Leaders Transform Plans into WISE Planning

How should leaders view planning? Leaders are the stewards of organizational health. An organization that knows why it exists, why it cares about its mission, where it is going, and how it will get there is a healthy organization.

It is not possible for an organization to align and move forward in a dynamic, effective way without the ability to coordinate functions, roles, and shared effort.

Alignment cannot be sustained without focus and communication. Planning is the organized communication process to come together, learn together, and move forward in unity.

In his current bestseller, The Advantage: Why Organization Health Trumps Everything, Patrick Lenconi, emphasizes that the fundamental element of organization health is unified leadership that ‘over communicates clarity’ to everyone else.

Without wise planning, it is impossible for leadership to have a credible, consistent, compelling message to employees, partners, and external stakeholders about the current situation, the destination, and the path forward.

As the supreme commander of the invasion of Normandy in WWII, Dwight Eisenhower led the largest planning effort in human history and said: “Plans are worthless. Planning is everything.”  

How does strategic planning fail to be wise? 

Strategic planning is supposed to be intelligent mapping of the organization’s path to success through the operating environment. Too often, the practice of strategic planning emphasizes the formality of the plan as a product__ often a document that lays out a carefully drafted set of goals and objectives with detailed actions designed to achieve a vision 3- 5 years from now. However, when regarded as a fixed product (“We have a 5 year plan.”) it is easy for a plan to become ‘worthless’ as it is executed without regard to emerging realities.

Too often, the practice of strategic planning is motivated by a need to ‘check the box’ with a plan that will satisfy accrediting agencies, funding sources, or major donors instead of a deep belief in the current and ongoing importance of planning as a way of being. External motivation does not provide the ethical investment and tenacity to follow through and many a carefully written plan gathers dust on the shelf.

Even when internally motivated, many strategic planning efforts fall short in the delivery of benefits that justify the investment of time and money to make the plan. The most common, avoidable deficiencies are:

  • Poor Design ~ A good design establishes the need at this time to engage in planning, obtains the full commitment of leadership to support the process, identifies the necessary participants and those who need to be consulted, and brings important information and other needed resources to the effort.
  • Absence of Key Perspectives ~ Wise planning requires careful consideration of a range of issues and a keen understanding of the current and near-future operating environment. When diverse perspectives are missing, a candid, 360 degree dialogue will not illuminate the critical issues and surface the best organizational responses.
  •  Flawed Implementation ~ Planning is a living process that creates a living plan document with ongoing review, meaningful assessment of progress, and course correction as needed to keep moving together toward the desired destination. There must be resolute commitment to follow through and accountability for results.

Whether due to poor motivation, fixed thinking, or inadequate attention to preventable deficiencies, many plans fail to succeed. Some plans are not worth the paper they are written upon. Poor planning results generate cynicism about the value of planning, and many leaders and organizations neglect the practice that Eisenhower learned is ‘everything.’

What transforms plans into wise planning?

  • Enhance Perspective by Thinking Stakeholders ~ The clarity, durability, and credibility of the planning depends upon serious reflection about the needs of the organization’s internal and external stakeholders. Fair consideration of stakeholders establishes accountability and demonstrates integrity
  • Develop a Common Sense Understanding of the Territory ~ Open dialogue surfaces the organization’s lessons learned, the current and emerging challenges and opportunities, and the possibilities you can imagine together. This learning conversation deepens the analysis and forges better decisions.
  • Courageously Align Principles With Actions~ Your goals, objectives, and actions can be more than intelligent (strategic) responses to the operating environment. Wise planning integrates your guiding principles into a plan blueprint that serves as a ‘map.’ An ethical map aligns practical realities with your organization’s moral compass and helps you navigate waves of uncertainty or resistance with the conviction to stay on course toward your vision.

Practice Tip #7

Develop Your Statement of Core Values and Guiding Principles Neuroscience on the brain and decision making demonstrates that the emotional centers of the brain are deeply engaged in our ability to choose. When we value something, we feel strongly about it. A values statement declares what matters to the organization in clear, practical language. There are three parts:
The Value Word, e.g. Respect
The short definition, e.g.positive regard for the dignity of all persons.
The action principles that we will use to implement the value, e.g. We will:

  • encourage and value the contributions of each person
  • listen well, communicate openly and honestly, and encourage others to do the same
  • treat others as we would like to be treated, relating so well with them that they actively seek to associate with us

Along with the mission statement of purpose, the aspirations in a values statement confirm the organization’s identity and make a commitment to employees, customers/clients, and other stakeholders. A values statement raises the bar of expectations for conduct and provides a moral touchstone when making key decisions and important plans.

Words of Wisdom

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world..”
Joel Barker, futurist

“Common sense is seeing things as they are and doing things as they ought to be.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe, writer

“If you get your facts wrong, your map will be wrong. If you get the map  wrong, you’re likely to do the wrong thing.”
Peter Schwartz, Futurist, author ofthe Art of the Long View

If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.”
            Andrew Carnegie, Industrial pioneer, Philanthropist