thinking about planning: values

Yesterday I went off on a (fairly pointless it must be said!) flight of fancy about the comparison between GPS units and a good strategic plan.

But it did get me thinking a little more about planning.

One of the constant frustrations I have with the kind of corporate/strategic plans that we tend to produce is that often they are a lovely document, espousing all kinds of wonderful things, and published beautifully and placed on the bookshelf.

And that’s it…..there they stay.  Beside the corporate history collection and just above the pile of annual financial returns.  Sometimes, the plans we produce don’t amount to anything in terms of outcomes.

Sure the exercise of producing a plan can be helpful, can build a team, can help us think about who we are and why we are, but all that feel-good can fade into the background fairly quickly.

So what’s missing? How do we make the jump from planning as an exercise to planning that delivers outcomes?

One of the clues, I think, lies in that section of a plan we call “values”.

There’s no question its one of the critical components of any plan – the point at which we declare and describe the values of our community/organisation/company/people – those enduring tenets that define who we are.

I can’t help wondering if it’s also one of the most overlooked components. And potentially mis-used.

We tend to think, in this part of our planning, of aspirational values – those values that we hope to hold, those values that describe us at our best (and if we’re honest…we’re not at our best all the time!).

Things like hospitality, compassion, life-long learning, integrity, innovation, effective communication and so on.

Such a list of values can function as something of a collective wish-list.

And, I think, it can be a bit removed from reality, and a bit hard to grapple with these kinds of aspirational value statements.

I’m starting to think that rather than a disassociated list of aspirational values, we need to think much more in our planning exercises about embodied values, or the practices that demonstrate the kinds of values we hold/want to hold.

After all, what is a practice if not an embodied value?

What? What kind of gobbledegook is this?

If an aspirational value is hospitality, then an embodied value might be “eat a meal every week with a non-family member”.

If an aspirational value is innovation, then an embodied value might be to set aside 10% of organisation budget, and 10% of every staff member’s time for creative/innovative pursuits.

If an aspirational value is good communication, then an embodied value might be to have the CEO write a blog on the staff intranet every week outlining how the organisation is progressing, and inviting responses, comments and questions.

Those are just a couple of (admittedly incomplete) examples.

I can’t help wondering if our planning documents were to describe our aspirational values alongside a set of sample/example (but real) actions whether we might make some progress in taking that strategic plan off the bookshelf and putting it into practice.

The key would be making the plan invitational – so we (the people) are inspired to embody those values in our own work, life and participation.

And that might very well be the kind of planning that transforms an organisation or community.

Just wondering.


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