Planning: Paying the “Upfront Cost”

Paying the upfront cost of planning is far, far, cheaper than the cost of the fix.

 Strategic Planning

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

– Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)


“None of us is as smart as all of us.”

– Old Southern Sayin’


“Learning everything there is about leadership is like reaching the end of the Internet.”

– Hugh Ballou


Following other leadership writers is a part of my ongoing discipline of personal growth and discovery. In today’s post by Dan Rockwell on his leadership blog, Leadership Freak, which he titled “Wasting Time on Vision and Mission,” he quotes Karen Martin, author of The Outstanding Organization: Generate Business Results by Eliminating Chaos and Building the Foundation for Everyday Excellence. I enjoy Dan’s blog because he has good ideas and he makes me think.

He begins with this premise: A compelling vision doesn’t cure sick organizations. Martin said, “Many organizations have these lofty visions and they can’t even deliver product to customers…”

How true this is.

However, as stated in the quote from the book of Proverbs above, leaders must create and share a vision so the organization has a clearly-defined purpose. The author’s premise is spot-on in that leaders typically define a vision, the stakeholders give a nod to the vision, sometimes they create core values, and then this academic exercise becomes “credenzaware.” We do not embrace these foundations as fundamental principles for creating healthy systems, processes, and teams to engage in meaningful work and deliver effective results.

Beginning with creating a lofty, unrealistic vision is a typical starting point in most strategic planning processes. Once the planners spin their wheels, so to speak, creating a vision statement that gives everyone a warm feeling inside (like they have just peed in their pants), they attempt to create a plan to get to where they have started in this lofty, often useless, vision statement.

As usual, my approach in solving problems is to choose the opposite polarity, that is, do the opposite, change the paradigm, or choose the counterintuitive option. In this case, I find that brainstorming the future, and then clustering the ideas by relevance, helps the planning team to get a feel for the big picture. Then it’s time to analyze how to get there by identifying the key next steps, the obstacles to overcome, and the systems and skills to install for implementation. A brief evaluation of systems and skills will then expose the real work to be done in order to transform the future possibilities into real results.

Martin is so right in her statement that creating a compelling vision and mission statement does not cure sick organizations. We spend enormous amounts of time creating these definitions without doing the essential work of organizational transformation. The broken part of college business education is that it focuses on creating the “What,” the plan, and little or no time for developing the “How,” or what’s commonly called the soft side of planning, the skills development.

Observe a world-renowned symphony orchestra. Each player is a highly competent virtuoso musician. Each person can perform his or her part from the start. So why do they rehearse so intently? They rehearse to perfect their performance standards. They rehearse to become an ensemble. They, then, have attained an elite status of achievement because they have paid the upfront price of preparation.

Planning is essential to success. The orchestra conductor has the musical score, which notates EVERYTHING that is supposed to happen (the strategic plan). Each orchestra member has a unique part to play (the action plan). They cannot function without this organizational document, however having the printed musical document is not the final solution. Many perceive that having the printed sheet is the solution – it is, in fact, only the beginning. The music happens only when the conductor engages the players in working together to make music.

The conductor, functioning as dictator, receives compliance. The conductor, engaging and inspiring the player to perform with passion and precision, empowers excellence in performance not otherwise achieved. Many orchestras fall short of achieving this level of excellence because the conductor (the transformational leader) does not model and require the highest level of excellence, which becomes an integral part of the culture and creates an organizational DNA of excellence.

Business teams create plans and go directly to execution by instilling a DNA of excellence. Rehearse for Success is my 3rd leadership principle for success. Work on team performance by rehearsing excellence.

The organization’s vision is a living, organic force field, not a static written document. After brainstorming the future possibilities, defining how to get there, targeting skills and systems to upgrade, then it’s time to write the vision statement. That is only the beginning…create a practice of regularly evaluating the progress and the team performance, refining those systems and processes, and recommitting to the new plan.

It’s hard work and there are no shortcuts.

Paying the upfront cost of planning is far, far, cheaper than the cost of the fix.


Hugh Ballou
The Transformational Leadership Strategist

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Hugh Ballou (Author)