I’m told that Benjamin Franklin said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Planning is critical in order to move an organization toward achievement of the vision. In the same way that a map is not the territory, a business plan is not the way the market is or will be at the time of execution. It is our best guess. Military leaders say that “the enemy has a vote in your plan.” Boxers say that “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the nose.”
If the plan doesn’t survive the first contact with reality, then
why spend time planning? There are, of course, several reasons to put the effort into developing a strategic plan.
First, the plan is for internal consumption. It is to get the team aligned and integrated to achieve a common goal. Without a plan, everyone is off doing their own thing; rowing in different directions. Developing the plan gets the requisite “buy-in.”
Second, developing a cross functional plan gives everyone an opportunity to test assumptions, give differing points of view, and share unique experiences.
It’s more true now than ever before — the team has to be flexible and respond quickly to external and internal changes. While we are busy executing on our carefully thought through strategic plan, competitors are busy disrupting our market. Some of these competitors may not have even existed three years ago! But somehow, we are forced to respond to them by modifying our plans.
Business has always been about change and insight. In the past, we had time to respond. We had time to gain new insights before changing our plans. Today, it seems we are constantly in flux. We cannot even finish updating the plan before we have to change it again. And we have to do all this without wearing our employees out or causing them to become shell shocked.
It may seem like an oxymoron, but one way to handle the accelerating technologically driven change is to create a long term plan. Of course, that plan has to be fairly high-level. It’s the 35,000 foot view, not the detailed “go-to-market” plan. The foundation is the organizational core values which underpin the vision.
As long as the team embraces the core values and vision, they will be able to appropriately respond to internal and external forces. Change will not seem so disruptive if the values and vision stay in tact. My observation is that teams with no core values and compelling vision flail around trying to figure out what to do when the plans are disrupted. The teams that have clarity of values and vision have an easier time getting the new plan in place and executing on it.
The conclusion I draw from the turmoil of constant, unrelenting change is that we must fall back on a solid foundation. Like so many things in our personal and organizational life, that foundation is core values and clear vision. The core values and clear vision create the culture — which is “how things get done around here.” That culture will allow the team to confidently respond to changes in the market and/or organization.