Perspective Before Planning

How many times have you been part of a strategic planning session where your dominant thought was something like, “This has been such a waste of time.  We’re not planning, we’re just throwing ideas on the wall to see which ones stick. We have no direction, no focus, no real plan. I could have spent better time elsewhere.”

If those have been your thoughts, don’t feel bad, you’re not alone.  According to Accenture, research suggests that 80% of companies are dissatisfied with their planning and budgeting processes.  Other research indicates that more than 70% of companies with a strategic plan don’t execute it. Statistics like these indicate that there’s a significant problem with today’s strategic planning process. So, why is it then, given the importance and necessity of strategy planning, that so many companies struggle to do so effectively? I believe the core issue is that too many business people plan without context.  In other words, they put “planning” before “perspective”.

Over the last four years, I’ve been studying the work of Tom Paterson, a master business and organizational strategist in the 70’s and 80’s.  One of Paterson’s core principles is “planning before perspective”.  The idea is that before any plan can be conceived, organizational leaders need to take the time to understand where they currently are and how they got there in the first place. This gaining of perspective gives leaders better insight into what the road ahead should look like.  In addition, it gives them better understanding on what operational realities of the present should be addressed.

The example Paterson uses is that of climbing a mountain via switch-back trails instead of climbing straight up the rock face.  At first, going straight up may seem like the most effective route (a straight line).  However, any seasoned hiker will tell you that the process of zig-zagging up a mountain is the most effective way to reach the summit. Switchbacks prevent erosion, keep hikers safe, and keep the trail consistent.  In the same way, taking time to gain perspective before planning will help prevent the organization from following an unproductive, unsafe path.  In the time it take to go “back and forth”, you gain unique views and perspective that aren’t possible when you jump right into planning.  Better yet, when you “climb the mountain” with others, you gain a shared perspective that can lead into even more insight, which in turn leads to a more effective plan.  This shared perspective leads to greater efficiency when implementing the plan.

So, as you anticipate the planning process (the fourth quarter is only a few months way), ask yourself and your team….

  • Do we spend any time trying to gain perspective on where we are and how we got here? If so, how much time are we spending processing these questions?
  • What specifically are we doing to gain perspective?
  • Are we creating a culture that allows for us to gain a view of the truth?
  • Does our planning process allow for a shared perspective?

These and other similar questions are the true first step to making strategic plans that work.