Printer Friendly

The road to progress.


If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, so too is the road to Progress. What's the difference? To progress, the intentions become reality. Someone knows how to make them happen.

The ability to progress is a measurable characteristic of an organization. For example, some organizations don't have the procedures or the culture to allow them to change direction or to progress towards new goals. Yet other organizations seem to be able to shift direction with ease, and to accept change as an expected way of operation.

An organization progresses only if its plans for progress are good and these plans are successfully implemented. And the responsibility for the implementation of these plans rests on one set of shoulders -- the head of the organization.


Your path to progress is dependent upon your plans -- the things you want to have happen, your goals, anticipated changes, new strategies, new ways of doing business. High quality plans usually head you in the right direction. Poor plans will likely set you back or even ruin the venture. "Plans" can be objectively assessed and even purchased externally. You can get advice on your plans, make use of planning technologies, or hire experts to develop good plans. In fact, many leaders of organizations become leaders because of their planning skills and their abilities to envision and communicate better tomorrows.


But the more important factor determining your organization's progress is its ability to implement change, whether or not the plans for change are of high quality. In fact, the quality of a plan is only theoretical until it is implemented. So faulty implementation can brand even the best plans as poor.

For example, research has shown that 85% of new product failure is from faulty execution or implementation of the marketing plan, not because the new product wasn't good.

A host of variables influence your organization's ability to implement change. They range from its member's willingness to change, the organization's past history with change, its culture, individual personalities and especially the trust placed in management by the rest of the organization; to management's ability to control the operation, whether equity or double standards are perceived by its members and whether procedures are in place to ensure that clear, accurate direction is received by everyone in the organization.

These variables are characteristics of your organization itself, more than they are traits or skills of individuals. As such, the responsibility of the leader is to ensure that the ability to implement change is built into the organization's structure. When this is done, more time and effort can be spent on developing good plans for progress, and less time worrying about how to make them happen. The challenge facing organizational leaders was expressed very well by Alfred North Whitehead, notable philosopher and mathematician who said; "The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order."


This ability to progress can be influenced most directly by an organization's leader. During static, stable and predictable times, an organization can calmly proceed along an established route, with little need for a leader to intervene. But today, little is predictable, times are turbulent and organizations need leaders to steer them through the chaos. The leader is there to make a difference and to make sure everyone is on the same path to progress.


The Progress [Map.sup.TM] (above) shows the interaction of the two key factors to Progress; the plan and the implementation. The different quality of plans and implementation lead to four cells, with progress happening only in cell #4.

Cell #1: Losers & Clowns Poor Plan and Poor Implementation

Here lie the losers and clowns, sidelined on the road to progress. Irrespective of the intentions, these people have insurmountable difficulty either in deciding what to do, or in making correct decisions when they finally do decide. And even when they dare to initiate some action, it never seems to work and the implementation goes awry.

Like a clown, they amuse us with their bumblings and self-imposed stumbles. Since they are also losers, they usually are driven from the organization, or hidden from view and out of harm's way, or worse, the organization folds.

For example, some organization leaders grab at every trend and fad that appears, perhaps out of desperation to improve operations. Typically they start sending employees to assorted seminars and speakers in the hope that something great will happen on the job. Employees see no value in this other than entertainment. Nothing improves on the job and the situation only worsens.

Cell #2: Villains & Fools Poor Plan and Good Implementation

One thing worse than a poor plan is to have that poor plan successfully implemented. Now you have to live with the consequences. At one extreme, the clown who had the idea that everyone thought was "goofy", now makes that plan happen and proves to you how much of a fool he was. Hopefully, the results of his folly are short lived and harmless. Only his credibility is ruined.

For example, poor diagnosis of supervisory training needs commonly results in supervisors being repeatedly trained, much to their chagrin, when the actual problem frequently rests with poor leadership at the executive level. The "annual dose of training" simply reinforces in the supervisors minds that the brass doesn't know what it's doing.

At the other extreme is the villain who has a plan that is harmful to the organization but self-serving to the individual. Using manipulation and other power tactics, he forces the plan to happen and is perceived to be the villain. For example management has been known to hire excessive staff and "feather bed" in order to justify bigger budgets and larger personal salaries. Other jealous managers see this ploy and plan revenge. Future attempts by the villain to implement anything, good or otherwise, become more difficult and lead to the villain's use of more power or political intrigue. Alas, depending on economic situations, these fools and villians are either turfed out of the organization or they seem to hang on forever, demonstrating lots of activity, which, if it were ever assessed, would be found harmful to the organization.

Cell #3: Losers, Swindlers & Villians Good Plan and Poor Implementation

Here is the cell of high tragedy. The plan was basically good, even great. But the implementation failed. As a result, the leader is perceived to be either a loser who couldn't get the plan to work, a villain because the plan was implemented so poorly it resembled a terrible plan, or a swindler who made great promises but who never delivered.

Cell #3 underlines the vulnerability of leadership. If the head of the organization doesn't have a firm control over the implementation process, he or she is dependent on others to implement the plans for progress. Some may personally benefit if the leader fails. The results could brand the leader a loser, swindler or villian, as well as producing financial failure. It's for this reason that the implementation of plans cannot be dependent upon personalities in an organization. Implementation must be a systematized tool of the leader, and a well controlled process.

For example, the value of employee participation programs, performance management systems, participative management, new organization structures and other ventures to help an organization progress, ultimately rest upon the success of implementation. The implementation cannot be left to chance! Poor implementation not only negates the potential value of these initiatives but also scuttles executive credibility and the likelihood of successful implementation of change in the future.

Cell #4: Winners & Heros Good Plan and Good Implementation

Progress and profit only happen in cell #4. Here are found the winners and heros; those who made promises of a better tomorrow and delivered the goods. Only in cell #4 do you get the return on the investment that was made in the plans. In fact, the likelihood for future success increases even more because the leader is perceived to be a winner; and only winners inspire confidence. Winners can go on to even greater triumphs and progress while the losers must live with the costs of failure and low morale.


Movement around the Map is common as the organization develops better plans or has greater or lesser success at implementing change. But since winners instill confidence in themselves and in others, and losers don't, organizations who perform in cell #4 are more likely to stay there, and those falling into cells #2 and #3 usually drift down to cell #1. And too many experiences in the first three cells will keep the organization from ever moving to cell #4. Also, performance in the first three cells results in financial failure in either the short or medium term. To progress, the challenge for the leader is to move the organization into cell #4 and keep it there.


Three case studies are presented to show that to progress, an organization's leader, before trying to implement any plans for progress, should ensure that the organization can implement change. Failure to do so, routinely leads to negative consequences for the leader and the organization.

Case Study One: Implementing Corporate Mission

The new General Manager of an autonomous division of a major communication organization was responsible for implementing the corporation's new mission statement and the accompanying operating principles. These principles ideally would impact the jobs of all employees and eventually the organization's clients.

Over a period of six months, the General Manager got a feel for the culture of the division and sensed dramatic differences between the status quo and the intent or philosophy of the new operating principles.

The General Manager proceeded to undertake an analysis of the division's ability to change and identified areas where significant changes were required in management and in management practices. For the next six months, he undertook some action plans to resolve these management deficiencies (which included removal of some senior staff) and he personally took charge of implementing a specially designed general management system for improving the division's ability to change. With the new system in place, the General Manager smoothly implemented the mission statement and the operating principles over the course of the next year.

As a result, he was a winner with head office staff for changing a culture presumed to be intransigent, and a hero to those who believed in the principles of the mission statement.

Case Study Two: Implementing Strategic Plans

The President of a large industrial organization was personally committed to the progress of his organization. The company was an innovative leader in customer service and management practices, and the President strove to maintain its leadership position.

For several months the executives of the company had been led by a management consulting firm through a process of developing strategic and operational plans. One outcome of this strategic planning process was the establishment of a "Key Result Area" related to improving the organization's ability to implement change.

The President undertook an analysis of the company's ability to implement change. As a result, he and his management team produced a detailed set of action plans to improve the entire organization's capacity to progress. Now all management jobs would contain activity for improving the capacity to implement the operational plans and thereby ensure maximum payoff from the strategic planning exercise.

This President was working hard to be a winner. He wasn't taking chances that his strategic planning initiatives would fall by the wayside.

Case Study Three: Implementing Management Control

In an effort to get control over his institution's financial affairs (near bankruptcy) and its poor public image, the Director of a high tech research organization purchased a performance management system and tried to implement it.

The system had been used very successfully for this purpose by many other institutions. The Director used his position and personal endorsement to push the system's implementation, and he delegated the major implementation activity to his manager of human resources.

But after one year the system was still only implemented in twenty-five percent of the institution. This delay caused great resentment in the employees especially where the implementation lagged. One significant area was the Director's own department. This apparent double standard only fanned the flames. The Director's credibility was questioned by many and there were still intensive pressures from the Board of Directors to raise the efficiency of the Research Centre as quickly as possible.

Unknown to the Director (but predictable with hindsight), significant groups of employees were fearful of the personal accountability that the performance management system seemingly forced upon them. They tried to scuttle the Director's efforts to change the institution by several means including refusal to comply, lobbying members of the Board and other stalling tactics.

Regretfully, procedures, policies and values were not in place to handle this obstructionism. The status quo prevailed. The Director was painted by some on the Board to be a loser; a swindler by those whose expectations were raised by the Director's professed intent to help the Research Centre progress; and a villain by those who feared personal accountability and believed that the attempted change was a plot by the Director to fire them.


The road to progress is paved with good intentions that get implemented. These intentions or plans for progress are important because they set you on the right course, but it's the implementation that is of primary importance.

Whether the head of the organization becomes a winner or loser, a hero or villain; and whether the organization faces financial success or failure, depends on successful implementation. Rather than leaving this to chance, successful leaders ensure that the ability to progress is built into the fabric of their organization.

Robert H. Kent is the President of the Mansis Development Corporation which specializes in working with CEOs and senior management to implement change into their organizations. Mansis currently has offices in Winnipeg and Toronto. Dr. Kent is a regular magazine columnist, a reviewer for professional journals, a frequent speaker at seminars and conferences, and author.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:planning and implementation for success
Author:Kent, Robert H.
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Sep 22, 1990
Previous Article:Pitfalls to avoid when hiring.
Next Article:Writing for the ear.

Related Articles
Team-based work systems - making it happen.
Capitalizing on Tech Investments.
ERP Implementation: Managing the Final Preparation and Go-Live Stages. (State of the Art).
ARABS-ISRAEL - April 30 - Sharon & Abbas Receive 'Road Map'.
The challenge of change.
Five critical factors: preparing for success in implementing performance management: GFOA has identified five key factors typically present in...

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters