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Ready, Aim, Fire?

By Robert W. Bradford, President & CEO

Strategic Planning Expert Robert W. Bradford

Strategic Planning Expert
Robert W. Bradford

In over 1,600 strategic planning meetings, I have noticed that people have a tendency to approach their planning process from many different angles.  One of the most interesting sets of angles revolves around the very common idea that we can hit our targets more accurately using the sequence “Ready, aim, fire”.   This sequence originated with the drills for musket-armed infantry in the 18th century, and the basic sequence makes perfect sense – that is, we should ready before we aim and aim before we fire.  There are other approaches that managers adopt, and some make more – or less – sense, depending upon the dynamics of the situation.  These approaches can be summarized using a few, common, versions of this sequence.

Ready, aim, aim, aim, aim…

This sequence is unfortunately all too common.  People who are likely to expend huge amounts of time and money on their planning often fall into this category, as do people who never really feel ready for their next big move.  One of the common causes of this poor sequence is the idea that a plan must be perfect in order to work.  Obviously, there is no such thing as a perfect plan, so the sequence itself is a trap brought on by a sense of perfectionism.  The best counter to this sequence is to look for action in the short term supporting the strategy – if it doesn’t exist, it’s very likely someone is being too critical, and that criticism is going to hold the organization back.

Ready, fire, fire, fire…

The “machine gun” approach has some advantages.  The biggest advantage is that it is very action-oriented, and may, with luck, lead to an effective strategy.  The disadvantage is that the “fire” part of the sequence may use up resources to no effect without adequate measurement of results and reflection.

Ready, fire, aim.

While it sounds wrong, this approach actually matches the tactics of naval gunners for most of the past 200 years.  The idea behind it is that one cannot accurately incorporate all variables into one’s aim, and so taking a shot to see where the shell hits is the simplest and best way to hit the target.  Historically, this approach usually led to one shot that went too far, one that fell short, and the third shot hitting dead on – at which point the commander would order “fire for effect”.  In a rapidly changing and dynamic environment, this sequence can work better, and faster, than “ready, aim, fire”.  The key drawback is that you will often waste ammunition in the first two “ranging” shots.  The key advantage is that the feedback of watching whether you hit or not is going to give you better information on your targeting than any amount of analysis.

Ready, aim, fire

If you have a single shot available to you, this approach – the classic – makes the most sense.  Its application in the historical setting was in conditions where re-loading would leave you vulnerable to an enemy melee attack (such as a bayonet charge), and it makes sense in business situations where you will just get one shot.  In strategy, it is better to avoid the “one-shot” situation if you can, but that’s not always possible, so this sequence is the one you should use if you find yourself forced into this kind of “do or die” position.

Which approach do you normally see in your business?  Is it appropriate?  A good evaluation of this seldom-examined cultural phenomenon is just one element of our Simplified Strategic Planning leadership.  If you’d like to discuss how these concepts apply in your business, give us a call or attend one of our Simplified Strategic Planning  workshops.

Are you frustrated with your strategic planning efforts?  If so, please listen to our  webinar:  Why My Strategic Planning Isn’t Working by clicking here.

Robert Bradford is President/CEO of the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  He can be reached at rbradford@cssp.com.
© Copyright 2014 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.