One dark rainy night on a muddy hillside in Germany, I learned what it meant to be a great organization.
I was an armored cavalry platoon leader during a training mission. We were in an assembly area being resupplied with fuel and food. Then catastrophe struck. We were hit with a simulated chemical strike. Everyone pulled on their gas-masks and buttoned up the protective gear.
Communications began to break down.
The commander was without a radio. He later told me that he saw his career melting away as he stood on a hilltop watching pieces of the unit headed off in every direction.We were supposed to rendezvous at a decontamination site miles away within the next hour. Over the course of the night small groups of vehicles and personnel trickled in. They did not arrive in prescribed march order or on the specified time line, but arrive they did.
The carefully structured plan had collapsed.
The ordered chain of command dissolved. Chaos reigned. The junior leaders found themselves in charge of things they had never been trained to control. However, each of them understood what needed to be done and took the initiative to make it happen. The last of the unit completed decontamination as dawn approached. We just had enough time to deploy for the next operation. We were hungry and exhausted, but we had completed the required task.
Therein lies the lesson: The hallmark of a great organization is not one that follows the plan precisely, it is the one that, when everything goes to hell, still manages to accomplish the mission.
Plans are easy to create. Most start-ups can pull out their founding business plan. Likewise, pro forma financial statements look attractive at the outset. However, I have yet to be a part of any business that developed strictly according to plan. To paraphrase Prussian General Von Moltke, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”
Planning is a mechanism to evaluate the way factors interact to impact your operations and make some educated guesses about how your company will unfold in the future. In that respect they are critical. It is a way to help you think about things. Writing it down in a logical coherent plan helps refine your thoughts. However, it is important to understand that it is the “thinking” that is important, not the “plan.”
The critical thing to remember as your develop great organization skills is to focus on the planning process, not the product. Venture capitalists are investing in you, not a piece of paper.