I have always found it interesting to learn how leaders and organizations determine the strategy going forward. From hundreds and hundreds of meetings with organizational leaders, I have found that strategy is almost always decided by those at the top - typically the CEO.
The process usually goes something like this... Top management reviews confidential and sensitive information that they only have access to. This can include predictions for the future, solutions to capitalize on opportunities, market trends, financials, and much more. They use these insights to forecast market opportunities, create some annual objectives, break those down into divisional targets, and then put together a detailed document outlining how they are going to reach these objectives. From there, this strategic plan is then communicated top-down.
I have found this approach to be quite outdated and inefficient. With the speed of change and innovation in today's world, we need to build a strategic planning and execution process that evolves with the changes in the environment. The framework above is a static planning process within a dynamic world.
Brian Robertson at Holacracy uses a metaphor from the world of agile software development to describe how ineffective this planning process is...
"Imagine riding a bicycle the way we manage most modern organizations. You would hold a big meeting to decide the angle at which you should hold the handlebars; you’d map your journey in as much detail as possible, factoring in all known obstacles and the exact timing and degree to which you would need to adjust your course to avoid these. Then you would get on the bicycle, hold the handlebars rigidly at the angle calculated, close your eyes, and steer according to plan. Odds are you would not reach your target, even if you did manage to keep the bicycle upright for the entire trip. When the bicycle falls over, you might ask: “Why didn’t we get this right the first time?” And maybe: “Who screwed up?"
It's time to start investing your strategic planning into something that focuses on maximizing productivity and flexibility. Less about pinning down every little detail on the front end. One thing that a lot of organizations fail to enable is strategic planning that can come from anywhere, not just the top. Your team members can offer insights, suggest initiatives, and bring in progressive change through enabling decision-making processes.
You can start to accomplish this by having a deeply defined purpose and mechanisms in place to "listen" for what the organization is calling for based on that purpose. With purpose as the north star, everyone individually and collectively can be empowered to sense what the future is calling for.
Part of your early strategic planning process is to create sensing mechanisms for your purpose. Creating sensing mechanisms for your purpose to drive the direction can open up limitless opportunities for your organization. The traditional approach requires a more detailed map and limits the possibilities to a pre-charted course.
With purpose as the north star, everyone, individually and collectively, is empowered to sense what it might be calling. This way, strategy happens organically, all the time - allowing you to evolve and expand as your environment changes around you. Especially in today’s world that is becoming increasingly complex and constantly changing, your organization will be empowered to implement workable solutions at any point.
This new approach to strategic direction requires the process of Purpose Driven Dynamic Steering for your strategy:
Purpose Driven Dynamic Steering means a constant adjustment in light of real feedback, which makes for a more organic path. Instead of wasting a ton of time and energy on the front end trying to predict the path ahead, hold purpose top of mind, surrender to the present reality, and respond in the moment.
In order to unlock “Purpose Driven Dynamic Steering”, you need to incorporate 3 main elements
1 - Internal communication strategies
In order to have purpose-driven dynamic steering work to the fullest, collective intelligence needs to emerge. You do this by sharing company data and information. Getting everyone “in the know” allows everyone to offer strategic suggestions.
One simple way you can do this is through all-hand meetings to share information, and discuss the response. This reflects trust in the collective and creates empowerment throughout the footprint.
Ask yourself, how might we consistently share information across the organization?
2 - Purpose sensing
One practice to listen in to an organization's purpose includes allocating an empty chair at any meeting to represent the organization's purpose.
At any time or at the very least, at the end of the meeting, listen to and become the voice of the organization. Here are some questions one might tune into while "sitting in that chair:"
- Have the decisions and the discussion served the organization well?
- What stands out to you from today's meeting?
- In what direction do you want to go? At what speed? Are we being bold enough? Too bold?
- Is there something else that needs to be said or discussed?
Outcomes & Accountabilities
As the old saying goes, “what gets measured matters.” So we need to be careful about what we measure and why. That is why we start with purpose sensing and then move into activities.
Now, I am not saying all pre-planning and projection activities are done with and outdated. I'm saying we shouldn't throw our eggs in one basket and hope that we dont drop our basket at some point.
Leave some space for your organization and strategy to evolve. Provide space for employees at all levels to come up with ideas and innovations.
You will find that this process makes strategic planning almost effortless and organic.
At the end of the day, strategic planning should be fun and energizing. It should be evolutionary and change with what the world is calling for. Ultimately, it should be something that engages you and your entire organization and will be something that constantly drives larger collective impacts at all times.