Another Approach to Strategic Planning

February, 9, 2015 -

Strategic Planning has been a significant element in my four decades of executive administration in both the public and private sectors. I started the Family Care Network in 1987 with a Strategic Plan, and we have continued to follow an aggressive planning process which has produced amazing results. But, it has not been without challenges and, at times, a lot of frustration! The good news–the ups and downs have helped us to hone an approach which is very effective and manageable. So, I would like to briefly share some of our “Lessons Learned” and about our planning approach.

Why do Strategic Planning? Because, every organization needs a Disciplined Effort to produce Fundamental Decisions and Actions that Shape and Guide what an organization Is, What it does and Why it does it. It is an Essential Roadmap to a company’s future!

Traditional Strategic Planning methods which many of us were taught in our MBA programs don’t really work in today’s dynamic, complex, ever-changing environment. As Henry Mintzberg of McGill University puts it, “Strategic Planning is an oxymoron!” There are three reasons for its ineffectiveness: obsolete methods, change and complexity. Let me explain.

If I were to ask you to run your company or do your job using the technology of the 1940s, how easy would that be? Very limited communication systems, no computers, no automated systems, poor transportation… you get the picture. Yet, that is exactly what we do with Strategic Planning. It is a system developed in the 40's for the war effort, and has changed little since then. It’s time to bring our planning efforts into the 21st century.

Change, change and more change! In our dynamic, ever-changing world, it is very difficult to set a strategic objective and stick to it. Effective Strategic Planning requires learning to manage change; to get out of the rut of always reacting to change, and instead, proactively initiating change and influencing change outside the organization.

The greater the complexity of an organization, the more difficult it is to plan for it. My organization, like most, has a number of very complex internal systems, plus, we work within multiple, external complex systems. Effective Strategic Planning also embraces managing complexity.

One word can sum up what I have said so far: CHAOS! But this is not a bad thing. Chaos does not mean total confusion. It refers to the dynamics of the system that apparently has no, or little, order; but in which there really is an underlying order. It is your job to find it. Chaos is the science of surprises of the nonlinear and unpredictable.

Effective Strategic Planning is understanding and applying Chaos Theory in managing Change and Complexity! It is harvesting the velocity of Chaos-Change-Complexity through Adaptive Strategic Planning!

Adaptive Strategic Planning (ASP) is the method that breaks free from static, linear plans, being dynamic, adaptive and direct. Instead of the old approach of “making a plan and sticking to it” which led to centralize strategic planning around a fixed time horizon, Adaptive Planning is “setting a direction and testing it”, treating the whole organization as a team that is experimenting its way to success.

ASP introduces a whole new paradigm. It abandons the traditional “top-down” approach by implementing an iterative, participatory, dynamic, “make-changes-on-the-fly: planning process which can respond to our chaotic, ever-changing, complex world. Traditional Strategic Planning is a snapshot; Adaptive Strategic Planning is a video!

ASP is best implemented using the acronym ADAPT, making “micro adjustments” as needed, when needed:

  • Assess efficiencies and strengths, opportunities, competitive landscape, risks and outcomes;
  • Develop vision, grand strategy, readiness assessments and desired outcomes;
  • Align complexity management, change management and performance management;
  • Plan staffing, policy, funding and infrastructure;
  • Transform operationally, organizationally, fiscally and company performance.

At the Family Care Network, we have created an ASP framework we call the SERVE© ASP Model which uses five planning domains:

  • Superior Programs
  • Excellent Tools
  • Reputation of Integrity
  • Value People
  • Eye on the Future

Virtually every aspect of our organization’s services and operations is managed by setting objectives within these five domains. And setting these objectives is not an annual exercise; rather, it is an ongoing process of ADAPTing to change and complexity, and driving the organization into the future we desire.

I apologize, for I have barely scratched the surface of this issue and process. My intent here is to challenge other organization leaders and administrators to rethink their Strategic Planning approach in order to make it useful and effective. There is much information to research, learn and apply. I can say unequivocally, that the Family Care Network has continued to grow, improve and have greater positive impact on our community because of our Adaptive Strategic Planning.