Don’t protect, correct your strategic planning!

The trick in [strategic planning] is not to worry about making a wrong decision; it’s learning when to correct! ~Susan Jeffers

In Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway Susan Jeffers discusses the crippling effects of fear in her personal life and explains how she formulated a course of action for conquering it. In the chapter “How to Make a No-Lose Decision,” I came across an analogy that I believe gets at the core of effective strategic planning.

I am referencing Susan Jeffers who referenced Stewart Emery in his book Actualizations. This is what Emery learned while on the flight deck of an airplane. Planes have an inertial guidance system. The purpose is to get the plane within a short distance of the runway within a short time of the estimated arrival time. Each time the plane strays off course, the system corrects it. As the pilot described this process he said, “we’ll arrive on time in spite of having been in error 90 percent of the time.” Emery observed, “So the only time we are truly on course is that moment in the zigzag when we actually cross the true path.”

Jeffers used this analogy to describe how we could view decision making in life, and I quickly translated this into strategic planning. It represents what I see happen all the time!

Strategic plans, painstakingly written in detail with long lists of “to-do” action items and precise milestones; this could easily characterize a very straight line from the current state to the goal. What strategic plan is so accurate, and environment so stable, that an organization can truly practice linear planning!? The straight line might be your strategic plan, but strategic planning looks much more like the dotted line in the illustration.

I’ve seen numerous organizations launch a new strategic plan, arrive at their first “oops,” and (A) immediately abandon the plan all together because it must be wrong, (B) change the goal because their first effort must have been right, or (C) continue full-force in the misdirection and get even farther from heading toward the goal in an effort to “protect the plan.”

Why don’t more organizations correct course? Continuing with the aeronautical analogy, the people in organizations are the inertial guidance system. Does your “strategic planning” only focus on divvying out lengthy to-do lists? Or, have you invested in empowering your people with the capability and liberty to make course corrections?

Writing a strategic plan is the easy part. Actually practicing strategic planning, that’s the hard part. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” Planning means people are engaged, they are empowered with the capabilities necessary to do the planning, and they have been given the liberty to make miscalculations and, consequently, corrections. I intentionally said miscalculations and not mistakes. Going back to Emery’s reference to being in error 90% of the time, that means miscalculations are a necessary component of planning and should not be characterized as mistakes.

Jeffers’ statement: “Don’t protect, correct.” How much time and effort is your organization spending protecting your strategic plan; and how much time and effort are you putting toward correcting your strategic planning?