The Role of Strategic Planning as a Mechanism for Disciplined Thought

Audio Transcript

Let me address that by going to the evidence regarding what role strategy—strategic planning—played as different or not different between the good-to-greats and the comparisons, and the good-to-greats as they went through their change. In other words, as relates to the latter point, did their relationships to strategy and strategic planning change from when they were in their good era to when they were in their great era? Let me give some insight on this.  

First of all, as noted in Good to Great, both sets of companies engaged in strategic processes of one kind or another. So, it’s not that the comparisons didn’t do strategy and didn’t do strategic planning. You can’t say that the good-to-greats did it and the comparisons didn’t. They both did it. So, the fact that they did strategic planning was indistinguishable between the two.  

But now, let’s ask the next layer of question down, “Was there any difference in the way they did it? What might account for some of the difference?” Well, I would actually go to a couple of pieces as to how it was different. First of all, you’re right. One of them said, “Planning is priceless; plans are useless.” That was the quote he used. He took it from Eisenhower, who basically said, “We have to have immense plans for D-Day, but once it actually starts, the plans become a lot less useful because things unfold in ways that we can’t predict.” So, planning is priceless; plans themselves are useless.

So, they didn’t do plans and then get stuck on them. Their strategic planning process was not a rote exercise. It was a mechanism for stimulating disciplined thought. The idea being that if we use the strategic planning process, starting with the right people who can engage in violent disagreement, debate, almost like a scientific exercise—you get a group of scientists together trying to understand your universe, the universe of Oklahoma and the environment in which operates, its opportunities, what those mean, how we might want to allocate resources. Let’s suppose it’s a scientific question. And we get the right scientists, the right people on the bus, engaged in a rigorous, vigorous debate and disagreement, leading to the best insights—a mechanism to gain understanding. And from that understanding comes a series of decisions.  

So, instead of being a rote exercise followed by rote implementation of decisions, effective planning involves vigorous debate, infused with the brutal facts and insight seeking, from which comes an iterative series of decisions that add up over time. It requires discipline and rigor. One thing that really stood out to me about the process, the feel of these companies as they did their planning, was the extent to which it was driven by a search for the right questions more than a search for the right answers.

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