Plans, plans, plans…and then some!

By Keith Coats 

The Problem:

We are too reliant and dependent on plans! I know we need to more agile and adaptive and this over-dependence on always ‘having a plan’ isn’t helping! How can we change this?

The Solution:

The ‘Head’ bit: It was General Eisenhower who said, “Plans are pointless but planning is essential”. The real issue is not the ‘planning’ but rather an over-subscription to the plans once formulated. The reluctance to ‘shred the plan’ is because of the investment of time, money and effort that goes into our plans. It is also true to say that, for the most part, we like having plans for the sense of control and secure that they afford. Acknowledging all this (the ‘head bit’) is the first step in weaning ourselves from what has become a traditional business tool and mind-set.

The ‘Heart’ bit: It is important to acknowledge that some of us ‘like plans’. There is a default setting in the thinking of many people towards the black / white or right / wrong in life and very often (but not always) an outcome of this is ‘to have a plan’. It is important to acknowledge that for some a move away from plans can be somewhat traumatic (most likely not a word they would use) and there would be a lot of supportive ‘business speak’ to validate not jettisoning your plans. So moving away from a reliance on plans will be emotional for some and as such, these emotions will need to be acknowledged and dealt with in a suitable and sensitive manner. That said, don’t let this hold you hostage!

The ‘Hands’ bit: At your next meeting take a copy of your plans and in a dramatic gesture, shred them! If nothing else it will get everyone’s attention! Then, outline that you wish to conduct an experiment. Experiments often fail because we fail to tell those in the experiment that they are part of an experiment. Ask for ideas on how you might lessen your dependence on your constructed plans. Ask how you might go about planning without creating plans. The experiment will be to see how you get by within always following the plan.

It might surprise you as to what emerges. It could be that this is the very thing your team has been waiting for and with it comes a burst of creative energy and sense of freedom. It could also be that there is a dull non-comprehension about what you are getting at and perhaps even some degree of hostility towards the proposal. Either way, the reactions should be both informative and instructional.

Let your team come up with how best you can lessen your fixation and adherence to plans. Make this discussion (and review) a set feature of your meetings until a new way of thinking and behaviour emerges. It will…you just have to trust the process. And, as it does, you will be building the capacity to be more adaptive and agile!


In deciding how to go about the experiment be sure to factor in organisational realities and the wider impact and consequences. Any experiment is best conducted in a ‘confined area or sandpit’. You will need to set these boundaries.