We use metaphors all the time – most of the time we don’t even really think about it.
For example, we say, “What’s your position on that topic?” Here position implies an actual location of some type, which gets reinforced by terms like ‘left of center’.
In the business world we encounter metaphors all the time. We hear terms like ‘action’, ‘operations’, ‘Chief’, ‘Officer’, ‘target customer’, ‘hostile takeover’, ‘strengths’, ‘weaknesses’, ‘threats’, ‘resources’, ‘capture a lead’, ‘sales force’, ‘war room’, and the biggie: ‘Strategic Plan’.
Why is ‘Strategic Plan’ the biggie?
Because while all the other terms clearly have military connotations, ‘Strategic Plan’ has become so common that we don’t even think of it being militarily based. Everyone uses the term: non-profits, churches, businesses of all types. It’s the accepted phrase that describes the process of assessing where an organization stands, where it needs to go and how it’s going to get there. It also carries the connotation that it is to be done by the ‘Generals’, those that chart the way for the entire organization, those that are in charge (‘in charge’, another military metaphor from leading the charge in the battle).
Is this bad?
Not necessarily, but all metaphors have their limits and as a result can get developed and applied to situations that they probably shouldn’t be.
Let’s step back for a moment.
If a business believes in bringing value to a customer and improving their experiences, how effectively will a military metaphor instill these orientations in employees of that company?
If a business believes its customers should be partners in developing value, how does a “Strategic Plan”, a metaphor that by definition, needs to come from the ‘Officers’ of a company, contribute to the desired cooperative mindset?
It doesn’t – at least not effectively. To really use metaphor effectively and empower the hearts and souls of an organization, it’s better to use consistent metaphor/language that reflects a spirit of cooperation, of empowerment.
The good news is that ‘planning’ doesn’t necessarily carry military connotations. We plan meals, weddings, buildings, routes. Planning is a good thing. But, if we want to foster cooperation, to look at customers as partners and people and not targets of acquisition; if we want to provide value and delightful experiences, we need to replace the word ‘strategic’.
To get some ideas, I stuck the above desired concepts (cooperation, partners, people, provide value, delightful experiences) into a reverse dictionary and received some provocative possibilities from which I’ll give the following suggestions for renaming the ‘Strategic Plan':
- Service Plan
- Partner Value Plan
- Relationship Building Plan
- Aid Design Plan
- Community Support Plan
- ….Wellness Design Plan (Patient, Community, Economic, etc. could be placed before ‘Wellness’ for a healthcare company, non-profit community assistance organization, bank, etc., respectively)
- Partner Experience Development Plan
Think about it.
If a company or organization’s Strategic Plan was renamed to one of the above, who would be involved in the drafting process? Who would the shareholders be? Would the word ‘customer’ even be used? How would employees of an organization view their relationship to the organization and its ‘partners’? Where would an organization focus its resources to track how well its being true to its plan? What metrics might be used? How would companies view others in the same market space?
What do you think?