Strategic Safari: The Need for a More Viable Planning Process Has Motivated Some Educators to Explore Future-Based Planning as a Way to Initiate and Sustain Organizational Change

Article excerpt

Over the past two decades, there have been many calls for fundamental change in public education. School administrators across the nation have faced ever-increasing pressures to undergo systemic organizational change in response to accountability mandates, brittle budgets and staggering technological advances. State and federal mandates increasingly require accountability for results. At the local level, parents and other community constituencies continually question the effectiveness of programs, policies and procedures.

Ten years ago it was the hope of many educational institutions that a strategic planning process would bring the future into focus by outlining an "ideal vision" that both the individual, staff members and the organization could embrace. The rationale for using this strategic planning model in schools was the importance of developing long-range plans to better control the future and increase productivity in the present (Capon, Farley and Hulbert, 1994).

Most school districts today have tried to implement some form of long-range planning. However, evaluations of these strategic planning processes suggest that principals and teachers did not pick up the plan and implement it after its completion. Many felt little real ownership in its development or involvement with its implementation steps (Mather, 1998).

Organizational development experts suggest that traditional strategic planning as practiced still merely affirms the present (Cutright, 1997). Strategic planning is seen by futurists and organizational change experts as a rational process in a world that is seldom rational or linear (Harvey and Bearley, 1998).

Current disillusionment with traditional strategic planning has motivated some educators to explore chaos theory and strategic thinking as concepts that leaders should use to plan and develop ongoing organizational change efforts. These theories have captured the imagination of many scientists (Gleick, 1987; Waldrop, 1992).

Future-based planning

The principles of chaos theory and self-organization have also piqued the interest of organizational development consultants and educators as concepts they can use to frame future-based planning processes in organizations. This need for a more viable planning process has propelled many organizations to replace traditional methods of strategic planning with future-based planning methods based on theories from systems thinking (Sanders, 1998). These newer, future-based planning processes claim to change the nature of organizational development and of organizational decision-making. Advocates also claim that they help to sustain change efforts.

Leadership in the new era

The new science that defines complexity and chaos theory asserts that organizations today must become shifting clusters of self-controlled, autonomous units that constantly adapt to a turbulent environment. The old leadership was good for mechanistic strategies for initiating change, but the new leadership must give up their old role as "captains of commerce to become economic gardeners of organic systems" (Halal, 1998).

Employers of tomorrow likely will place a much higher value on listening and communication skills, on collaborative learning capabilities, and on critical thinking and systems thinking skills. This is because most work is increasingly interdependent, dynamic and global.

Today's educational environment requires leaders to have the emotional and intellectual capacity to be flexible enough for continuous change no matter what their job or position. Experts in planning suggest that this new type of educational leader will also need to develop strategic intent, plan strategically, and be an expert in strategic change.

The new planning paradigm

Historically in the United States, educational organizations have directed most of their improvement efforts at redesigning technical systems -- for example, technology in the workplace. …