of a specific problem that needs to be resolved;
2. A set of specific action objectives;
3. A description of how and why the proposed actions will effectively serve the mission or purpose;
4. The cost of the action compared to the perceived benefits;
5. The method by which results will be measured and interpreted; and,
6. A call for action.

Again the breadth and scope of the proposal depends on the size and complexity of the operation and the number of people involved. Action proposals are not comprehensive strategic plans, however, and they need not fill notebooks. The proposal should be sufficiently brief that the decision maker can read it and act quickly. The objective is to make it easy for the decision-maker to say yes.

Very often, action proposals will rejected or even ignored by the decision-maker. Remember that many decision-makers are really decision-avoiders. Many would prefer to avoid risk or controversy. Sometimes this creates an advantage for the author of the action proposal as the decision-maker may view your proposal as a way to transfer the risk of failure to you. If the action proposal produces a positive outcome the decision-maker gets to share in the lion’s share of the credit but if it fails they can deflect responsibility.

In the long-run, it doesn’t matter if the majority of our action proposals evaporate in the vacuum of indecision. What happens is that we become recognized as a problem-solver and action-taker. When our decision-maker needs to bring a team together to solve a problem the chances that we will be chosen are invariably enhanced. As the success rate of our action proposals increases, the probability that future action plans will gain approval increases proportionately. Our credibility also grows as a result of these successes and our future opportunities grow exponentially.

Action plans and proposals are the primary tools of positive leaders.