The absence of predictability makes everyone more cautious. People tend to prioritize safety over speed. ~Dov Seidman
I had a bit of an epiphany this past week. Over the past few years more and more people have been suggesting and arguing that strategic planning is no longer relevant or helpful. Many times the argument is predicated on the belief that because we live in a period of ridiculously rapid change, that trying to "plan" or develop a "plan" is of little use.
Given that a good chunk of my work is in strategic planning, I've been contemplating this entire idea and approach to organizations. Is it time for a change? Maybe, but I certainly wouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Here's why.
One thing that nearly all authors, theorists, researchers and consultants agree upon is that trust is more critical now than it has ever been. That's because the higher the degree of trust, the more quickly an organization can respond to change. As Dov Seidman so appropriately states, "people tend to prioritize safety over speed." If people don't feel safe, or don't fully trust their leader, they are going to be more cautious and therefore adapt to change more slowly.
Trust is beyond critical. It's vital to survival if our organizations are going to keep pace with the rate of change in the breakneck race in which we are all participating, by choice or by default. Again, read a number of authors who claim to be an authority on creating trust and one of the commonly repeated key attributes of trust: predictability. Are you predictable? Without it, you are going to struggle to generate trust.
Here's where the epiphany comes in…focused, clearly articulated strategic plans demonstrate predictability. A strategic plan is a tool that can generate predictability, therefore trust, which in turn will enable organizations to turn on a dime. A good strategic plan isn't irrelevant; in fact, it could accelerate your ability to adapt to change.
Maybe our strategic plans need to change. Maybe they've been too complicated, too detailed and too static. Maybe they need to focus more on establishing unquestionable clarity of the mission, vision and values. Maybe they need to emphasize priorities more than quantifiable goals so in the midst of change we don't lose sight of the direction by getting lost in the muck and mire of formulas and decimal points. And maybe strategic plans need to communicate how we will make decisions as opposed to what specific decisions we will make so we will be trusted when uncertainty sneaks around the corner.
For the sake of full disclosure, I'm somewhat of closet statistician and numbers geek myself. I'm frequently quoting Drucker, "if you can't measure it, you can't manage it." So not holding quite as tightly to the "measurement" piece of a strategic plan is a paradigm shift for me, personally. But, using a strategic plan to establish predictability, and therefore, trust, makes a whole lot of sense to me. Maybe it shouldn't be a strategic plan but a strategic direction.
How will we be predictable in 2013 so we can create the trust we'll need to maneuver through the unpredictable changes certain to occur in the next year? Is our strategic direction irrefutably clear?