November 29, 2017

Do We Need a Revolution in Strategic Planning?

The conditions for success are undergoing a revolution right now, as new technologies, business models and modes of communication transform before our eyes.  As a result, organizations need planning models that are grounded in these emerging assumptions.

Yet, the forms of strategic planning that some organizations continue to use are grounded in the industrial era that first gave rise to long range planning—in which people were considered to operate like rational machines, or in which communications were much more constrained and moved more slowly than they do today.

This can be a difficult and complicated topic to discuss because it is multilayered and abstract, while also being concretely vital — models need to reflect the world as it is, not as it used to be,  in order to be helpful.

As a way to more easily prompt conversations around how assumptions guide planning models, and planning models guide planning cycles, I have created an Infographic comparing 20th century and 21st century assumptions that guide planning. It has been useful to me, and I hope it may also be provocative or useful for you. (I also hope you will let me know if it is, or if it isn’t, how it could be.)

Get the Infographic

Actions and Story are the Same Thing Today

One of the biggest differences that has occurred in the last 50 years is the role of narrative in an organization — the different ways in which the organization communicates about itself and is communicated about by others. In the legacy strategic planning frameworks, strategy and goal setting precede communications planning.  Communications are viewed as a kind of decorative icing spread on top of a fully baked strategic plan.  That makes sense from a historical perspective, in the industrial planning context that gave rise to the basic strategic planning formula, organizations were hierarchical, opaque and reasonably homogenous, which kept communications streamlined and misunderstandings to a minimum.

Today, our world is different, and as a result what the organization does and what it (and others) say it does can end up shaping events on the ground. Communication and action are virtually simultaneous—rumors move markets, tweets foster revolutions, public revelations of bad actions kill careers. transparency is the rule rather than the exception, and organizations are heterogeneous and flatter, making miscommunication and bad communication a perpetual threat.

To catch up with this reality, organizations may find it useful to front-load their organizational planning with communications. Consider creating a strategic narrative as well as a strategic vision; develop an executive workshop or a retreat in which the narrative produced as the sum of what is said about the organization is critically examined an updated; use futures work and scenarios to create potential visions of the future that are already set in the language of story.  Use the ways that different internal stakeholders tell stories about the organization to diagnose opportunities for potential change.


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