My advisory practice frequently focuses on helping clients alter behaviors and habits which have been allowed to develop and solidify over months and years. Changing habits is a terribly difficult challenge for most people – the longer the habit has been in place and the more addictive its inducement the more difficult it is to break or alter.
If I am working with a CEO or Board Member, this journey may take us into the evolution and implementation of a strategic plan for their business. If the client is an individual who is trying to sort out their life, we may be focusing on the identification and prioritization of personal goals – then the development and implementation of plans to reach them. At first glance, these might seem like radically different challenges but, when it comes to planning and the weaknesses of most approaches to it, they are quite similar.
The Goal Unconsidered: By far the most common mistake occurs when the goals which the plan is intended to achieve are selected too casually. The tendency, and the hard work it seems to avoid, is so seductive that many people seem to select their goals as if they were relatively unimportant. Additionally, there is a tendency to select goals which are very generally described – lacking in detail. The insidious implication of this tendency is that goals are stated in such a way so as to make it very difficult to establish metrics to measure progress towards the goals. But as Yogi Berra was fond of saying, “If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?” Some of my clients have never gotten there – and most know that has got to change.
Strategic sans Tactical: In some cases individuals see the process to extend only to the selection of long-term goals. As a result they end up with an ‘I am here and want to be there vision but with no idea how to get there’ dilemma. Even if the goals are laudable, if the process of developing and implementing a plan to reach them is inadequate, the journey is seldom completed successfully. For these people, the selection of goals seems to be an end in and of itself. In some of my engagements, work with clients has brought us to the point where they may realize that their planning process is designed to sabotage any possibility that they will actually reach their goals. This can be a life-changing realization.
Tactical sans Strategic: I call this one the ‘bridge to nowhere’ syndrome. Occasionally I will begin an engagement with a client who is very good at planning out and taking the first few steps. They have an intuitive grasp of the near-term goals that will start them in a general direction. But then things tend to break down. The life experience of these people tends to be littered with the remains of started but quickly aborted journeys – efforts, no matter how well intentioned, energetically pursued or focused seem to peter out. Tactical planners often ignore the strategic goals which are so important in making the entire process useful and productive.
The Need for Balances: When we are dealing with the process of planning and implementation, I tend to focus initially on the establishment of a healthy balance between the strategic and tactical. This balance is the single most important initial issue. We also focus on a second issue which is important and also involves balance – the balance between too much and too little detail in the planning process. Our work together begins with an assault on habits which have built up over the years and which are sabotaging the person’s ability to set goals, chart productive courses, maintain a strategic tactical balance and productively move towards achieving both their strategic and tactical goals.
Change is a Bitch and Then You Die: Changing an established pattern of behavior is not easy. It is far too easy to simply manufacture and deploy the fiction that the world is just as it should be and that nothing needs to be changed in it – it is perfect as it is. But humans live their lives under the burdens of their mistakes – lose opportunities for a better life through indifference and inattention. It is almost always the case that that improvement comes because we have changed our behavior, overcome limiting habits and gotten better at exploiting our positive strengths and the opportunities which life offers us.
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD
I provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I also provide advisory services to CEO and senior teams – particularly mid-market companies. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk. Send me an e-mail and we can arrange a time to chat.