By Jim Whitt
Before you invest time and money in traditional strategic planning consider this — only 5-10% of strategic plans are ever implemented.
The reason most organizations engage in strategic planning is to reduce anxiety. It’s like taking a couple of aspirin for a headache. In this case the headache is the future. The aspirin is a couple of days locked in a room putting checkmarks in the appropriate boxes. Mission statement (yada, yada, yada): check; SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats): check; long range goals (3-5 years): check. Ah, that feels better. And like the aspirin bottle, the plan is put on the shelf. But the future, like the headache, keeps coming back. As Dr. Phil likes to ask, how’s that working for you?
Even if you do try to implement a plan using this process it will be flawed. Think back five years ago. It seems like a millisecond doesn’t it? If you look no further ahead than five years you’ll see the future as an extension of the present. You’ll be trying to solve tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. If you really want your organization to succeed in the future, you need a pioneering process instead of just a planning process. Instead of looking ahead 3-5 years you need to look a generation ahead.
To get started, assemble key people in your organization to be part of your pioneering team. How many and who you choose will depend on the size and structure of your organization. Break them into small groups and have them select a facilitator and recorder for their group. Ask the following questions, one at a time, giving the group time to share and record their answers. After each question, have the groups share their answers with the rest of the team.
1. What did the world and your industry look like 30 years ago? This question primes the pump. Once you’ve compiled a list of the monumental changes that have taken place in the last 30 years you understand there will be monumental changes that will take place in the next 30 years.
2. What will the world and your industry look like 30 years from now? While no one can accurately predict the future remember that Jules Verne was writing about a trip to the moon 100 years before it happened. Don’t limit your thinking. Tell your team to be as futuristic as their minds will let them.
3. What will your organization have to be, do and look like to succeed in the future you just described? You are not bound to the form or model of your current organizational structure. Borrow a page from Star Trek and dare to boldly go where no man has gone before.
4. What will you have to do to help the organization get there? Planning for an organization’s future requires collectively creating a picture of our future where we’ll find meaning and purpose, not just as a group but as individuals.
The collective answers to these questions provide the information your team will need for the next assignment. A major news magazine has selected your organization as The Model Organization in the year 2040. Have each team member write a 1,000 word article describing what happened in the three decades between then and now that enabled you to become that model organization.
These articles are a matter of engaging your team in a process of writing tomorrow’s history today. Everything you need to do to succeed in the future is contained in that history. You’ll identify your organization’s purpose, operating philosophy, business models and structure. You’ll identify goals and objectives and the people who need to be responsible for their completion. Your history will have everything you need to develop a real strategic plan. Implementation then becomes a matter of living the history. What makes this process effective is that instead of starting at the present and trying to work your way forward you are starting at the future and working your back.
Of course, this is a condensed overview of the pioneering process. It takes a genuine commitment of time and energy. If you simply want to reduce your anxiety about the future take the road most traveled and use the traditional check the boxes method. But if you want to succeed in the future, you have to go beyond traditional planning and do some serious pioneering. Pioneering has never been for the faint of heart. It’s for those who want to lead rather than follow, and thrive instead of just survive. Pioneers take the road less traveled. Which road will you choose?
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