Monday, December 8, 2014

Planning and policy are handmaidens, execution is the king.

I read something that made me pause my series about systemic organization problems. I was reading Churchill's History of the Second World War, when I came across a passage that was right out of my own heart. (My managerial heart, that is.)

From Volume 4, Chapter XXXI: Suspense and Strain:
(Sir Stafford Cripps, the Lord Privy Seal,  proposed) … that as Minister of Defence I should have associated with me, as advisers, three persons of the calibre of the Chiefs of Staff who would supervise the Joint Planning Staffs and would be free to devote the whole of their time to military planning in its broadest sense. These three were to form an independent War Planning Directorate, which would keep under review the whole strategy of the war and consider all future operations; and for these purposes they were to supersede the Chiefs of Staff Committee. In each theatre of war there would be a single Commander with full power over all the naval, land, and air forces. These Commanders, advised by a small joint staff, would be responsible directly to the War Planning Directorate. …

This was in truth a planner's dream.

The new Directorate, concerned solely with planning and armed with full powers of direction and control, would be free to go its way without distraction by the daily cares which beset the Chiefs of Staff in controlling the forces over which they exercised command. These manifold cares would continue to be left to the Chiefs of Staff and the staffs which served them in their individual and collective capacities, while the supreme command elaborated its strategy and plans in splendid isolation.

I judged (the proposals) to be misconceived in theory and unworkable in practice. The guiding principle of war direction is, in my opinion, that war plans should be formulated by those who have the power and the responsibility for executing them. Under the system which we had evolved in the hard school of experience the need for inter-Service planning was fully met by the Chiefs of Staff committee and its subordinate bodies, in which those carrying the responsibility for execution came together to make jointly the plans which they were to carry out. The establishment of a War Planning Directorate divorced from the Service staffs responsible for action would have been vicious in principle, for it would have created two rival bodies, one responsible and one irresponsible, yet both nominally of equal status. It would have confronted Ministers with the constant need to disregard the advice of one or other of these bodies. It would have led at once to immediate and violent friction. Was an admiral to be appointed to the Planning Directorate with power to tell the First Lord how to move the Fleet, or an air marshal "of equal calibre" to criticise by implication the Chief of the Air Staff? It was easy to see the dangers and antagonism inherent in such a system. Any clever person can make plans for winning a war if he has no responsibility for carrying them out. Such ingenuity and resource is to be encouraged in the members of planning staffs, so long as they are definitely and effectively subordinated in status to the Service chiefs who carry the executive responsibility.

Of course, planning needs some distance from execution, but not divorced from it. In our government departments we have whole hordes of civil servants responsible for 'policy,' without experience with practical execution and not under, but above those responsible for real work and real results under real conditions. It is difficult to imagine something more diseased than policy makers and planners removed from immediate reality and immediate responsibility. Are you too sensitive to be a salesperson? Go into marketing. And if you are too sensitive for marketing, go into public relations.  
The old saying is: Those who can, do, those who cannot, teach. We could say as well: Those who can, do, those who cannot, formulate policies.

My favorite sentence in the quote above: Any clever person can make plans for winning a war if he has no responsibility for carrying them out.

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