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People And Strategic Planning

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Vic Napier

The prevailing model of strategic planning begins with the formulation of vision and mission statements, goes on to internal and external analysis, then the development, refinement, implementation and measurement of objectives, and finally, the importance of starting the process over again.

One thing is conspicuously absent from the strategic planning process- exactly how people figure into it!

Without people any business or organization just an abstract concept that represents little more than a few tangible assets. Even when business books include human beings they are treated as a non human entity, best defined by financial statements and various objective analyses, instead of psychological or sociological concepts.

Robert Lawrence Smith, a leading Quaker business thinker says this about the people who work in business:

"The working force is made up of a number of individuals each having a personality different from the rest. They are sensitive as we are to encouragement and discouragement, as easily aroused to anger and suspicion, to loyalty and to effort. One may deal with things without love; but you cannot deal with men without it..."[1]

That's what this is about - infusing flesh, blood and human spirit into the strategic management process.

People Principles and Organizations

Textbooks tells us that a mission statement is "a declaration of an organizations 'reason for being", and that a vision statement "answers the question 'what do we want to become?"[2]

That's fine, but a huge component is being left out - the people who comprise the organization -- the "we" in "what do we want to become". Do people automatically adopt the values of the mission statement? Can values and attitudes be changed simply by a show of hands in yet another meeting? Can managers agree on vision and mission and then lobby employees to hop on the bandwagon?

That's how it's done at some companies, and it doesn't seem to raise many eyebrows. Here is how Jon Katzenbach describes how Enron addressed employee dissatisfaction in his award winning best seller, The Wisdom of Teams:

"To remedy the situation, the senior management group developed what they called a 'Vision and Values' program. The vision was to make Enron into 'the first natural gas major' and 'the most innovative and reliable provider of clean energy worldwide for a better environment.' The values, aimed squarely at converting employee discontent into customer-oriented employee involvement, included 'Your Personal Best Makes Enron Best'; 'Communicate-Facts Are Friendly'; and 'Better, Simpler, Faster.'"[3]

Senior managers who drafted the updated missions and visions were then sent out to tell workers about the new values systems that were going to cure their unhappiness.

This episode is not just an example of how successful business people fail to recognize basic facts about psychology and leadership, but also how authors of best selling leadership books can do the same thing. Based on this incident, both the Enron executives and Katzenbach would be comfortable with Fredrick Taylors' 19th century era Scientific Management philosophy which produced the idea that, "...foremen were cast as the 'brains' who did planning rather than actual operations, workers came to be seen as little more than 'a pair of hands'".[4]

Not all business thinkers are so archaic and condescending when it comes to leadership issues. The current guru of vision and mission statements, Steven Covey, says that " be effective [mission and vision statements] must come from within the bowels of the organization", not just as edicts from top management. "Everyone should participate in a meaningful way..." Covey says, because mission statements "that truly reflect the deep shared vision and values of everyone within that organization creates a great unity and tremendous commitment".[5]

That sounds good, and I'm in total agreement...but what if the shared visions and values the employees agree upon is in conflict with that of the owners and managers? The results are easy to find - just look at labor union history. Unions owe their existence to employees refusing to accept corporate vision and mission. There has got to be more to vision and mission statements than dredging the existing "shared vision and values of everyone" who happens to be in the organization.

Values are Hard to Change

Think about the last time you and your co-workers debated where to go for lunch. Now consider the process of getting large groups to agree on political party platforms, or religious values. Quick and easy agreement rarely comes out of such gatherings, and it's such a rare and painful process that historians study the occasion and preserve it for posterity. There is just too much difference between individuals to expect agreement on such basic things as values to be easy or fast.

The thing that academics like Covey ignore is that people have very different values from one another, and they hold on to them very tightly. Gathering together a random group of individuals, even from the same organization, and getting them to agree on fundamental values that underlie their collective vision and mission is near to impossible.

Values = Culture; Culture = Behavior

When we start talking about values and vision and mission we are really talking about culture. Culture springs from shared values, beliefs and attitudes, and transforms groups of individuals into a homogonous group. Vision and mission statements attempt to create a culture that determines collectively predictable behaviors. We want to be assured that employees answer the phone before the third ring for example, or greet customers with a smile and a 'may I help you?' Covey advocates the use of vision and mission statements to alter existing culture in a way that benefits the goals of the business or organization.

The obvious shortcoming of Coveys approach is that discussions, meetings and democratic adoption of a vision or mission statement never create or modify



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