Why do strategic planning? Is it really helpful to plan when things around us are changing so rapidly?

“If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got.”

― James P. Lewis, Working Together: 12 Principles for Achieving Excellence in Managing Projects, Teams, and Organizations

Look at the current business environments that change as fast as quick change artists in a theatre show? The rate of change as we have discovered is so fast that traditional planning horizons can’t keep up. This means organizations are often caught with their pants down before they can realize their planned results.

So what has to shift in how strategy is approached by organizations in today’s dynamic environment? The answer lies in shifting from our attachment to traditional strategic planning approaches and move instead toward a more lean and iterative strategic management culture.

Organizations should concentrate on the following five fundamental principles in order to make strategy less a planning exercise but more of a quest for adaptation.

Focus on one goal at a time (Abridge)

Focus in any activity is essential. Confusion abounds when there are too many directions taken at once which detracts from a single minded mission. For example, in the sport of football the single focus is to bring the ball into the end zone and score. Note I was very specific to indicate that it was not to score a touchdown because a field goal could be a way to score in the end zone as well. However, during the game the players focus on bringing the ball down the field concentrating on crossing successively the line of scrimmage. The goal is to reach the end zone and score points -how it is done is a matter of tactics in getting there.

Having a clear, single goal in mind means that everyone knows what is expected of them and what the ultimate win would be in executing. Keeping the goal simple and focussed allows organizations to create a rallying call for what ultimately matters to the organization. Chunking out tactics as stepping stones to the end goal provides the pathway in getting there.

Build a culture that anticipates near term trends (Anticipate)

Drawing again from sports, Wayne Gretsky once said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” This insight speaks to the element of anticipation that is - hedging your activities ahead of time. In the context of strategic implementation is means every person in the organization should be responsible for predicting future outcomes and brace for them. A strategy conscious organization should build a culture to which anticipation is encouraged and practiced regularly.

Empower employees to make decisions based on context (Adjudicate)

It is virtually impossible for any executive or manager to make every decision in an organization. What is necessary is that employees be given the right and freedom to make decisions within the context of the single overarching goal of the organization. This means that they must have the ability to make decisions on the fly when changing circumstances arise. This ability to adjudicate allows for a nimble and focussed organization implementing, at will, new tactics that achieve the organization’s goal.

Adjust and pivot quickly in response to new circumstances (Adapt)

The “Ready, aim, fire” business principle was changed in the ‘90’s to “aim, fire, aim, re-fire”. Why? Because it is always best to adjust to changing circumstances using a test and adjust mentality. If something isn’t working make changes to get it right and don’t stay long with a losing approach. In business environments that are constantly changing adaption is essential in evolving a lean, iterative and adaptive organization.

Constant motion toward the designated single goal (Activate)

Finally, organizations must be in constant motion relative to their changing environments. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity is at play here where he postulated that the faster an object is moving, the slower time progresses for that object in relation to a stationary observer. In other words keeping up with a changing environment requires an organization to be in constant motion - adjusting and adapting to fluctuating changes in order to keep on top of the dynamics in the environment.

Contributed by: Lyn Blanchard