Global OD-Lesson Seven: The Importance of planning is not universally acknowledged

Very few organizational consultants working in the western world would pooh pooh the importance of having an OD change plan. The plan can be a grandiose master plan, or a MS project plan, or at least an excel sheet, which spells out the deliverables, roles and responsibilities and due dates.

The importance and advantages of planning appear obvious and let’s be honest, planning does appear to have a lot of value which one expects to be universally acknowledged. This is not the case.

There are folks who have taught me about perceptions that plans are “delusional control tools” of those who believe they control the environment.
There are folks who have taught me about the perceptions that plans are “traps” that ensnare creativity.
There are folks who have taught me about the perceptions that ingenuity drives change, and plans stifle ingenuity.
There are folks who have taught me about the perceptions that plans are more about control than about doing what needs to be done.
A client in Egypt taught me an Arabic saying “isal el rafik kabl el tariq”-ask with whom, not about the road to be taken.
And many many folks I work with see in planning an obsession.

Since I myself am much disciplined and work to plan, these were hard lessons for me to learn.

When I did learn them, the quality of cooperation I got in India, Taiwan, Israel, Thailand and Indonesia increased tenfold.

When working with Germans, Americans, Brits and Dutch on one hand, and cultures which value planning to a lesser extent, I was able to work on what are the assumptions that people have about planning, with very good results.

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6 thoughts on “Global OD-Lesson Seven: The Importance of planning is not universally acknowledged

  1. The who question. Just released me from an obsession with a planning matrix. THANKS FOR THAT. Very important contribution.

  2. I would agree that many Westerners thinks of planning as the first step of a closed-loop control process: set Targets (plan, monitor performance, identify variances, take remedial action.

    Many but not all. Rather less define the purpose of planning as guiding present action (not setting out what you expect and even want to come true) and therefore look at planning as setting the stage for conversations about the futurity of our actions.

  3. From a cultural perspective the different extent of planning between countries should neither reflect ignorance nor overemphasis. Using Geert Hofstede’s culture model, the perceived need for more or less planning may result from the cultural dimension “Uncertainty Avoidance”. Uncertainty avoidance expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity (see Hence, what is perceived as necessary in one culture may be perceived as too much in another. It is not about what is right or wrong.
    In my own experience, if a German member of a project team wants to start off with a detailed project (time) plan his or her Anglo-Saxon colleagues tend to say ‘let’s not waste too much time with this but let’s get on with the job. We will see how it goes and change course if necessary.’

  4. Hi Walter,
    I have worked with Israeli and Germans, which as you can imagine, is quite complex: culture; emotion; history; and avoidance of uncertainty.
    When the Germans plan, their Israeli colleagues simply move ahead w/o the plan, and let the plan catch up with what is going on.
    And when the Israelis re-do, and the Germans replan-that is where I come in.
    Thanks for following my blog.

  5. Hello, and thanks for this interesting discussion.

    Rosinski talks about Being vs Doing cultures, where the difference is that coming from a Being-culture it is very important WHAT you do, whereas coming from a Doing-culture it is important HOW you do things. I believe this also effects the view on planning and its importance. Western cultures which plan a lot want to put everything down on paper WHAT shall be done, such as Germans and also Swedes (which I am my self), whereas you would think that other cultures such as the Arabs would still plan HOW they will approach a certain issue, but according to the Lewis-model, these cultures are more impulsive. This model, I believe, shows how we are different in our way of planning in the sense that it gives us a view on Linear-active, Multi-active and Reactive cultures. In my view, and also according to Lewis, the Linear-active cultures are the ones who plan.

    Does anyone have any other models to recommend, which addresses these different cultural aspects? Please share them on LinkedIn as well in the group Cross Cultural Management.

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