The Participative Planning Illusion


(Part 1 of 2 parts)

“I believe in participative planning,” the new CEO announced.  “I’m asking all departments to submit their views on our mission, goals and strategies.”

The CEO organized an oversight committee to guide the process.  Over the next few weeks, employees throughout the company met and debated their future.  “Our challenge,” said one team leader, “is to focus on something we can agree upon.”

As a deadline approached, teams scripted mission and goal statements.  However, most teams focused on their particular interests; and as you might imagine, there was little coordination among the different functions.

As the next deadline beckoned, to finalize a plan they could agree upon, the oversight committee converted most suggestions into abstract statements, such as: “Our vision is to be the best at what we do.” “Our goal is to deliver high quality service.” “We want to expand.”

While employees were engaged in their planning frenzy, the CEO opened a new division, successfully introduced new services, and redefined dealer relationships. None of these ideas surfaced via the participative planning process.

Participative planning is an illusion.  Neither cars, smart phones, airplanes nor most other great ideas emerged from planning groups.  To think you can convert the suggestions of hundreds of employees into a coherent plan is simply unrealistic.