If I had a nickel for every time people groaned when I used the words “Strategic Planning” with company leaders, I would be a rich man. To begin with, I want to separate the word “Strategy” from the word “Planning”. Strategy was defined well by Roger Martin in his article “The big lie of Strategic Planning” that appeared in the Harvard Business review earlier in 2014. He says:
“Good Strategy makes leaders uncomfortable and apprehensive because it is about strategic decision making where they are placing bets and making hard choices. The objective of strategy is not to eliminate risk but to increase the odds of success. Planning, on the other hand, is also necessary, and requires hours of careful research to identify which initiatives are affordable with our existing resources. It involves cost control and maximization of investment as well as development of core competencies and strategic capabilities.”
We will focus on planning in this post, and tackle strategy in the next.
At the center of the changing nature of planning is the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world and markets we find ourselves in. Planning used to be easier and more predictable; forecasts, projections, and stable ROIs could be calculated by members of the C-group of an organization and reported, with action steps to everyone in the organization with success. Unfortunately, the speed of change, the interconnection of people all over the world, the increasingly disruptive business environment, and the presence of online competitors from all over the world has made this much rarer than it used to be.
One example from recent work with businesses comes to mind. One organization I am consulting with is involved with helping other businesses market their products in the marketplace. They have made great impact and grown fast because of their ability to do two things: 1) they find some predictability in another wise random set of inputs around the companies they are serving and 2) they know quickly when a marketing campaign is failing so the whole budget is not spent on a losing direction. These both are great things needed in a VUCA world.
Let me bring this closer to home for most of us. The Bible uses two very different words for “time” from the Greek language. The first is the word “Chronos” from which we get the English word chronology. It means times, dates, and places – regular time as we experience in western culture. The second word for time from the Greek is “Kairos” where we get the phrase “kairotic moments” which means “the fullness of time”, “at the right time”, “at the appropriate time”. The Caribbean, some African, and Native American culture prefer this kind of time.
To do something when it is appropriate may not be 7:30 on Tuesday night. Business has always had to manage both, and some of the classic tensions between Marketing and Operations happen here. Operations, which tends to run on chronos time, has time schedules, milestones, benchmarks to hit and works consistently to meet those all-important deadlines. The problem arises when the product or service that operations has worked so hard to reach turns out not to be when the market is ready to buy this from the company. The market is very kairotic, and is changing continually these days (vinyl records, 8 tracks, cassettes, CD’s. iPod, apps, web streaming). This is becoming more and more true of the markets business is competing in.
I don’t know if you have had a chance to interact with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test, but one dimension of our personality will make this real for many. Of the four dimensions of personality that the MBTI looks at, one of those is our orientation to the world. Some of us prefer chronos time, where we like times, dates, and places. We want to plan ahead and our stress is reduced by planning ahead. We like to work systematically with steady effort to complete the tasks at hand. The other half of us orient ourselves to the world where time is viewed “kairotically” (and the other half would say chaotically) where we like to take the world as it unfolds. Planning too far ahead, we believe, shuts down options early and closes up our future potential. We like spontaneity, and serendipity. Much is accomplished with last minute effort, and the way we reduce our stress is to have contingency plans. As you would guess, the American culture loves the first of these two, chronos time, but the movement of the marketplace is in the exact opposite direction. So how do we cope with this new reality?
Planning together is the answer. It’s not just the top of the house doing projections, budgets, schedules and timelines; that worked when organizations were more mechanistic and time horizons of predictability were long. Today, organizations need to become more like an organic structure like the human body, with its reactivity, flexibility, and adaptability. This type of structure quickly synthesizes many inputs from the frontlines, the sales force, the marketing team, the operations, the finance team in dynamic, ongoing relationships to evolve as the market requires changes and redeployment of resources.
Planning needs to be together, not the sole responsibility of the few leaders.
Go deeper on this topic by listening to our podcast.