Anyone trying to solve a problem, turn around an organization or lead a nation needs something. They need a plan.
Without a plan, you have no road map for how you’ll correct things that are wrong. You have no way of measuring whether you’re making progress. You have no method of holding yourself accountable for the results of your actions.
One of the reasons the federal government is functioning so poorly, and causing the nation so many economic problems, is the fact that our leaders have no plan. They are making it up as they go along.
To understand the importance of having a plan, all you have to do is talk to any leader who successfully led an organization, company or movement to the attainment of an objective. They will all tell you it started with a good plan. When I was asked by Pillsbury to turn around a struggling region of Burger King restaurants, the first thing I had to do was develop a plan for how to stop the financial bleeding, how to increase business and how to more successfully manage operations. The same thing was true when I took over Godfather’s Pizza.
That doesn’t mean you can’t make adjustments to your plan. Sometimes as you learn and observe things, it becomes obvious that you must. But the plan still has to be aimed at achieving the goals, and it has to be honest.
America’s leaders today do not have an honest plan. In lieu of a plan, they simply make things up as they go along. Consider the current debate over interest rates on federal student loans. Washington politicians are in an uproar because interest rates are about to automatically double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. What they don’t tell you is why that’s about to happen. In 2007, Congress passed a bill that cut the interest rate to 3.4 percent, but in order to mask the true long-term cost of this measure, they set the rate cut to expire in 2012. That was supposedly the plan. But now that 2012 is here, there is of course wailing and gnashing of teeth over the increase, so they’re going to extend the lower rate.
Remember last year’s debate over the debt ceiling? Every year or two, Congress establishes a debt limit. If you took it seriously, you’d think they had a plan to make sure the nation incurs only so much debt, and no more. But of course, they have no such plan. Once they hit the limit, they simply increase it again. The debt limit is a joke. It makes it look like they have a plan for fiscal responsibility, but in reality they do not.
The same thing is true with Medicare. When the federal government puts out long-term projections concerning the cost of Medicare, the numbers are always fictional because they are based on a “plan” Congress will never follow. You may have heard during the Obamacare debate about the Medicare “doc fix.” Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors are scheduled to be slashed dramatically every year or two. When the federal government puts out Medicare cost projections, it pretends these cuts will actually happen and reports the numbers accordingly. But the cuts will never happen. Every time they are scheduled to kick in, Congress enacts the inevitable “doc fix” and the current rates stay in place.
This is what’s sometimes called flying by the seat of your pants. Congress and the Obama administration make it up as they go along. That’s why Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was forced to admit in recent congressional testimony that the Obama administration has no plan for dealing with the federal deficit or debt, informing Rep. Paul Ryan (who actually does have a plan), “But we know we don’t like yours.”
Of course, this is largely a product of politics. Candidates are afraid to put specific plans before the public because their opponents and the media will assail the plans – often inaccurately – and turn what should be a campaign strength into a liability. I experienced that firsthand during my presidential campaign when I put out my 9-9-9 plan for replacing the tax code. The plan was attacked and often misrepresented. But a funny thing happened: Without question, 9-9-9 helped me more than it hurt me, not only because many people like the plan, but also because people had the sense that I knew what I wanted to do.
This is something politicians need to remember: Just because people criticize your plan doesn’t mean they don’t respect you for putting it out there. People understand that leaders need plans. That is more true than ever today. Given the weakened state of our economy and the dire nature of our debt/deficit situation, it is simply stunning that the Obama administration has no plan whatsoever for what to do about it.
I couldn’t have turned my Burger King region or Godfather’s around without a plan. Mitt Romney couldn’t have turned the Olympics around without a plan. And neither of us would have been successful if we had peddled phony plans we had no intention of following – as Congress does with regularity.
This is why we face such difficult economic circumstances, and such a massive debt problem. You can’t get anything right if you simply make it up as you go along. You need a real, serious plan. We’re not going to get one, though, until we decide to elect leaders who know how to plan, know how to execute and know how to succeed.
There is an old saying. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. Our federal government is failing us.