My friend Terry Obee and I were recently discussing the importance and key components of strategic planning. I was making my case for a methodical approach to planning while taking advantage of numerous time-tested planning models. I referenced SWOT analysis where a team identifies Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. I also mentioned a model where a team simply answers three basic questions. (1) What’s going well? (2) Where are we getting stuck? (3) What should we be doing differently?
These planning models and my general philosophy on strategic planning shared with Terry Obee that day were based on 20 plus years of consulting with hundreds of teams and organizations. I had even peppered the conversation with quotes like, “Fail to plan, plan to fail,” and “Measure twice and cut once.” Engaged, Terry simply listened. But what he said after my academic rambling was indeed provocative and based on his experience as a professional athlete playing for the Chicago Bears and the legendary Mike Ditka.“Greg, it’s not the X & O’s, it’s the Jim & Joe’s.”
Wow! I could instantly visualize the many binders in my office that contained the most sophisticated of all plans. Plans with charts, references, guidelines, timelines, goals, strategies, tactics, etc.…. Most of those binders, all filled with the “X & O’s,” were simply collecting dust as the “Jim & Joe’s” were neither identified and/or not committed or even worse not held accountable to the execution of these well thought out plans.
Terry and I both agreed planning models and a systematic approach are important. But perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle is the one that follows the actual planning process. A simple Action Plan. An Action Plan consisting of: What (X & O’s), Who (Jim & Joe’s) and When (Timeline). Ironically, the reason most plans never get off the ground is because we don’t take the time at the conclusion of a meeting to complete the most elementary of all models. A basic Action Plan that in addition to identifying the X & O’s identifies the “Jim & Joe’s.”
And like you, I’m a pretty responsible person. However, if my name doesn’t appear on an Action Plan, the odds of me or anyone else following through are slim to none! Even with the best of intentions, we’re busy people. We’re excited and committed when we leave the planning session but then life resumes. We assume someone else will do it (staff, executive director, board chair, et al). But if we know an Action Plan will be posted at the next meeting with actual names and timelines, you better believe we will follow through!
An effective leader balances the “X & O’s” with the “Jim & Joe’s.” How many times have we shared a plan with others who weren’t involved and didn’t have a role in the development of that plan only to be surprised when they weren’t overly excited or 100% committed during the implementation phase? Steven Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” knew the importance of including the “Jim & Joe’s” when he said, “No involvement; no commitment.” But my friend Terry Obee simplified things even further with a sports analogy. “It’s not the X & O’s, it’s the Jim & Joe’s (and Jane’s).”