Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Strategic Planning: Predicting or Shaping the Future?

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

Strategic Planning: Predicting or Shaping the Future?

Article excerpt

Abstract

Many organizations do strategic planning in order to prepare for the future. The real value of strategic planning is not primarily in the final plan, but more in the intellectual journey that the participants take in exploring the future. This often sensitizes them to future possibilities that they had not been aware of. It also helps them prepare to shape that future. Over the past 10 years, the author has facilitated strategic planning efforts in two large (4,000 to 20,000 people) organizations, three small (25 to 100 people) organizations, and started teaching strategic planning. This paper will draw on the experiences from all of these strategic planning efforts, while focusing on the approach that one non-profit R&D organization used to take this intellectual journey. The research methodology is based on a strategic planning approach that calls for development of a core purpose, values, Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), and envisioned future. For a particular organization, a key element of the envisioned future was to "make critical contributions to critical challenges". Immediately this raised the question of how one measures this element. The author and a co-worker developed an approach that involved interviewing knowledgeable people inside and outside of the organization. They were asked to rate the organization's technical work on a grid and explain the basis for their grading. The narrative that accompanied the grading was very rich in feedback to the organization. The difference between the internal and external evaluations in a few cases served to focus the leadership group on several key strategic questions.

Strategie Planning

Many organizations do strategie planning in order to prepare for the future. Often the primary focus of the activity is to develop a thick, black binder containing numerous action items and labeled "strategic plan". Completion of this binder often signals the end of the strategic planning activity and the beginning of the relatively routine execution of the specific action items. But the real value of strategic planning is not in the binder, but in the intellectual journey that the participants take in exploring the future. This often sensitizes them to future possibilities that they had not been aware of, enables them to recognize when important changes in the external environment are occurring, and prepares them to respond to these changes. This paper will describe the approach that one non-profit R&D organization used to take this intellectual journey.

The Value of Strategic Planning

Over the past 10 years, I've led strategic planning efforts in a number of organizations and started teaching strategic planning. These recent strategic planning efforts follow the previous 30 years of being involved in, or victimized by, a variety of strategic planning efforts in a variety of forms and under a variety of names. I tell my class that I am qualified to teach strategic planning because I've seen or made every mistake in strategic planning known to mankind. But apparently in that process I have learned a few things that the class finds interesting and worthwhile. In this article I will offer some observations about what makes strategic planning worth doing, vital to an organization's future, and applicable to the individuals in the organization.

Everyone wants to predict the future. Whether for their own personal interests, or the interest of their organization, people struggle to reduce uncertainty. Often they seize on strategic planning as the means of predicting the future and picking a course of action designed to achieve their future goals. But obviously no one can predict the future with certainty. Because of this, strategic planning is often viewed as a failure when it does not yield the accurate portrayal of the future that people envisioned when they started the process.

If strategic planning is not about predicting the future, what then is the objective? …

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