Organizational IEDs

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IEDsA new weapon exploded into the world of warfare in 2003 during the Iraq war – the IED.

An improvised explosive device (IED) is a “homemade” explosive device designed to destroy and incapacitate. Because they are improvised, IEDs can come in many forms ranging from a small pipe bomb to a more sophisticated device capable of causing massive damage and loss of life. IEDs can be carried or delivered in a vehicle; carried, placed, or thrown by a person; delivered in a package; or concealed on the roadside.

Most IEDs used in recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have taken the form of roadside buried bombs.  The vast majority of Canadian casualties of war in Afghanistan were caused by IEDs buried in roads or pedestrian pathways.  Though unsophisticated they are ruthlessly effective in accomplishing their objective of death and destruction.

When working recently with a CEO on their organizational strategic plan, the topic of IEDs came up.   The CEO had done an excellent job of analyzing their current situation, and setting growth goals for 3-5 years down the road.  He determined the capital and human resources they would need to accomplish their goals.  He also addressed issues of corporate structure and corporate governance changes necessary to fulfill the strategic plan.

He had developed a wonderful road map for the journey the organization was going to take over the next number of years, which appeared very achievable based on their track record over the last decade.  It all looked like smooth sailing:  their destination was clear, the road map to get there was clear, and they had the people and capital to make it happen – no problem.

In our discussion I asked this question:

“So on the road to implementing this strategic plan, what are the IEDs that could destroy your ability to accomplish your mission?”

The nature of an IED is that it is unseen.  It is unexpected.  It is undetected.  And, it is devastating.

The discussion that ensued was comprised of many “what ifs”:  What if that particular person who is a key to the implementation of the plan leaves?  What if access to the funds you need is delayed for some reason?  What if the sale of that asset does not go through?  Etc., etc., etc.

We concluded there were 4 very significant organizational IEDs for which he needed to plan.  Four things that if they exploded would be very destructive to accomplishing the mission of their strategic plan.  Now, we trust those organizational IEDs will not detonate, but if they do he now has a contingency plan to mitigate the damage.

Robbie Burns, the much beloved Scottish poet, in 1786 wrote a poem called “To A Mouse”.  The poem is written as an apology to the mouse whose nest he destroyed when plowing his field.  In the poem he coined the well-known phrase,

“The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.”

When developing strategic plans for your organization we must keep this simple phrase in mind.  Your best laid plans often go awry.  There are a plethora of improvised explosive devices that can explode to cause significant damage to not only your plans, but your organization itself.  It is important to engage in sober second thought in regard to your organizational vulnerabilities.  This is best done without the aid of rose-colored glasses.

Questioning the effectiveness of a plan and then looking for its vulnerabilities is not being difficult or pessimistic, it’s being prudent.  The road to your greatest organizational accomplishments is fraught with danger; it is rife with IEDs.

If you as a leader are concerned with the well-being of your people and your organization you will include the issue of organizational IEDs in your planning processes.  Doing that is as simple as asking the post-planning questions,

“What are the issues that could blow up and derail this entire plan?  Where are we most vulnerable?”

Clearly there are innumerable issues that could be destructive to your plans, and upon which you could waste immeasurable amounts of time.  What you want to look at are the higher likelihood issues of significant consequence.

Ensure your best laid plans come to fruition – identify your organizational IEDs.

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