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When Plans Don’t Go According to the Script, Keep Planning

By Maxwell Leadership | June 11, 2011
When Plans Don’t Go According to the Script, Keep Planning

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

As Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower planned, coordinated, and carried out the largest amphibious assault ever undertaken – the Invasion of Normandy. Historians regard him as one of the greatest military strategists of all time. Even so, Eisenhower considered plans to be essentially worthless.

Why Plans Are Useless

1) There’s No Way to Control Your Competition

In a hypercompetitive and dynamic world, plans have an increasingly shorter shelf life. As Colin Powell said, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” As leaders, we are susceptible to the innovations of competitors. When faced with a new reality, we must either scrap our plans or close our doors.

In business as in warfare, there’s no way to predict the strategies and innovations of your opponent. You never know when a competitor could obliterate your business plan by introducing an inventive idea. Competition from foreign automakers sent GM spiraling into bankruptcy. iTunes has nearly sunk the major record companies, and online news sources have put traditional newspapers on life support.

2) There’s No Way to Control Your Circumstances

If you own a small construction firm, then you’re painfully aware of this principle. A brilliant plan for growth doesn’t do any good when few people are buying and even fewer are building. None of your strategies have the power to revive the stock market or to put money back in people’s wallets.

The fate of Hummer is a prime example of a company’s plans being hammered by forces beyond its control. Five years ago, Hummers were the rage, and the brand had incredible appeal. Riding the wave of popularity, Hummer spun off clothing lines, toys, and even founded an off-road driving school in South Bend, Indiana. However, a spike in gas prices nearly killed off the company a few months ago.

Why Planning is Indispensible

Eisenhower was no fool. While he recognized that concrete plans would sooner or later be discarded in the course of battle, he prized the process of planning. Why? Because he knew firsthand the benefits it could bring.

1) Planning Prepares You Mentally and Emotionally

When planning, you walk down the avenue of possibilities in your mind. This exercise mentally familiarizes you with the pros and cons that may be associated with the decisions you make. Also, projecting yourself into the future acquaints you with some of the sacrifices that will be necessary to see a plan through to completion. Oftentimes, being aware of these costs in advance helps a leader to prepare emotionally to make tough choices.

2) Planning Helps You to Prioritize Your Resources

Opportunities abound, but you can’t do everything. Planning helps you to separate what you must do from what you could do. By prioritizing, you more effectively allocate precious resources of time and capital.

3) Planning Causes You to Identify Assumptions

As any mapmaker knows, a good roadmap must be drawn to scale and must have a legend explaining its symbols. Without these two essential features, the map is confusing and unreliable to the reader.

Assumptions serve as our legend and scale when we map out a path for those we lead. We really can’t make a sensible plan for the future until we’ve defined our assumptions. Planning exposes assumptions to the light of inquiry. When considering a future plan, we have to test whether or not our present assumptions remain valid. This process helps us refine our fundamental beliefs about the mission, values, and goals of our organization.

Plans are disposable. As such, perhaps it’s best to write them on recyclable paper, but never stop the discipline of planning. Although a majority of your plans will end up being abandoned and discarded, the process of planning won’t fail to reward you.


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