No More P Words, Please


Many years ago while working with the officers of a successful Fortune 500 company, during a break in a strategy session, Dan, the president requested of me half-jokingly, “no more ‘p’ words, Jesse.”

I had never heard that term before.  “What are ‘p’ words?” I asked.

“You know,” he replied with exasperation, “words like paradigm, perspective and process.”

Laughing, I quipped, “What about people? That’s a ‘p’ word. Can we talk about them?”

At one time or another, many of us have felt like Dan – that it would be so much easier to do the work if you didn’t have to plan for the people – to just decide where you’re going and get on with it.

Did you ever feel like you’re pushing a wet noodle?

The problem is, that unless you’re the parent of a two-year old, you can’t just announce where you’re going and expect someone to just do it. People need to “get it” and “buy into it” or they’re not likely to “do it.”

When people understand and agree with your logic and it resonates with their own goals and values, they move forward on their own volition.  But it doesn’t happen just because you want it to.

You need to think through the right process to pull people in.

The process could be simply a clear communication that demonstrates the logic and taps into people’s hopes and desires.  Timing is important. When Louis Gertsner, Jr. finally announced his vision for IBM in 1995, everyone was more than ready. He had earned their trust by stopping the financial hemorrhaging and saving the company from being broken up. In his communication, he showed  where he wanted to take the company and it was quickly embraced.

However, an announcement often does not work, as Jamie Houghton found out when he had to go back to the drawing board after his initial attempt to rescue Corning in 2002.

Lessons from Mother Goose Management

I recommend using these principles to guide your thinking as you determine the best process to implement your plans.

The lesson of Alice and the caterpillar: If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t  matter what path you take.

The first question to be answered is “where are you going?”  When people focus on the path, reacting to immediate concerns, without a clear sense of where they want to go, they are likely to end up going in circles.  They remain in a reactive mode, responding to the most pressing emergency.  In organizations where people share a common vision, daily activities have meaning and people are able to make decisions based on where they want to be in the future.

The lesson of the Tortoise and the Hare: Sometimes you have to go slow in order to go fast.

By taking the time upfront, you can speed up the implementation.  If we don’t take that time at the beginning, we often have to go back and redo things because we left something important out (like getting people on board).  There will always be a dynamic tension between the “just do it” crowd and those who want more time to think things through.  These two groups need each other.

The lesson of Stone Soup: People are a key ingredient to business results.

People implement the plans.  There must be strategies to grow the business and also to develop a culture that supports the business strategies.  These strategies must support each other and be part of the same plan.  You can’t have one plan for your business and a separate one for your people.

The lesson of the AAA triptic: The journey is as important as the destination.

You may have made the right decision, but if others involved don’t feel good about the means used to arrive at it, it may never be implemented.  If people feel their concerns are unheard or not valued, they are unlikely to fully support any decision, even when it’s a perfectly good solution.  The process by which decisions are made influences the quality of the decisions as well as the likelihood of support.  The journey creates the opportunity for the necessary dialogue that results in common understanding, appreciation and commitment.  It is important to pay attention to the process along the way.

The lesson of the Little Red Hen: Those who create it, support it.

Through involvement, people develop deeper understanding and commitment.  People need an opportunity to “muck around.”  Often its not enough to just announce what needs to be done and expect people to follow through.  Unless they really understand the “essence” of the initiative, they may make decisions that pull in the wrong direction.  And when they do understand, if they don’t believe it’s important, they will not act strongly and consistently in ways to support it.   This means it’s important for key stakeholders to be involved early on.  Remember the adage:  Tell me and I will forget;  Show me and I may remember; Involve me, and then I will care.

The process is as important as the product.

Too often the desire for fast implementation and action causes us to focus on the product and not the process.  Like Dan, many people do not have patience with “p” words.  Did our strategy session work out? Yes, quite well, because Dan finally understood the importance of those “p” words and was willing to put his personal preferences aside.

Remembering that the process is as important as the product can save you a lot of time in the long run.

*By the way, there are 14 “p” words in this post.


18 comments to No More P Words, Please

  • Positively practical and precious!


  • Profoundly Patient
    Powerfully Palatable
    Profusely Predictable
    Permanently Pledged.


  • Hi Jesse,

    You packed 10 pounds of beef in a 5 pound bag. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    One of the challenges I’m taking from your article is rising above reacting. A clear sense of where I’m going enables me rise above chasing rabbits and following the next great thing.

    Thanks for your helpfulness,


  • Hi Jesse – great metaphors. The one I like for business is Three Little Pigs! Another P word!

  • Connie McKnight


    It sounds like People is the most important P word of all – how they’re treated, how involved they are in the creation, the planning, and in the implementation.

    Without using the letter P, you wouldn’t have a project at all.

    What a delightful post.


  • Great points. Also, don’t forget “performance!”

    • You’re right, Darren. I should have asked if it was ok to use performance? Isn’t it interesting how all
      of these “p” words ultimately affect performance? Which as you point out, is another “p” word. Much thanks for adding to the conversation!

  • Nellie Felipe

    Hi Jesse~

    Truly enjoyed this excellent post! Lots of perpetual truths packed it. I have run into every single one of these in my 20+ years of corporate experience. I will keep this as a reference; people can always relate to fables (storytelling). Thank you for sharing!

    Warmest Regards,


  • Susan

    Hi Jess,

    Once again, your posts have me thinking. In all my jobs, particularly the one I am in now, it is all too common to hear administrator-bashing. And I admit: the administrator of the office of special education is not a visionary…she’s a bean-counter whose personality does not embrace the people who work for her. She’s interpersonally clumsy, at best. I doubt that it would occur to her to have a vision!

    And once again I am thinking about how I can be a leader from within….I’d like to see the classrooms for kids with autism become more relationship-based, less ABA. I know I need to be more detailed but it’s an idea that is growing on me. I have no desire to ever be an administrator again, but love the idea of working directly with kids and their families/teachers. And so I will continue to read your blog and think about my situation!

    • That’s really wonderful, Susan! In 1974 there was no public law mandating services for special needs children. If we had just accepted the situation the way it was, we would have done internships in a clinic and The Learning Place would not exist today. Over and over again, it has been my personal experience and I have observed in others, that when we are clear about we believe is right, we find opportunities to make it come alive… and others join in. You are a natural leader. It’s not necessary to be an administrator to influence. Are there colleagues who share your hopes and dreams?

  • Susan

    Hi Jesse,

    In answer to your question about are there colleagues who support my hopes and dreams, the answer is no. They are all ABA-driven…and young. I am trying to use the force of my personality, beliefs, and interactions with kids to generate interest. This summer I will have a consulting position in the summer school so I will try what I can then. One colleague just had a baby, so she is more interested in the developmental/relationship based approaches…so we shall see!

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