The conversation about strategy has been changing lately. Conventional strategic planning has passed its use by date. We are moving from its formulaic and top down approach to strategy development where glossy plans are produced but little changes in how things are done to a new way of developing strategy, where everyone in the organisation can be involved and where the process is designed for the needs of each organisation.
...we need to break free of this obsession with planning. Strategy is not planning — it is the making of an integrated set of choices that collectively position the firm in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage relative to competition and deliver superior financial returns. Roger Martin, Don't Let Strategy Become Planning, HBR Blog Network, 5 February 2013
Strategy is less a route map of how we are to navigate the future (since we do not know the whole map) but more an assessment of an institution's capacity to be agile and flexible in the face of emergent and unpredictable change. Ewart Wooldridge, Rethinking Strategic Planning for uncertain times, Engage 24 Winter 2010-2011, Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.... strategy as thought emphasizes the effective communicating of mission statements and plans; it utilizes conscious forethought to create these, and outcome metrics to monitor their implementation. Strategy as experienced, on the other hand, relies more heavily on dialogue-based conversation as its foundation, with significant use of stories and metaphors, developed iteratively in an experimental approach. Rather than relying on outcomes metrics as a control device, it finds sustainability in the energy produced by the process itself. Jeanne Liedtka, Strategy as Experienced, Rotman Magazine, 2011, pages 29-38.
A different strategy approach focuses not around a formulaic set of outcomes - Vision, Mission, Goals, Objectives, Action, KPIs - but around a set of questions that require strategic thinking. This is thinking that is not stuck in the past, with memories of how things have always been done, trapped by past successes. Instead, it builds on the past and the present to be able to face the future. It moves beyond language like empowerment and alignment to a new set of words like flow, ecosystem ad collaboration. It moves strategy development out of the senior management realm to everyone in the organisation.
Developing strategy is about thinking about the future. It is about positioning an organisation in its external environment to ensure its successful future, however successful is defined. It's about strategy fit in that environment. It's about starting strategy development from the future not the present. It is strategy infused by foresight.
Fundamentally, foresight infused strategy is about understanding more clearly the nature of your preferred future and the change that is shaping it. Strategic planning, with its templates and checklists, generates plans that focus on action today usually without taking the future into account.
How to do this? This table shows a set of questions that are used to drive the development of foresight infused strategy. These questions begin with the past and present, move into the future, and return to today - without the jargon. Foresight tools and approaches that support the strategic thinking that occurs at each stage (more about these tools in a future post).
|Acknowledging the Past and the Present||How did we get here? What do we do today?|
|Facing the Future||What change is shaping the future? What changes matters most for our organisation?|
|Exploring the Future||What are our possible futures? What would we do in each of those possible futures?|
|Connecting the Future and the Present||What makes strategic sense given our capacities and resources today? Are we considering the needs of future generations in our decisions?|
|Crafting Strategic Intent||What will we do now?|
|Taking Action||How will we do that today?|
The questions appear simple but getting to the answers is not. The challenge is to answer them more deeply than conventional approaches to strategic planning would allow. To answer them surfacing the assumptions and cognitive biases that have constrained how you have responded to change in the past. To answer them with an eye to the future as well as the past and the present. To answer them in collaboration with everyone in your organisation. To explore all the changes shaping the future and your organisation's possible futures before you make decisions and take action. To be open to seeing beyond today's ways of operating.
This is a new way of thinking about strategy. We have to unlearn nearly everything we've learned about how to develop strategy that is still relevant once the plan is published.
Conventional strategic planning is formulaic, best practice bound and forgets that people make change happen, not a glossy plan. Most people groan when they get invited to the annual planning workshop. It's time to move beyond strategic planning to foresight infused strategy development so we can take a futures stance, involve everyone in the conversation, craft meaningful strategy and face the uncertainty of the future with more confidence that strategic planning can ever allow.
Next posts will cover foresight tools and methods and the role of people in foresight infused strategy development. You can also read my chapter on foresight infused strategy in the new book The Future of Business.