I'm wondering whether organisations are ready to move beyond the formulaic approach to strategic planning and build a focus on improving the quality of strategic thinking - the thinking that goes into the decisions and the subsequent actions that are then documented in a plan. We spend a lot of time on the plan now, but taking the time out to do some strategic thinking still doesn't appear to be considered a valuable strategic activity in most organisations. Try organising a two day planning workshop, and see how much excitement you generate! You are more likely to be greeted by "I'm too busy to take that much time out", or as I was once asked "Why two days, can't we do this in an hour?" Yet, if we are to build strategic agility into our organisations, we need to build a strong understanding of the external environment, and to change the way we work to respond to changes 'out there'. It takes time to build this understanding. Strategy is about the future - where do we want to go, and how will we get there? Yet, most of our plans read like tomes of operational activities today rather than a roadmap into the future.
I said once that we should consider all strategic plans as disposable, which was greeted with some consternation by the group I was working with. If we spent the money we now spend on producing glossy strategic plans on processes that helped us build a strong strategic thinking capacity across our organisations, we would be on the path to being strategically agile and ready to respond to whatever challenges we encounter in the future.
I'm still pondering the shape of what might be beyond strategic planning, but the more plans I read, and the more planning frameworks I review, the more certain I am we have lost our way. We are immersed in planning processes that are often compliance focused, seeking absolute certainty in what we will do next year, and which are just plain boring. By comparison, strategic thinking processes are template free, open to possibilities and require open minds that can deal with incomplete information, divergence and uncertainty. They are processes that tap into what we think about the future and finding new ways of doing business that will increase our long term sustainability.
We need to integrate the thinking with the planning and give each equal attention. What do you think?