At its heart, strategic planning is a rational management tool for
setting organizational goals and deciding how to reach them.
Trouble is, once a strategic plan leaves the drawing board, its
implementation is often anything but rational. Why is that?
Often, it's because a strategic plan is only as good as the
interactions of the people who are supposed to carry it out. One
curious characteristic of being human is that we don't always act
rationally. Why? Usually because we have unconscious competing
commitments that result in things being kept the way they are.
According to Harvard psychologists Robert Kegan and Linda Lahey,
this "immunity" to change can slow and even sabotage organizational
To overcome this immunity, organizations impose rules and policies
meant to control behavior and elicit cooperation. Ultimately, rules
and policies produce exactly what they don't intend - unfairness,
inattentiveness, and ineffectiveness. Kegan and Lahey call this
"organizational disintegrity," and it shows up in recurring
disagreements, personality clashes, gossip, rumors, complaints,
blame, turf wars, behind-the-back maneuvering, and other
interpersonal snafus that hinder performance.
Kegan and Lahey believe the only way to restore organizational
integrity is to creatively deal with people's immunity to change.
One suggestion is to shift from rules and policies to public
agreements. Public agreements are agreements that groups make for
how they will work together, and how they will handle interpersonal
Some examples of common public agreements include:
Come to me first. Complaints are handled directly
with the person or persons involved rather than through gossip or
complaints to others.
Check it out. Publicly inquire about assumptions
and perceptions as they arise rather than jumping to conclusions
and acting on them as truth.
Say what's so. Honest thoughts and feelings are
shared rather than saying what you think the other person wants to
Public agreements are more effective than rules and policies for
- shared ownership and responsibility that supports greater
- continued personal and organizational learning.
Here are a few suggestions for how to use public agreements to more
effectively implement a strategic plan:
Start small. Convene the plan implementors and
have them look for existing public agreements and decide how
violations are handled.
Identify a problem. Have the group identify one
ongoing problem that has hobbled past change programs or strategic
plans. After defining the problem, have everyone create an
agreement that they believe will positively address the problem.
Monitor the agreement. See when it is kept and when it is violated.
Hold regular check-in meetings to celebrate growing organizational
integrity, refine the agreement if necessary, and talk about any
violations. (Talking about violations is crucial.)
Instituting public agreements is challenging work and takes time.
However, putting people in the drivers' seat of their own personal
and collective behavior is the only avenue to successfully
implement strategic plans - because you can't impose motivation;
people have to own it.