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strategic planning

Futures Ready Strategy Development

Futures Ready Strategy Development

For some time now I've been using this graphic to talk about the steps involved in futures ready strategy development. I decided to turn it into a circle to make the circular and interdependent nature of the process a bit clearer but never got around to doing it. And I realised a little while ago that there was something missing from the process - an evaluation or check in stage, where you can stop and review how you are going, is everything still relevant?

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Change and Moving Beyond the Status-Quo

One Stands Holding Change, Others CrushedI wrote a response to another comment by Stephen McGrail today about what do you do to help people move beyond the status-quo in their thinking to embrace change. It set me thinking about change and strategy and why it's so hard to implement strategy that results in real change rather than perpetuating the gap between planning and doing. The conversation I had with Stephen was around why people resist change or prefer to not change, remaining in the status-quo.

I've done a bit of reading on why people resist or don't like change, so thought I'd share my a few references here. These relate to strategy and after all dealing with change in organisations is about creating strategy that can respond to and take advantage of that change.

What's common? Pay attention to people not plans, involve people in the process and make time to think about change on a continuing basis.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ten Reasons People Resist Change, HBR Blog Network, September 2012.

This article is what it says it is - ten reasons (excuses) people use to resist change. To be fair, not all of them are excuses and reasons for resisting change will vary depending on the individual and the context - which is why there's no checklist by helping people move their thinking beyond the status-quo.

Michael Birshan and Jayanti Kar, Becoming More Strategic: Three Tips for Any Executive, McKinsey&Company, July 2012.

Three ways of becoming more strategic are mentioned and it is the third that relates to helping people change their thinking: Develop communications that can break through. This is about working out how to 'make strategic insights cut through the day-to-day morass of information that any executive receives' (page 3). Communicating the rationale for change and doing it well is critical for thinking beyond the status-quo.

Kathleen Davis, Disrupt Your Thinking, Transform Your Business, Entrepeneur, June 2013

This is a short article with the key message for me being 'leaders must give their employees permission to stop focusing only on what needs to be accomplished by the end of the day or week. They must 'force strategic introspection on a regular basis...the goal is to consistently carve out unstructured creative time.' This means giving people permission to explore the nature of change and what it means for them, their work and their organisation and institutionalise time for strategic thinking.

Jeanne Liedtka, Beyond Business Strategy: Strategy as Experienced, Rotman Magazine, Winter 2011

I really like this paper. Its key point: 'knowing [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][about the strategy] is not enough....feeling strategy must accompany knowing it. What does it mean to feel strategy - to experience it in an emotional as well as a cognitive way? One thing is certain: it will require a fundamental change to our basic conception of what strategy is all about.' Liedtka makes the point that reading about a strategy, a change, does not make it real to people in an organisation with the critical factor for managers being to avoid having the strategy ignored. She suggests that something has to disrupt our habitual thinking or schemas - interesting is more important than true in this context. There needs to be a shift from goals to desires - because 'desire is the true driver of behavioural change'.

So strategy as we commonly understand it relies on communicating plans and mission statements, strategy as experienced, 'relies more heavily on dialogue-based strategic conversation as it foundation, with significant use of stories and metaphors, developed iteratively in an experimental approach'. This needs (i) participation in the conversation, (ii) acknowledge role of concrete, (iii) promote experimentation and (iv) move beyond outcome metrics. Highly recommended.

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Slow Strategy

imageThe 'slow' movement has been around for a while - slow food started it all I think. It's time to apply 'slow' to strategy. Busy people don't have time to think. They are running, working fast all the time. And  they are so busy being busy that when they are facing change - disruptive or not - they want THE answer provided to them so they can deal with the change and keep on being busy.

They often ask consultants or experts to give them THE answer. Don't ask me to think, I just need THE answer, just what I need to know right now. I'm too busy to think. You think for me.

Of course, people don't say this out loud.

When I do workshops or webinars, they are about the future and its potential implications for strategy today. I ask people to think about the implications of change for their organisation in the future, and to then think about what that might mean for their strategy today. I provide ideas and insights, not answers.

I always make this clear at the beginning - ideas and insights to inform your thinking, not answers. I give you the thinking fodder, you think and identify the answers for your organisation, your context.

And while most people get that, there are always some who get annoyed and say something like "the workshop title was ideas and insights about [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][topic] for [industry]. But you didn't tell me what I need to change in my job today". Of course I didn't.

crystal ball glowingI don't know your job, you do. I don't work in your organisation, you do. Not every change will influence your job and organisation directly and I don't know which ones they will be or the degree of impact they will have, you do. And you want to me tell you THE answer? Sorry, I don't have a crystal ball and I can't think for you.

There are a lot of people who are happy to charge a lot of money and give you THE answer, but my job is to help you think about the future and its implications for today and that takes time.

Enter Slow Strategy. There are no quick fixes, no silver bullets to developing strategy that is futures ready. You can't build good strategy overnight by following a formula or paying lip-service to change. You need to step back, slow down and give yourself time to think - about change, the multitude of options available to you, and implications for your organisational strategy today and into the future.

There are no future facts, there is no data about the future, there is no one right answer about what is going to happen. And there is no single formula for developing a strategy that will identify the 'right' action to take to ensure your organisation is futures ready.

You need to spend time away from being busy to build futures ready strategy.

Slow strategy means looking for change over time, taking the time to explore its nature and identify implications and then developing a strategy that means something for your organisation and your people. Slow strategy doesn't mean strategy will take a year to do and it doesn't mean stopping altogether, but the days of the 60 Minute Strategic Plan are over.

Busy people don't deserve conventional strategy development, they deserve the opportunity to think about the future to inform their decision making today. They deserve the freedom to explore the multitude of options available to them. They  deserve the opportunity to move beyond crisis management and panic mode operations. They deserve the opportunity to move beyond busy, to slow down, to have time to think strategically, to build strategy that takes the future into account.

Thinking about the future takes time. In a world where the pace of change seems to be accelerating every day, it seems counterintuitive to say 'slow down'. Taking the time to think about the future before you make strategic decisions is the only way to ensure you make proactive rather than reactive decisions about change.

Thinking about the future is critical for good strategy development. It's time to slow down and do just that.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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Agility and being futures ready

One Stands Holding Change, Others CrushedThe Agility Factor, an article on the strategy+business website is a good one, and worth reading. Why? It puts into business langauge the concepts that strategic foresight pracitioners like me have been saying with different words for some years now.  I've written about the need for agility before, where I said that it's easy to write about, and really hard to do. This article articulates very clearly how you do it.

The authors - Thomas Williams, Christopher G. Worley, and Eduward E. Lawler III - first explain what agility is: an unusual ability to successfully respond to and learn from external events, to innovate technically and organizationally, and to plan and execute new courses of action (page 2)

This relates to what I call futures ready strategy: flexible strategy that positions your organisation to respond quickly and effectively to the challenges and uncertainties of the future. If an organisation is agile, it has futures ready strategy, built on a strong foresight capacity.

The authors identify four routines that underpin agility:

strategizing dynamically - shared purpose, change-friendly intentity and a robust strategic intent,

perceiving environmental change - crowdsourced intelligence to sense change, communication of changes identified, and interpretation of that change for potential impact on the organisation,

testing responses - trying out new ideas on a small scale, continuous learning and improvement, which requires organisational 'slack' - people, money and time that doesn't go directly to the bottom line, but allow the agile organization to rapidly deploy resources against opportunities that may or may not pay off, without jeopardizing day-to-day operations (page 5), managing risk and learning from results, and

implementing change - internal change management capacity - management and organizational autonomy, embedded change capability and performance management.

Some comments on these and their connection with foresight approaches follow.

Operationally, the elements of strategizing dynamically provide us with the new structure for the conventional stategic plan. Instead of the over-used and now meaningless vision, mission and goals, we now have purpose, identity and intent. These are, I think, more immediately relevant than the older terms which have outlived their usefulness, and together provide a new framework for strategy development. This is my interpretation of what is defined in the article (page 4), and helps to move us beyond traditional strategic planning approaches in which so many organisations find themselves stuck today.

From a foresight perspective, the purpose question is 'what do we do?' or what Hardin Tibbs calls, our enduring and guiding social purpose. In my view, purpose can only be defined by thinking beyond today so that it is indeed enduring. Today's purpose will not be sustainable when it comes into contact with the future unless the process for defining it takes the future into account. It informs decisions about identity - who do we have to be to achieve our purpose and intent - what we will do today to achieve our purpose.

Perceiving environmental change is what foresight practitioners call environmental or horizong scanning. It's the core capability for organisations who want to strategise dynamically - thinking in deep ways about the potential impact of the change they are seeing. If you don't have good intelligence about change in the external environment, and if you don't monitor it over time, you will not see change coming, and you won't be able to respond proactively. My webinars and  Strategic Futures Guide on Environmental Scanning: what it is and how to do it show you how to perceive and use environmental scanning in your strategy processes.

130311b.complacentTesting responses sounds a lot like design thinking, and the key point is the need for organisational slack - to be truly responsive in a strategic sense, you need a group of people whose job it is to monitor change, communicate what they are finding, set up processes for thinking about that change, and help the organisation change. That is, of course, the organisational foresight unit. I used to manage one of these at one university I worked at, but it fell victim to the types of beliefs and attittudes as shown in the cartoon here, not to mention being too busy to think about the future!

One of the most common things I hear from senior managers today is that they cannot think strategically because they can't escape the operational work. A foresight unit  supports busy managers by setting up the framework for strategy development that gives them the information they need when they need it, in the form they need it to make strategic decisions.

Implementing change is underpinned by authentic empowerment and clear alignment across the organisation with identity and intent. The authors recognise that this is easier said than done, and specify the need for an embedded change capacity - the pragmatic ability to change collective habits, practices, and perspectives is embedded in line operations, not isolated in staff groups (page 4). This is about making everyone responsible for change in their patch, and avoiding those cumbersome and often pointless large project offices that spring up when there is major organisational change afoot. For me, this is at its most basic, about changing the way you think and letting go of the old behaviours that just won't work any more - this is the hardest part of moving an organisation to being truly agile, and in my experience, it's that part of the process that gets the least attention, because it is also the hardest task. As the authors say:

Managing agile organizations means being willing to give up the activities that make you successful today but that would be appropriate tomorrow - over and over again (page 8).

Not many organisations have worked that out yet. Universities face significant change today (albeit as they have always done throughout their history), yet most responses we see today are about fitting that change into existing frameworks. This is not to say that no universty is exploring in a deep way those alternative frameworks that will allow them to change collective habits, practices and perspectives that are not longer appropriate. Rather, the majority response is still to put in place short-term fixes and doing whatever they could do return to their old ways of operating (page 1). As a result, they miss important inflection points in the market (page 8), when action could have been taken to respond to change proactively instead of waiting for it to hit them in the face.

For me then, an agile organisation has futures ready strategy that is developed through the use of strategic foresight approaches and tools. What does agile mean for you? Look forward to hearing your ideas here or on twitter @mareeconway.

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Toss out the planning rulebooks

I read an interesting post from Herman Trend Alerts last week on Creativity - the Most Crucial Factor for Leadership Success. Right at the end was this phrase: Continuous Strategic Planning will be an ongoing process, rather than an annual one, so that the organization may respond to fast changing market conditions.

Now, I don't think this is a new idea, or one that has escaped the minds of those of us who do strategic planning in one way or another in our jobs.  But, it is an important idea. In environments where change is a constant, where the external environment is increasing in complexity, writing a plan and sticking to it religiously for three or five years no longer seems like a good idea. So, how do we make strategic planning continuous?

First, we have to unlearn the strategic planning rulebook.  Read Henry Mintzberg's classic, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, as a starter.

Strategic planning is one essential part of strategy development and implementation. Yet, by blindly following the strategic planning rule book, we have conditioned ourselves  to believe that if we check all the boxes, we will have a plan that will take us to the future, and that we can publish it and then forget about it.

The strategic planning rule book generates diagrams like this. They look good, but the energy that goes into creating them could better be spent on thinking about the future.

Second, we have to unlearn what we think strategic planning is by recognising two things:

  • strategy is about the future - the starting point is your organisation's preferred future - where you want to go - not where you are and what you are doing today,
  • strategic planning is about what you will do today to get to your preferred future, and that will require more than business-as-usual thinking; it's about paying attention to the 'strategic' word.

Third, we have to try new ways of creating strategy - ways that will allow you and your organisation to build a strategic foresight capacity. Try these steps.

1. Scan the environment on a continuing basis to better understand the nature of change in your operating environment, both locally and globally, and consider possible responses before that change reaches your organisation.

2 Share what you are finding and ask for comments within your organisation and with your stakeholders. Take advantage of social media to do this, which has at its core the principles of collaboration, participation and co-creation - words which have been used, in some form or another, in planning rhetoric for a long time. If you want your staff to be engaged with your plan, start engaging them at the beginning of the process, not the end.

3 Hold a thinking workshop with your staff and stakeholders. Rebadge your annual planning workshop as a thinking workshop. Ask participants to review scanning information and come to the thinking workshop prepared to talk about the major issues they see influencing the future of your company. Seek divergent perspectives and challenge status quo thinking and explore possible futures to identify new options using tools like  scenario planning.  A note here, status quo thinking might be very relevant and very appropriate, but it needs to be challenged before you make that assessment.

4 Make your strategic decisions about your preferred future, your goals to define what needs to change, your actions to implement your goals, and your measures to make sure you are on track.

5 Now, write your plan.

Implement your plan, and require  people to focus on asking 'proactive futures questions' when they have to make a strategic decision. See the table here for the difference between reactive and proactive future questions. Reactive questions happen after an event, proactive questions are asked in anticipation of an event.

7 Monitor outcomes on a continuing basis - someone, somewhere in the organisation will need to be responsible for drawing this all together and cross-referencing planning outcomes with your scanning output. Most importantly at this step, change your plan's goals or actions if you are alerted to changes in your future operating environment - both today and into the future.

If you embed this sort of strategy process in your organisation, you will have continuous strategic planning. You will no longer reify your plan or your planning process. You will be able to re-direct the resources you now spend on producing a plan to setting up a socially mediated system, one that is technologically based, that will allow you to adjust your plan to respond to changes in the external environment ahead of time.

You will have an organisation that is building a strategic foresight capacity, that will allow you to recognise emerging trends, to identify possible implications and to develop proactive responses to address those implications.

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