Think of it* like robbing a bank.
Let’s say you’ve decided to snatch and grab $1 million from your friendly neighborhood credit union. (Don’t worry, it’s a write-off… and they’re the ones writing it off.) How would you do it? Where would you start? Who is going to help you?
Well, the second thing you need—the first is a goal, which you already have—is a plan. Sit down, chillax, take your time and plot it out step by step. And, as you are a disciple of the great American philosopher Michael Gerard Tyson, you know that “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Therefore, you will have contingencies, and those contingencies will have contingencies and those contingencies will…
OK, you get the idea.
Step One: Determine if this bank will indeed have $1 million on the day and time you rock up. Boy, would you have egg on your face if, after breeching the alarm, subduing the guards and holding a dozen men, women and children hostage at gunpoint, you crack open the safe only to find it’s emptier than King Tut’s sarcophagus or Chicken Little’s anxieties.
The lesson: Before starting, you must be 100
percent certain that executing your plan will result in achieving your objective.
Step Two: Figure out how many people you need. The key word is “need.” Find inspiration in the advice of William Strunk, who, along with E.B. White, wrote this about writing in The Elements of Style, a book that terrorized generations of high-school English students: “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
And a conspiracy no unnecessary accomplices.
The lesson: Keep your team small.
Step Three: Right up front, tell your, uh, co-workers, what their individual responsibilities are. You’ve got to communicate, motivate and delegate. You can’t have two people trying to drive the getaway car and no one monitoring the scanner to see if the po-po is on the way. It’s about division of labor. Each member of the team has a particular skill and an even more particular responsibility. Be careful not to micromanage, not to shoulder-surf, not to hover and interfere. You picked the best peeps available, didn’t you? Then let him crack the safe the way he wants. Let her pick the caliber of bullets to load in the guns. Let him pick the disguises. WTF do you care if you’re Richard Nixon or Guy Fawkes? People crave ownership, agency, especially in their areas of expertise. All you’ve got to do it give it to ‘em.
The lesson: Tell your team what to do, not how to do it.
Step Four: Let your team know what’s in it for them. As there should be no ambiguity in responsibility, there should be none in terms of payoff. If we’re successful, here’s your cut. And yours, and yours and yours. Nobody should need a slide rule and an abacus to calculate his or her share of the score.
The lesson: Don’t complicate compensation.
Step Five: Just do it. There’s only so much practice and preparation you can undertake. Most plans, be they vile or virtuous, grow stale over time. And how would you feel if you hemmed and hawed so long that when you finally pull into the parking lot with your posse, you see Butch and Sundance or Bonnie and Clyde ducking out the back door with your stash of cash?
The lesson: If you’ve identified an opportunity, it’s not long before someone else does as well. Once you ready and aim, then damn it, fire away.
Step Six: Expect the unexpected. Take it from poet Robert Burns (and the aforementioned Mr. Tyson), the best-laid plans of mice and men—with or without that punch in the puss—oft go awry. There are simply too many variables to consider them all.
Were this music, it wouldn’t be classical, but jazz. Were this sport, it wouldn’t be football, but rugby. Were this theater, it wouldn’t be Shakespeare—where the lines are recited exactly the same tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow—but improv.
In your premeditations, try to anticipate everything that could go wrong. What if the cops show up while you’re still inside? What if one of your crew bails on you at the last second? What if one of the hostages decides to Die Hard on your ass? What if the teller slips an exploding canister of paint dye into one of the money bags? Wait, that’s from Raising Arizona.
The lesson: Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
And finally, Step Seven: Accept that, just as the captain goes down with the ship, you, as the (ring) leader, must take the fall in the event of failure. No diming out. No snitching. No scapegoating. When the $#@% hits the fan, you’re the one getting spattered.
The corollary to this is that when the plan succeeds, defer credit—and maybe even a bit more of the loot—to your team. Don’t thump your chest like King Kong; rather, STFU, exit stage left, and let others bask in the spotlight.
Couple of reasons for this. First is that’s just how these things work. Your plan, your team, your strategy, your tactics. Even if one of your cohorts totally screws up, pulls a brain-dead boner, like forgetting to load the weapons or leaving behind a big fat fingerprint, it doesn’t matter. You. Take. The. Blame. Second, unless you get sent away for life, you’ll be back at it again someday. And how hard will it be to lead a new crew when you sold the last crew down the river?
The lesson: Inhale blame, exhale credit.
* What, you thought this was an allegory for business? Pfft. This is Bank Robbing 101, baby! Who wants in?