Note: Last week I covered the aspects of a scarcity mindset with two examples from my client file. This week, I will move over to how to create "abundance." Enjoy. Previous installments of my weekly blog from 2013 are located on my website at HTTP:// stevemarshallassociates.com/ steves-blog/.
"In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. "
A surefire way to create abundance is to follow the advice of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of all Allied Forces in Europe in WWII and the 34th President of the United States. I find that there is a lot of wisdom in his quote above because it is the conjoined process of having all of the stakeholders involved and becoming aligned through a planning process that can create an abundant mindset and success, especially if you follow the plan!
"Plans are nothing; planning is everything."
General Eisenhower also said the above about war, but I think it also applies equally to the exceedingly complex world of today's business climate and its environment. When Eisenhower said it, he was most likely referring to the quote by the famous Prussian General, Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, who stated in the 1800's that, “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” He was a German Field Marshal and is credited with creating a new approach to directing armies in the field. This entailed developing a series of options rather than simply a single plan. Field Marshal Moltke held the view that only the commencement of any military operation was plannable. Most likely channeling von Moltke, President Eisenhower added (to his quote above) that, “There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of ‘emergency’ is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.”
What Does All This Military Gibberish Have to Do with Strategic Planning?
Like military strategy, business strategy is developed and applied in a fluid, unpredictable environment, and the distinction that Moltke and Eisenhower draw between planning and the plan is very pertinent for senior executives charged with crafting a company’s strategy. All too often, I find, executives seem to share the traveler’s (itinerary) and builder’s (blueprints) understanding of planning and the trick to helping them create a strategy that will actually work lies in getting them to rethink that view. What does that involve? Let me share with you a few principles I’ve learned from my more than 35 years of working in and around strategic planning.
Think of the Plan as a Guidance Tool
The problem for many managers is that their expectations are all skewed from what can be realistically achieved via a strategic plan. Their image is more of the house-plan type or travel itinerary. They anticipate that by doing the necessary analysis and writing down how their business will succeed the world will be converted from uncertain to certain. In their eyes, the strategic plan becomes a device for control rather than one of guidance. They’re not comfortable with the fluid and uncertain Moltke concept. This can manifest itself as “we’ve given up on strategic planning.” This emanated from a CEO whose experience in writing “it” all down was that he got it all “wrong” as things changed rapidly. In other similar situations, executive teams find themselves simply ignoring any document that is produced.
Look for Disagreements and Toward the Future
Even though your plan is liable to become immediately irrelevant, you still need to invest in writing it up. Why? There are two reasons. The first is to surface disagreements that may otherwise remain hidden. You can have all the discussions you like with your fellow staff and think that your management team is in agreement until you actually distill these discussions in a written document that people have to sign off on. It’s in the crafting of your organization’s position that you realize that, well no, we’re not all on the same page. The second reason is that it provides a platform from which change can be leveraged. This line-in-the-sand concept may seem paradoxical, but the very process of preparing the plan has you thinking about the future and assembling resources. Moltke wasn’t advocating not having a plan to start with but that the plan itself and the planners needed to be flexible because it generates preparedness.
Focus On the Organization and Key Stakeholders, Not Individual Actions
A plan can’t be “strategic” if it’s simply about action by individuals. While action is fundamental to implementation and success, there’s another level above that — the organization level. In my experience, most managers, operating as they do inside their organization, aren’t fully cognizant of this important distinction. This can have them launching prematurely into how and when or, at the very least, unconsciously crisscrossing between the organization and individual levels. Business strategy operates at the corporate level while action functions at the individual level. Remain aware of this underlying logic and keep a firm focus on your organization and its relations with its key stakeholders. Develop business strategy for each stakeholder in turn but also acknowledge the causal link between them.
Assume the Plan is a Work in Progress
A strategic plan is not an instrument forged in stone. It’s a living and breathing document that guides decision making and helps marshal resources. When managers talk about “giving up on strategic planning” I suggest that they haven’t thought through how to keep their plan fresh. The fact that circumstances are changing rapidly is a very good reason to visit their plan regularly. How regularly? This varies by industry, of course, but my general recommendation to most clients is monthly. Your executive committee may meet more frequently, perhaps weekly, so put aside the first meeting of each month for a plan review. This allows you to not only update the document due to changed conditions but to also go through the actions that were scheduled for completion as part of the execution process. Make your agenda item “progress against strategic plan.”
Field Marshal Moltke wasn’t in business nor born in the modern era. Yet my guess is he’d have made an excellent keynote speaker at a conference on our modern obsession of; “disruption.” He understood that the world doesn’t stand still while we plan. He also appreciated the importance of planning’s role in preparing for change. Your strategic plan is an essential device in navigating disruption’s headwinds.
Next Week: What is the State of the Community?