Perhaps the most important considerations for selecting a good planner (and probably more important than his technical qualifications or specific area of expertise) are the characteristics that a planner can bring to your organization. A good planner understands his place in life, the planning process, and nuances associated with planning. Here are some characteristics that are worthwhile to consider:
Outlook: Perhaps the most important characteristic of a planner is his outlook. He should not be myopic, but think "globally," both horizontally and vertically. He should be open-minded to new ideas. He constantly asks himself, "What have I missed?" He must stretch the thought processes of planning participants with "what if" questions. And, at the end of the process, he understands the plan is not his but belongs to those who must implement it should the need arise.
Objectivity: We reviewed the importance of objectivity above. A competent planner has no agenda. He maintains a neutral point of view. How many planning processes have been stymied by agendas, politics, and positions?
Inclusion: A prominent characteristic of the planning process, the planner must demand inclusion. A competent planner asks, "Whose voice are we missing" and ensures all necessary viewpoints are represented during the process from within the organization and, in some cases, from outside the organization.
Ethics: What other products is the planner trying to sell? Is he part of a larger company? Will his planning process identify needs that can be filled by other departments within his company? A pure planner is not a salesman but is only a planner.
Program Management: We mentioned the importance of program management above. A good planner has extensive experience as a program manager. Your staff's time is valuable. After about two postponed meetings or exercises, program momentum can slow to an unrecoverable degree. The consultant must keep the program on track.
Breadth of Experience: Developing emergency action plans for commercial hi-rise buildings is different than developing preparedness plans for regional health departments. However, the basic tenets of planning are similar. Ask your candidates what specific planning programs they have undertaken. A good planner understands the basics of the planning process and the nuances involved in tailoring plans, processes and exercises for different types of organizations.
Company Size. A big company does not always mean a better product, especially when it comes to planning. Planning, by its nature, is a personal, time-intensive operation. With the frequent start up of emergency preparedness and security service companies over the past few years, many smaller companies can provide the same (or even better) levels of expertise, flexibility and responsiveness than can larger companies. Top-notch preparedness planners can be found in even the smallest companies at much less cost.
Communications: How quickly is your planner able to understand the intent of the corporate leadership and how well does he articulate this intent, policies and procedures throughout the organization. Is he able to grasp your broad guidance and turn it into realistic, sufficiently detailed and workable plans? Is he able to act as a conduit, bringing concerns and information from lower levels in the organization to upper levels without losing confidence of employees or management? Does he listen well? Good planners can communicate with everyone from the technical level to the strategic level.
Currency: Research, research and more research. Good planners are incessant researchers. Behind the scenes they spend considerable time researching current laws and regulations, keeping abreast of best practices, and ensuring competence in their particular areas. Choose a planner who has affiliations which can provide him current information across a broad range of disciplines.
Integrity: A good planner acknowledges his ignorance. He knows when to say "I don't know" or "this won't work." He knows that plans are never perfect and is able to identify and articulate a plan's weak points.
Accessibility: Ever had a consultant you just couldn't get hold of? No matter how hard you tried? How accessible is your planner? Can you call him whenever you want? Are there additional fees for contacting him?