The Myth of “Do it yourself” Strategic Planning

Some things are easy to do. Some projects require a professional.

Some projects should never be the “do it yourself” kind. In the “never” category, some are self-evident. Trying to connect my gas stove is pretty self-evident. Even if I know how to use a pipe wrench (‘righty tighty, lefty loosey”) the potential downside (KABOOM!) is just too great. Leaving it to an expert is always the best choice.

Other projects that should not be attempted by a do it yourselfer are not quite so evident. Household projects involving electricity are in this category. Ever the thinking individual, I might reason that since I use electricity every time I walk in a room and flip the light switch, I am extremely familiar with electricity. This makes an electrical project seem totally within my skill set. I might even have some luck with things like changing the switch cover or replacing a single outlet.

“Leaving it to an expert is sometimes the best choice.”

My familiarity with electricity was challenged when I finished out the basement of my house. Pulling wires through holes I drilled was a piece of cake – sort of. What I was unfamiliar with could fill a book. In fact it did – it is called a Code Book. Once I came to my senses, a polite and very competent professional was helpful in sharing. And he didn’t charge me too much to correct those items I had “completed” that weren’t according to code.

How does this apply to Strategic Planning?

Of course this story is a set up. It brings up something I see often when consulting. People reason that they are familiar with strategy because they use it every day. Running a car pool. Scheduling a time for dinner. Cleaning the garage on a Saturday. These are all part of our every day – and could easily give me the confidence to think that attempting something larger would be a piece of cake.

There is some truth behind my confidence. Small or mid-size projects are often easily accomplished. Organizational strategy – the equivalent of the basement build out project – are another matter altogether. What is needed is a professional – someone who does this all the time and is aware of the “Code”. They know where shortcuts can and should be taken. They also know where attractive shortcuts are a detour to disaster.

“Don’t mistake confidence for competence.”

In my practice, I call this professional the “Reasonable Outsider”. It is a term I coined, though I’m sure the origin of it comes from somewhere I can’t remember.

What is it?

Reasonable Outsider (noun) 2005: (1) A person from outside the organization who is independent, free of political ties or debts to anyone in the organization, well informed enough about the organization to ask the right questions who serves as the catalytic agent in the development and implementation of the organization’s strategy. Synonyms: (a) honest broker (b) objective look (c) trusted advisor.

Why is it important?

(a) A Reasonable Outsider is objective – not distracted by personalities. Because a Reasonable Outsider is not connected to internal politics, they are able to reframe issues and challenges that face your organization or business.

(b) A Reasonable Outsider is experienced – usually well matrixed. By that I mean they have multiple complementary experiences. My complementary experiences include the Marine Corps, pastoral ministry, consulting for the Federal government, NGOs, municipal government and churches. As a Reasonable Outsider, I use this wide experience to tap the power of analogy and enable the organization to see itself objectively.

(c) A Reasonable Outsider is a change agent – a strategic catalyst. They can ask questions insiders might not be able to ask because of internal demands and relationships (see #1 above)

Where do I get one?

If you’ve read this far you probably already guessed I am a certified strategy geek. I specialize in helping organizations ask the right strategy questions. If you’d like to have a conversation with a Reasonable Outsider about the challenges your organization is facing, email me at dralancole@gmail.com. And yes, I have a soft spot for non-profits and faith based organizations.

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