Part One . . . The Dark Side of Planning

Finally, we have a destination for our next flyfishing adventure – the islands off the coast of Belize on the Caribbean side of Central America.  We are going in August for Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish, but it’s time to start planning now.  Lots to organize, travel arrangements (need to book early for a chance at frequent flier seats), flies to tie, gear to assemble (I definitely need a new size 9 saltwater reel).  The list goes on and on.

The good news about planning, even though it is mentally exhausting, is that if you get going early enough, you have lots of time to think of everything.  And planning is also motivating.  Every time I read over my list my mind fast-forwards ahead and I find myself daydreaming about the trip – the salt air, the wind, my expert casting (at least in my dreams), stalking and hooking a giant Permit.  My wife wonders why I am smiling more frequently now.  Must be up to something she says!

Strategic planning is very much the same.  The senior team gets together, gathers the information, organizes it, talks about stretch goals and breakthrough ideas, decide how they want the next several years to play out, write down goals, objectives and forecasted revenue and profit projections.  Everyone involved is pretty motivated by what the future holds for their business.  It’s often a pretty upbeat time.

Then comes reality.  In the case of my fly-fishing trips, reality comes in the form of airplane delays, lost luggage, unpredictable weather and storms that make fishing impossible for several days, mosquitoes the size of helicopters, losing my box of hand tied flies over the side of the boat, excruciating sunburn on the one exposed surface I forgot to plaster with sunscreen, chapped hands and cuts on my fingers.  You get the point, real life.

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry] 

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promised joy.
–       Robert Burns

And it’s the same with strategy execution.  The plans look great, especially when delivered by the CEO in a stunning powerpoint presentation.  And the analytics validate the plan. Everything is a go.

But the marketplace doesn’t stand still while we implement.  New competitors emerge, new applications appear, technology advances, regulation changes, customer preferences shift, and a hundred other things assault our plans, if not knocking them off course then at least putting up significant roadblocks to their delivery.

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results!”  – Winston Churchill

And how do most organizations react?  Too often we see executives beginning to blame the plan as not being good enough or complete enough.  Then they distance themselves from the strategy, often retreating into functional plans where they believe they have more control.  Next we see endless meetings and discussions about how to get “back on track”, budgets are re-aligned, some programs are cut while new ones are initiated.  And all the while the initial optimism is slowly replaced with cynicism, blaming, and the strain of being in a constant “fire-fighting” mode.  You get the point, real market dynamics.

Strategy execution is very hard work!  No wonder it is commonly stated that between half and a third of all strategies fail.

(Check in tomorrow for Part Two . . . The Lighter Side of Planning)

Tight Lines . . .

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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