Failing to Prepare the Ground

preparing ground

Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house.
Proverbs 24:27

I’ve recently been observing a business saga that I fear isn’t destined to end well.  Sam, a sales and product development director, is preparing to submit an exciting new product proposal to his company.  If accepted, it could transform a significant aspect of company operations and further enhance its industry-leading standing.  Unfortunately, I believe Sam’s proposal is likely to be rejected for, as ground-breaking as his concept is, he has failed to prepare the ground so that the project might be accepted, take root, and bloom.

The Good

Sam’s idea represents the culmination of years of blood, sweat, and tears to understand and serve the needs of his customers.  The concept addresses their needs in a way that gives both his customers and his company a platform for growth and collaboration, and it pushes the state of the art in their field forward by several steps.

The Bad

The success of the venture depends heavily on a partnership with another organization.  However, the leadership of Sam’s company has a very negative history with partnerships stretching back several decades.  This includes a recent disappointment with a once-promising but now under-performing major partnership – one that Sam also brought them and pushed hard for.

The Ugly

Sam has a very difficult history with Maury, one of the executives responsible for deciding the project’s fate. Between the two, there is considerable personal and professional animosity, with each suspicious of the other’s abilities and motives.  Sam’s proposal would force Maury to make substantial changes in how his department operates (his department being central to the new venture) and would require close, on-going coordination between Sam and Maury.

Moving Forward Before Bringing Others Along

Sam’s heart is deeply committed to his organization and his clients.  As with all of us, though, he is prone to putting the cart before the horse sometimes — leaping forward with enthusiasm before the ground has been plowed to permit his success. Here are three examples from this situation:

  • Not getting out ahead of objections —While Sam has talked with the executive team as his concept developed, it has been more from a “wouldn’t this be exciting?” rah-rah perspective, rather than an “I know you have concerns – how can I help address them?” framework, feeling that the (to him “obvious”) merits of the project should outweigh any personal trepidations of the executives.
  • Relying on rhetoric over preparation — Sam’s considerable rhetorical gifts give him ability to win over many an audience.  However, in this case, it seems unlikely that even the most inspiring rhetoric by itself can overcome such negative history without considerable advance “ground preparation” to increase management comfort with the proposal.
  • Animosity over collaboration — Sam’s antipathy toward Maury has led him to avoid building any relationship bridges leading up to the proposal.  He hasn’t approached Maury and said anything like, “This project is too important for us to let personal feelings get in the way.  This can be a great thing for everyone involved.  Can’t we work together for the good of the company and the clients?”

In candid discussion, Sam acknowledges several weaknesses and blind spots that have kept him from having the conversations that would have better prepared the fields for him.  Our challenge as leaders is remembering to do the patient, unheralded, but vital yeoman’s work that is needed to prepare the ground for success.  Without it, much of our good work may go for naught; with it, a bountiful crop may bloom.

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