Planning as Doing
Accelerating the Business Planning Process
by Brian Ward
Business planning has come of age. When Henry Mintzberg announced the death
of strategic planning, corporate executives breathed a collective sigh of
relief. No more need to engage in centralized planning, with it’s tortuous
reliance on data (which was never reliable in the first place), future gazing
(which was the business version of astrological star gazing) or strategy implementation
(which was the equivalent of a forced march of the troops towards an uncertain
In its place has arisen a collaborative approach to strategy development
and execution, which is far more iterative in nature than it’s predecessor.
This collaborative approach views planning as doing, and aims to compress
the cycle of planning, execution and evaluation in a way that recognizes the
realities of organizational life.
These realities include the very human need to innovate. Through experimentation
with new ways of doing business, people are able to unleash their potential.
Planning in the past had little tolerance for experimentation, and was bound
up in the development of rigid business cases and risk management protocols.
Such reliance on left brain approaches stultified what people in organizations
had been calling for all along: an opportunity to break out of the box and
provide far greater value-added than ever before.
This obviously presents some serious challenges for executive teams. The
absolute worst place a team of executives can find themselves in is between
the old school of planning and the new. Such transitional phases carry with
them real danger – the main one being getting stuck in transition, being neither
‘fish nor fowl’.
What can an executive team do to move forward and embrace the new style?
Here are a few tips from the field:
- Create a compelling vision statement that frames the evolving
plan, and acts as a magnet for people who want to make a difference. Okay,
you may have been ‘visioned to death’, but when it is done properly it can
be transformational. For example, Disney used ‘Make People Happy’ as their
Mission/Vision statement. GE under Jack Welch used ‘Be the #1 or #2 in our
respective business sectors’. Vision statements need to be relevant, simple
to understand, short, extremely compelling and yes, even a bit scary.
- Embrace the use of a balanced scorecard approach, which demands
the use of a balanced set of measures and cause & effect thinking. This
differs from traditional planning with its emphasis on results only. In
other words, shift from a ‘management by results’ orientation to ‘management
- Deploy a draft high level plan early, and ask for input from
everyone in the organization. Leave gaps where they exist, avoid the temptation
to look good through the use of ‘filler’…it won’t fool anyone, and will
only discredit your team. This signals to the organization that the executive
team does not have all the answers. While this may disappoint some people,
most will welcome the opportunity to provide information and ideas at an
early stage. The Japanese, after careful study and experimentation, adapted
Management by Objectives to include what they call a ‘Catchball’ process,
which provided for speedy back and forth dialog between the executive team
and the rest of the organization, at an early stage, culminating in breakthrough
ideas, which the executive team could never have come up with on their own.
- Make the evolving plan visible. Put it on desktops. Put it on
the walls. Put it on everyone’s agenda.
- Make the process invigorating for everyone. Have facilitated
working sessions early in the process. Let every team in the organization
have their ‘planning retreat’, not just the executive team. Create a real
buzz. This signals to everyone that it is not ‘business as usual’
- Persist. Avoid the scaremongers who will tell you that what you
are doing is crazy, risk laden, and irresponsible. For example, some will
try to lay the ‘accountability’ guilt-trap out for you. Accountability is
a critical component of organizational life, but so is survival. Unleashing
the potential of your organization is far more critical to survival than
some bureaucratic emphasis on ‘keeping people accountable’. Isn’t it far
better if people willingly enroll in the plan, than being forced to do so
through an archaic command-and-control approach to accountability? When
people sign-up willingly, accountability becomes a breeze…in fact they will
be the first to hold themselves accountable.
- Make the process continuous. As plans are implemented, carry
out regular reviews and refinement. Don’t wait for the big quarterly or
annual reviews…by then it’s probably going to be too late.
- Provide meaning. Keep in mind that people nowadays demand that
work be invigorating, meaningful and joyful. If you don’t shape your organization's
culture to provide these outcomes, you will end up with a dull, boring, listless
organization that no one, including customers, will want to associate with.
- Be yourself. People will follow you as a leader if they know
that they are dealing with the real you. While some may try to take advantage
of your weak spots, you will gain more followers who will admire your courage
when you admit that you don’t have all the answers, and maybe even not all
of the questions.
- Lighten up and have some fun. Okay, you don’t need to wear a
clown suit (but hey, who am I to tell you not to do something if you think
it will help people lighten up!). Take a leaf from the book of organizational
leaders such as Herb Kelleher of SouthWest Airlines, who has built an incredibly
efficient and effective organization by getting people to lighten up.
Aristotle once said ‘That which we must learn to do before we can do it,
we learn by doing it’. Planning as doing relies heavily on this maxim.
Brian Ward is a principal in Affinity Consulting and the author of Lead
People...Manage Things: Master the 5 Key Facets of Quality Leadership & Become
a GREAT Leader. He has over 25 years of experience working with all levels
of management and staff as a leadership coach, facilitator and consultant.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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