Why Some Leaders Hate Long-Term Planning

Why do some executives resist making
long-term plans for their business? The hidden secret is a deep fear of failure
but there’s a way to be confident about the top team’s quality of visionary
thinking.

Vague aspirations to “Become
World-Class” will always drive some portion of your employees crazy. Even if it
happens on a grand scale, the answer isn’t to abandon inspirational goals

Fortunately, the Jamaican
Government’s Vision 2030 avoids these perils by having both clear measurable
targets and a specific end-date. Without these two components, it would be just
be a bunch of wishful thoughts…fairy tales with no basis in reality.

However, most managers
under-estimate the effort to produce such detailed targets. They struggle, but
don’t understand why. One reason relates to a lack of harmony between two
opposing camps: Dreamers and Realists. Your team is best served when a drive
for inspiration (i.e. Dreaming) is balanced by a need to be practical (i.e.
being Realistic). Here are three steps to include in your next planning
meeting.

Being Inspirational through the
Details

If you have noticed that most of
your employees have lost the zest for Dreamer-led Rah-Rah / “Being Number One”
chest-beating, you may ask: “Why did it become passe?” In short, it doesn’t do
well in today‘s world where authenticity is the main currency.

They see such lofty goals as
inauthentic because they lack specific, measurable characteristics. As a
result, these targets lack credibility, reducing them to having no more
significance than an idle knock in table tennis, or a meaningless game of
solitaire played just to kill time.

Today, your employees expect real
engagement which must be linked to clear performance feedback which is
objectively measured. Such black and white targets tell them whether they have
won or lost, not only individually, but on a corporate scale.

In the case of Vision 2030 there
was, I imagine, a long hard distance to go from becoming “the place of choice
to live, work, raise families and do business” to defining multiple, explicit
targets for specific sectors. It’s exactly the tough task many executive teams
are unwilling to do. Instead, they try to take lazy shortcuts. For example, it’s
popular to get each department to come up with its own goals, then ask a clerk
to pull them together in a final document.

At first blush, this approach may
seem logical, or efficient. However, the end-product ends up being little more
than a grab-bag of bits and pieces. This Frankenstein plan is exactly what
Realists fear the most because the lack of practical coherence dooms it to
failure.

Allowing Brutal Reality to Trim
Dreams

Some Realists have such strong
feelings that they block or boycott planning retreats altogether. Instead, they
argue that today is the best guide to tomorrow and advocate no more than
annual budgeting. Implicit in this approach is the assumption that competitive
advantage was decided in the past, and won’t change.

This dangerous idea is usually not
spoken out aloud…until it’s too late. Like Cable and Wireless of old, they deny
the arrival of an impending Digicel, thereby facilitating their
competition’s success.

Unfortunately, most executive teams
never resolve the difficult tension between Dreamers and Realists, preferring
to allow one side to “win”.

The way out of this zero-sum game is
to balance the time devoted to each camp during your next strategic planning
retreat. When you create your agenda, build this in: ask everyone to Dream,
then stop. Pause, and then provoke participants to trim the vision by making it
Real. In other words, allow each approach to run its full course before switching
from one to the other. The fact is, both are important, but they are impossible
to reconcile simultaneously in a workshop setting.

Time and Discipline to Balance Both
Activities

Most executives don’t appreciate
this delicate balance. Instead, if you belong to one group, you are
likely to point fingers at the other, complaining that
time spent in their preferred zone is wasted. As a result,
I often find myself in the middle, arguing for a balance. This means pointing
out the pitfalls of “short” retreats. I explain why we no longer offer them:
they inevitably favor one camp over the other, producing a weak strategy which
is neither rigorous nor durable.

In other words, trying to focus
exclusively on Dreamers or Realists defeats the purpose. The point of such sessions
is to make the most difficult decisions regarding the future of the company.
Bringing both camps together is just one of the critical end-products.

Teams who realize this
fact produce miracles: building inspiring long-term plans based on
realistic short-term commitments. While it’s a hard result to generate in a
mixed group, this balanced approach is the best way to craft sustainable
competitive advantage.