“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Yes that’s an attention-getting line, famously coined by boxer Mike Tyson. But it really is something to think about, especially since it’s that time of the year for most of us – when we are neck deep in planning. A time when hope still springs eternal – *this* is surely the year when we will duck those right hooks and our fancy footwork will guide us to success. Or, when some of what we plan for gets completed rather than smashed by a flurry of incoming urgent issues.  

If you are anything like me, here’s how you would approach this task :


Schedule a leadership team meeting, preferably offsite. Hunker down with the team for two days to come up with a plan that you can all get behind. While a big chunk of this meeting is figuring out how to ‘keep the trains on the track and on time‘, a key portion would focus on the planning for the future, not the day-to-day. You know, ‘laying new track‘ stuff.

You would look at what the company was trying to accomplish in the year ahead, and extrapolate what you need to do to support that. Look at the list of initiatives that you had hoped to have finished in the previous year but didn’t.

If you are an overachiever, you’d probably be doing one or more of the following: Look at notes from conferences you attended to see what others had done. If you had access to analysts, you’d be skimming through their reports to see what the key trends they thought your competitors were going to be working on over the next few years. Finally, you’d reach out to your favorite trusted advisor — a consultant or partner — to get a sense of what they suggested.

At the end of this process, you’d have a list of initiatives to work on for the year. The ‘big rocks‘. You’d divide up the big rocks, assign owners and head back to the office.

Post Meeting

Here’s what would typically happen.

I’d communicate the ‘big rocks’, their owners and related measures with the entire organization. Then we would be off to the races. Until the next set of urgent issues came up, and  ‘urgent’ inevitably displaced the ‘important’.

Then, we understand Mike Tyson a little better. “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Over the years, I’ve come to realize there were three flaws with this approach and I’ll explore them in the next post.

Here’s a hint to think about until then: What is a HiPPO?

HiPPO is a term coined by Avinash Kaushik and Ronny Kohavi and it stands for the ‘Highest Paid Person’s Opinion’.

Factoid: Hippos are the third largest land mammals on earth (after the elephant and the rhino). They are notoriously territorial, and very aggressive when threatened. Know anyone at work like that?

P.S. If you aren’t familiar with the ‘big rocks’ metaphor, check out this video by Stephen Covey.

Until next time…

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