Whenever I hear a radio interview with a public figure who speaks candidly on a topic without the usual spin, resists the temptation to offer black or white solutions and is prepared to admit that he or she does not have all the answers, a flood of text messages always seems to follow from listeners saying how refreshing it is to hear someone speaking with such candour. Rather than detracting from the interviewee’s reputation, it actually enhances it.
I wish more of this country’s politicians would get the message.
What triggered the above thought was the recent announcement by the government that bringing the budget into surplus in the current fiscal year was no longer achievable. Most commentators had always believed that it was an objective doomed to failure and that Labor regarded it as a political rather than an economic necessity. Treasurer Wayne Swan was at pains to point out that the government’s expenditure cuts had been outdone by the fall in tax revenue due to a variety of factors outside the government’s direct control. I just do not understand why governments and organisations of all sorts make promises when their ability to keep them is beyond their power to manage. All plans and strategies are developed on the back of certain assumptions and when those assumptions no longer hold true, it’s time to adapt and revise the plan to the new reality.
This is no more true than with business plans and the adoption of the Wagon Wheel Enterprise Operating System (EOS) provides executive management with not just a process for achieving great execution but also one for testing whether failure to meet the planners’ expectations is due to circumstances beyond or within the planners’ sphere of influence and control. If the latter, the solution lies within the organisation itself; if the former, there is no alternative but to revise the plan – as Wayne Swan has demonstrated.
If the plan under consideration is a far-reaching one – a strategic business plan for example – the assumptions or the rationale behind the Plan need to be summarised in the planning document. In the list of the 36 barriers to making it happen, Barrier No. 2 states – “The rationale behind the Plan was never incorporated in the final written document.”
Apart from providing a point of reference, this summary of the Plan’s rationale and the assumptions upon which it was based also pays dividends at the implementation phase. Barrier No.18 states – “The rationale behind the proposed changes was not sufficiently explained to those most affected by them”.
Unlike the majority of organisational “visions”, Wayne Swan’s policy did have a clear objective so it was possible to do the sums and conclude that a budget surplus was no longer achievable without inflicting unnecessary damage to the economy. Note that the budget surplus has not been wholly abandoned; it has just been put back a year.
In this age of on-going change and the global economy, it is inevitable that plans at best need constant adaptation; at worst, complete revision. Yet so many organisations develop a plan and then fail to keep check on the assumptions on which it was founded. Such organisations run foul of Barrier No. 35 – “Although we recognised that the external environment is changing. we continue to focus on implementation rather than revise the Plan”.
Successful plans and strategies are always a combination of doing the right thing and doing things right. If a continuation of doing the right thing is still practical and realistic, then the emphasis remains on doing things right. But if doing the right thing is no longer feasible then how well you do it is irrelevant. You have to face the new reality and do what Wayne Swan has done – change the plan.