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Planning vs ¨going with the flow¨


If you are working with business partners from Latin America you might experience reluctance to plan ahead. Several other steps in the life cycle of a project may also be somewhat difficult. For example: detail budgeting, meeting attendance, agenda and meeting minutes publication, timely communication on potential or actual issues. Follow these Newsletter articles and find out the reasons behind it and how to approach these issues in a positive way.


¨A plan is a tool only useful to measure initial wishes vs. reality¨. A boss I had in a multinational company firmly believed this was true. He had never been able to make a plan and stick to it successfully. In fact, in order to succeed he had been forced to discard the plan almost always. In any case, if he hadn't moved away from the plan he would never know because the plan was never reviewed after the fact. This is only one example of top executives that have not understood the advantages of planning even though they have been in close working relationship with European and North American partners.

Some cultures are more used to planning than other cultures or feel the need to have everything under control and clearly defined. Is it an innate condition or is it past experience? How do you dismantle the disbelief in thorough planning when past events have shown that ¨fire fighting¨ and ¨on the spot creativity¨ are the only skills worth nurturing?

Do you think there were plans in place to deal with the Tequila or the Caipirinha crisis (Mexico and Brazil respectively)? Do you think there could have been any company with a plan in place that could have accounted for the 300% monthly inflation in Argentina in 1990? How could the Corralito be previewed in Argentina on December 2001? Note: The ¨corralito¨ -little corral- was a set of laws and decrees written by the government that stopped money from getting out of the banks to avoid the loss of US$ that were being sent out of the country.

Not in the wildest of imaginations or in the most creative contingency plans could these events have come up. However not all the companies shut down in these countries, not even many. In fact these managers have their ways to survive these incredible situations.

How do you tell these business communities planning is worth it? That is, without getting a sarcastic response. These people are proud of being able to survive virtually anything on their own wits, imagination and long working days. Now, do not tell these creativity heroes to sit and plan! They won't and they are proud of it.

So is pursuing organization and planning not worth it in some areas of the world where success is achieved using ¨play it by ear¨ methods? NO, planning is still important and can complement the existing and valuable skills.

How to introduce and sell these ideas to your Latin American counterparts will be our focus in this and the following articles. Please send any questions regarding this topic or any other cultural obstacle you pop into while trying to get your technical or managerial work done in the suddenly globalized market place.


First of all try to take the time to listen to the reasons your local employees or business partners give to support their reluctance. Bear with them the long anecdotes where the plan only appears to be a joke. Be sympathetic about the dramatic changes of scenario they live with. Listen and listen some more. Only when you feel they are getting bored themselves start your speech. This long and patient listening will give you a lot of information about your counterpart and will not repeat itself many times. Once they explained their feelings once or twice the whole exercise extinguishes until a new major event happens.

Here is a list of suggestions to sell the planning phase of your project to your Latin American team members:

  • A plan is a good start to a project: If you are at the beginning of something suggest it as a way to start your common endeavor. You use it as a brainstorming platform and several people add to it with no constraints until a meeting where the plan is finalized without anyone having spent full time on it.

  • Plans are good to show your ideas to others: Request it if there is a need to sell the project. A plan is indeed a great tool for selling even if it is later abandoned. So ask for it initially only to backup your project selling stage. Once you have it you are halfway there to using it!

  • Plans help budgeting: Use budgeting as an excuse (a real one, by the way). Blame on the limited amount of money the need for detailed budgeting and timing for the expenses and thus the need for a plan. This one is also good for following up with the plan since in most cases money is spent and controlled until the end of the project.

  • Plans help control changes: This one is tougher to sell. You basically need to show them that when you have a detailed plan and your macro scenario changes you can use the plan to make sure you do not leave anything out. It is also true that not everything needs a change even in the most dramatic natural, political or economical changes. Many parts of the plan will remain and still be useful.

  • Give examples: Finding examples that involve the people you are trying to convince is very useful. Usually if they see the use they will do it. They have to view it, and you have to show it, as something that will help reduce their work and not increase it. If you are new to the group try and find examples of your own experience and try to make them sound real, close to their realities.

Try them out and let us know. Good Luck!!

Marina Crosby