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The Art of Being Inconsistently Consistent

Effective entrepreneurs keep their organizations focused on unchanging goals. At the same time, they cannot become married to specific plans because conditions change. While striving to balance consistent vision with adaptable plans, leaders must also ensure all stakeholders opt in. Whoever said it was easy?

In a recent post we discussed the need for business leaders to be light on their feet with their business plan. Planning is, of course, a necessary competency of virtually all strong organization. The plan provides focus by summarizing in one easy-to-review document the big bets a business is daring to make (based on careful consideration of the best available information), and an inclusive planning process ensures that organizational efforts are aligned.

But planning is not running a business. Eventually you shift from planning to executing, and at that point the plan ceases to be your creation. It becomes your dance partner. You sometimes follow, sometimes lead, and importantly, you know when it’s time to gallantly bow and walk away. Off to plan again.

The flip side of this flexibility, however, is the organization’s need for consistent goals and objectives and non-negotiable truths. Just because you don’t become attached to your plan doesn’t mean you can allow your sails to luff. Your organization needs to know its course. Sure, you sometimes need to tack right, sometimes left, but you must never lose sight of your destination…and the principles you will follow to get there.

Seeking the middle way – in this case, neither holding on too tightly nor too loosely to plans – is critical. No room for ideologues or extremists. We seek to bring conceptual order to the always-changing mess of competing stakeholders with competing requirements by consistently including them all, listening to them all, honoring them all, and steadfastly resisting pressures to assume them out of existence in the name of expediency.

Only by embracing the juicy complexity of business can we arrive at the best possible solution. Certainly, in the end we must decide and say yes to some, no to others. But here’s the magic: when someone feels she has been heard and her point of view respected, she will generally embrace the final solution however it turns out.

In excellent organizations, it’s not enough that no one opts out of key decisions. Rather, everyone has to enthusiastically opt in. Strong leaders use the principle of inclusive planning to make that happen. They don’t force major decisions in the name of expediency until every one signs on.

Whatever else happens, there is consistency in that.

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2 Responses to “The Art of Being Inconsistently Consistent”

  1. Greg Lemmon says:

    Interesting post!

    That last paragraph though; what if everyone does not opt in? What should the leader or leaders do then? I have seen instances where not all are on board with a decision made by the leader or leadership of the organisation but things still get moved along. Is this healthy for the organisation regardless of size and what medium to long term effects can this have on the organisation?

    Just my thoughts.

  2. Mark P. Friedman says:

    In the best organization, individuals know when to disagree and when to join ranks. A member of a sports team may not agree with a play, but sure better act as if he does – and so it is in business. If individuals are opting out of a decision that has been made, waiting for a chance to say “see, I was right,” a strong leader should consider replacing that person.

    Don’t misunderstand – disagreement and debate at the right time are also necessary for a strong business. For important decisions, debate should continue until everyone feels they have been fully and clearly understood. But once the decision has been made, there is no room for ego. Accept the decision, or decide you cannot play with this team and move on. There is no healthy in-between.

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