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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