In this 3-part series, we’ve explored the shift from strategic planning to strategic thinking, and looked at the importance of using all the brainpower in your organization, not just half of it.  In this final segment, I’ll share what has delivered results for my clients when it comes to execution and the ability to pivot quickly to adapt and thrive to changing conditions.

“No plan survives first contact” is the well understood in the military.  A rigid strategic plan for your business is destined to fail, because few of us are experts in predicting the future,

That means we need to develop new skills in staying focused on our end goal, and building speed and agility to deal with the speed bumps, unexpected detours and straightaways that appear along the journey.  We need to develop early warning systems along the way to address the lack of flexibility endemic to the static strategic planning frameworks originally developed in the 1950s and still in use today, despite the accelerated rate of change in today’s business environment.

The outcome of conventional planning is often a two-inch binder that is inaccessible to most of the organization, and full of To Dos that often reflect how we overestimate what we can get done in one year and underestimate what we can achieve in five years.  While the binder or document creates ‘thud factor’ that makes those involved feel like they’re accomplished something, it creates no involvement from the rest of the organization because any initiative undertaken has to actually be understood in context, worth executing and make a difference.  In the absence of a true process, To Dos simply get carried over from year to year, creating an ever-longer to do list and sapping everyone’s energy to complete them.

Key #3:  Replace The Rigidity of the “How” with More Clarity About the “What”

In the military, they say “take that hill” and count on the leaders and rank and file to do whatever it takes to make it happen.  That’s the level of clarity you need to communicate to every employee.

In a previous post I mentioned that when I facilitate strategic thinking advances we end up with a one-page plan that has the organization’s biggest goals and annual theme statements looking several years out that provide the signposts towards the goal, developed through a combination of left-brain and right-brain thinking.  The “How” remains flexible to adapt to changing conditions, but the “What” is immutable.

We then take it one more layer, using the same process to focus on the few Key Initiatives – no more than 3 “hills”– that absolutely MUST be “taken” over the coming year.  We develop accountabilities that keep the “How” flexible and open to the creativity of every employee involved in it.  The “What” remains constant unless significant changes demand a pivot, it which case it happens strategically, not as a result of distraction by a bright shiny object.

Each quarter has a theme (a hill) that the entire company rallies around.  Each theme taps into current knowledge of markets, customers, and other shifting forces to encourage relevant, creative thinking and problem solving.  Each theme has one person held accountable for its achievement, regardless of how many resources contribute.  That’s the secret to creating the kind of speed, agility and flexibility that gets things done.

Don’t Settle for the Confusion, Rigidity, and ‘Busyness as Usual’ Stemming from Lack of Clear Outcomes

I often hear frustration across all levels within organizations.  Without a clear “What”, it’s easy to end up with a massive To Do list of 50 items or more, many of which are bright, shiny objects full of further cascading To Dos.  In the melee, Department A often wins at the expense of Department B.  Within those departments, the common gripe on the employee side is “here we go again.”  So many things get started, so many seem to be important, but so much ‘busyness’ as usual gets in the way that rarely is anything completed, due to alignment issues and productivity issues.  On the management side, it’s “why don’t they get it?”

Humans can take just about any “hill” once they’re clear on the objective and when they’re involved and engaged in deciding how best to achieve that goal.  Conventional strategic planning retreats will never get you there.  Pivoting to a strategic thinking advance WILL.

What have you done to keep your focus on a small number of hills instead of an entire mountain range?