When I look to the future vision of an organization, I am often struck with the realization that there are very different ideas of what good planning is. Some team members believe that a thoroughly detailed document is the best outcome. In contrast, others are committed to action and adjustment along the way.
If you have had a Birkman assessment done, you know which quadrant connects with which idea.
One idea suggests that an organization should carefully map out a detailed 5-10 year plan, with specific and numerous objectives, tactics and action items. The corresponding management principle is to methodically work through the process, measure and tweak along the way, complete a formal review of the plan at year five, and extend the plan out for the next 5-10 year horizon. This approach can be summed up in the well-known phrase “plan the work, and then work the plan”.
Another idea suggests that an organization should identify a handful of critical priorities for the next 12-24 months, identify one or two measurable goals for each priority, and describe just a few critical action items. The corresponding management principle is to minimize the documentation, enable and empower employees to make decisions along the way, and quickly adjust the plan and strategies as new challenges and opportunities arise. This approach can be summed up with well-known catchwords such as “nimble”, “agile”, and “responsive”.
There are, of course, advantages and weaknesses to each approach.
How do you know which idea is best for your specific context?
The former, more traditional approach can work well in stable and slow-moving industries and sectors that have little change or turnover. There is no need to fix what is not broken, and success is best achieved through minimal change. The strategy is to keep moving along the well-articulated path without distraction.
The latter and more recent approach can work well in industries and sectors that experience frequent change and uncertainty, with shifting opportunities and partnerships. The landscape changes so fast and so often that even a three-year projection becomes irrelevant after only one year. This can be the world of start-ups, entrepreneurs, and industries experiencing large-scale disruption. Constant adaptation is the key to success.
I lead an educational organization and am working on shifting us from the former to the latter. The world of higher education and training has been experiencing seismic shifts in almost every area during recent years. And therein lies great opportunity!
Success will be achieved only if we become strategically agile and comfortable with moving forward with an incomplete picture of the future. The world moves fast, and we need to as well. These are exciting days to be in leadership!
As you think of your particular leadership context …
- Which approach does your organization follow? Which one should it follow?
- Do you have the right people in the right positions on your leadership team? To find out how, consider investing in Assessment or Coaching.
- If you have the right team, what is your method of effective collaborative strategic planning?