A lesson in planning from the All Blacks.

Years ago I read a study published in the Harvard Business Review contrasting the decision-making efficacy between entrepreneurs and managers. Both groups made good decisions. The difference was entrepreneurs took on average 2-weeks to make major decisions while managers took more than 8-weeks, if memory serves. This phenomenon along with “lean startup” logic somehow has conspired to under value the act of planning. Rather than budget for well-wrought annual strategy development, more and more companies are opting for agile development processes, leaving business plans dusty at best and as a guise to satisfy board members at worst.

I’m a fan of speedy decision-making and agile development, and I appreciate the fact that most businesses are akin to airplanes being rebuilt while in flight—they simply won’t land for the luxury of a refit. However, a good strategy can get a company to function with the efficiency of a living, breathing organism such that each and every moving part is in concert. This is the holy grail of productivity and the result of very good planning, or, to be more accurate, is the result of putting in place very clear principles of action. Ultimately it is principles that allow autonomy, mastery, and purpose. And, it is autonomy, mastery and purpose that breeds productivity, creativity, and efficiency. These are the things that make speedy decision-making and agile development work.

Arguably the most successful international sport team in history is the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team. They win a lot. Their approach and philosophies are recounted as lessons for business leaders in James Kerr’s 2013 book, Legacy. Of interest is the practice of the All Blacks’ coaching staff providing each new member upon making the team a black leather book, which includes the history, the standards, and the ethos of the team; and markedly, an additional five pages at the conclusion of the booklet that are left blank. It is noted that these pages left blank at the end are for each individual athlete to fill in them selves. The opportunity provided by this omission is for each team member to account for how they might leave their own personal legacy enacting the principles of the organization, shifting responsibility from the leadership and coaches to the players themselves. Imagine this practice in your organization.

Imagine your own strategic planning document penned from the perspective of history, standards, and ethos as a frame work that then enables each and every employee to uniquely contribute to its success in their own way. Agile development… Lean entrepreneurship… Whatever you call it, without clear principles crafted in advance to guide the outcome, your business will look more like a scrum than anything else. 

Probably a good idea to budget for planning next year.