Management guru: failing to plan is planning to fail

Sometimes, it takes a lot of thought to come up with a very simple concept. Biech clearly states that you need to have a plan in order for change to be successful. I was reminded of one of my first-year teacher so many decades ago whose mantra was: failing to plan is planning to fail. As first-year students, we rolled our eyes, but eventually learned the wisdom of his cliche. Perhaps he was a budding management consultant.

A plan is key. Why state the obvious? Why would change occur without a plan? Because in my experience oftentimes change is a reaction to a situation. Reactive thinking is often not planned; the decision-making process isn’t a result of thorough research with the stakeholders. 

Biech and Weiner both assert that in order for the implementation of the plan to be successful, it requires the engagement of the employees and/or stakeholders. 

“The more organizational members value the change, the more they will want to implement the change, or, put differently, the more resolve they will feel to engage in the courses of action involved in change implementation. (Weiner, 2009)”

Much like the axioms of my first-year professor so many years ago, this sounds like common sense. The question I ask is: why would you not engage your stakeholders? What led to the creation of a set of ideas or management principles that would assume that stakeholders need not be engaged? Is it patriarchal thinking? A dismissive attitude towards the stakeholders? A lack of empathy?

I’m not qualified to take on the role of historian taking a deep dive into the evolution of corporate culture. I speculate that perhaps this disconnect is rooted in the tension between Theory E and Theory O management theories. Theory E is concerned with maximizing profitability and shareholder value; Theory O places the greatest importance on creating a robust, capable and dynamic workforce. Two different priorities can yield two very different work environments. 

To look for leadership theories that align with my own approach to leadership, I circle back to the tenets of reflective management and how it builds on the values of Theory O by respecting and valuing the workforce as individuals. Trust, openness, self-esteem; these are the principles of reflective management. I believe that recognizing the value of your stakeholders is an important step in to, in turn, having them value the change initiative. As Weiner simply states: “The more organizational members value the change, the more they will want to implement the change. (Weiner, 2009).” 


Biech, E. (2007) Models for Change. In Thriving Through Change: A Leader’s Practical Guide to Change Mastery. Alexandria, VA: ASTD
Castelli, P. A. (2016) Reflective leadership review: A framework for improving organisational performance. The Journal of Management Development, 2, 35, 217-236. doi:
Weiner, B.J. (2009) A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Sci 4, 67. doi:

2 thoughts on “Management guru: failing to plan is planning to fail

  1. Hi Jeff, I totally appreciate your underscoring the importance of planning for a change initiative to be successful. In my experience, change initiatives that I’ve led or been part of takes a lot of time to plan, assess, and analyze the situation/ temperature of the organization to ensure a good strategy can be developed to maximize success. The notion of organizational readiness asserted by Weiner (2009), posited that identifying determinants and factors to a successful implementation is key. Another important argument you presented is the lack of reflection from leadership when reacting to sudden change. I wonder if the corporate culture, as you alluded, can be the culprit for tolerating such leadership behaviours. In our current environment of change as the new norm, what would it take to shift those corporate cultures that favour reactionary rather than reflective thinking to change? Would external factors force this shift or will pressure from within?

  2. Hi Jeff, I cant help but quote Darwin (1963) here, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”. Thank you for an insightful read on change, planning and organizational leadership.
    I enjoyed reading your blog and in agreement about your approach of Theory O which reflects that by properly managing change within the organization, you can help reduce the incidents that would affect efficiency, and help to maintain company”s productivity. When you manage the employees successfully through the change process, that can instill confidence that the next change can be done as efficiently (with a lot of work and praying:) ).
    You talked about plan/planning and yes planned change is the process of preparing the entire organization, or a significant part of it, for new goals or a new direction. This direction can refer to culture, internal structures, processes, metrics and rewards, or any other related aspects.

    I am curious what is your take on a negative impact of organizational change? first of all are there any? if so, do you think its worth the risk and in some cases overhauling the structural ripple effects?


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