By Laurie Cure

I learned strategic planning the old-fashioned way:

  • Conduct a comprehensive environmental analysis
  • Complete a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)
  • Develop strategies, actions, and tactics
  • Operationalize through a scorecard

Because I learned this way, it’s how I taught my grad students, and, for decades, implemented planning using this method. It’s a good process and works on many levels, but often it is merely a process organizations “go through” and the resulting plan gets tossed into a folder until a year later when they may dust it off to review or update it and try to put it back into circulation. 

However, when COVID-19 hit, most organizations struggled because their strategic plans did not account for such an extreme situation. Emergency planning ensued and some organizations survived while others did not. What we learned is that to move successfully into a new future we need to adjust our thinking. We need to expand our vision and our abilities to be more agile in adjusting quickly when circumstances call for it. We need to treat our strategic plan as a living, breathing document. Our strategy is the destination we seek, and our plan is the path we have chosen to get there. Our new strategic plan must be measured and structured, but it must also be easily and quickly adaptable. It must account for projected and probable futures, while also taking into account contingency plans for the unknown. And there are a lot of unknowns in today’s business environment. 

Everything is different now. As this new world is emerging, it requires us to interact and respond in ways that are unfamiliar. Even the conducting of an environmental scan is more complicated. As a result, planning needs to be viewed through a different lens if it is to be most effective in the future.

 Here are a couple of areas for consideration as we engage in strategic planning for the future:

  • Update your environmental assessment and find quicker ways to gather intelligence. Processes such as collision workshop can be a method for ensuring stakeholder involvement that allows organizations to collect information and act on insights more rapidly. In the new world, the speed of allocating resources and making process decisions will happen faster, and understanding the market variables in a timely manner will be even more critical for success.
  • Review your plan more frequently. Our “normal” planning processes had us put goals and actions into place annually. Leadership teams would review progress toward goals and adjust actions on a more frequent basis but rarely change the overall goal. In today’s environment, this process fails to recognize rapid changes that are urgently impacting our goals. Decisions need to be made in real-time, making it imperative that the actions and goals themselves are written with the understanding that everything might change in the blink of an eye, and the ability to adapt quickly could be the difference between our organizations thriving or perishing. These actions and goals should be reassessed frequently and adjusted when necessary to remain nimble. 
  • Adjust your mindset – AGAIN. Before COVID, many organizations were beginning to excel at collaborative decision-making and effective change management. During COVID, much of that changed as small groups of leaders came together frequently to make timely decisions and changes (sometimes decisions, processes, and procedures changed daily). While this may sound like a good thing, this created decisions made in isolation and then cascaded through the organization—a more command and control type model. As we exit these pandemic times, it’s important to continue to monitor the environment more frequently, but we must resist the urge to micromanage the way we might have during COVID-19. We also need to bear in mind that processes for gaining consensus or stakeholder feedback need to be reevaluated and possibly updated to accommodate our new environment. 

Fundamentally, we need to create new value in our businesses and processes. We need to put roadmaps in place to go somewhere new.  We do this by quickly engaging a wider range of stakeholders in our planning processes and ensuring more diverse audiences are contributing to our knowledge base. By intentionally seeking new opportunities for innovation, technology, staffing, and planning we will find our way to the future successfully. Is this task easy? No, but by remaining flexible, our organizations and all within will emerge more responsive, resilient, and in touch with the ever-changing needs of staff and clients.

We are an organizational effectiveness company and have helped many of our clients walk through their most difficult challenges successfully. We understand that the situations we sometimes face are just so big and multi-faceted it is difficult to take a step back and remove ourselves from the situation so we can figure out the best next steps. If you feel that you could benefit from an outside perspective, we would love to connect with you. Contact us by clicking this link: Innovative Connections or call us at 970-279-3330 for a no-obligation, free consultation and learn how we can help you develop strategies to help you and your organization move forward successfully.

Our mission is to give voice and action to an emerging future. As a partner in your success, we would love to help you find your voice, see your vision, and imagine what the right action could be for you, your team, and your organization.