Strategic Planning to Manage Change

I have been investing some time talking with people about their approach to strategic planning and have found that the majority of them engage in the process primarily to define and deploy priorities in their Organization/Department. This is certainly a great application of strategic planning, but not the only one. Strategic planning can also be used to help you more effectively deal with anticipated change. In fact, this application of strategic planning may be even more important to your long-term success.


A great article that helped me expand my appreciation for the application of strategic planning is a discussion entitled “Basic Overview of Various Strategic Planning Models” authored by Carter McNamara. He describes the use of strategic planning to manage change as ‘Scenario Planning’. The basic concept is to hypothesize probable future competitive and/or category changes, and then have a meaningful discussion about how your Organization would/should react to ensure continued success. When I was managing brands at P&G, this was an annual exercise used to ‘pressure test’ the robustness of our business plan. We would invest time to understand both market dynamics and potential competitive moves. Then, we’d created worst-case scenarios to make certain our strategies were sufficiently robust to address the implications. The exercise took a lot of work, but the result was always a strengthened plan and a much better understanding of the business landscape.

I have been focusing on strategic planning because of a personal interest in helping leaders of small communities impacted by shale gas commercialization create effective strategic plans to manage the predictable changes that will occur as a result. Forearmed with an understanding of what is likely to happen and a set of strategies to help avoid the risk of a boom-bust cycle, I believe these communities will be in a better position to leverage shale gas commercialization as an opportunity for their community to achieve a higher and sustainable level of economic prosperity. In contrast, failure to adequately plan risks plunging the community into economic disaster when local wells are no longer profitable and the industry redeploys its resources accordingly. The best time to do strategic planning is in advance of the change. Once in the middle of change options become limited and impacting the natural course of events is much harder.

The same can be said for any potential major change your community (or company) will face. Strategic planning can help you better understand the implications of the change and your readiness to successfully deal with it.


There are a number of ways to approach the exercise. But, it is often best to consider using an outside consultant with specific expertise in facilitating strategic planning for scenario planning. The exercise can get complicated quickly and it is always helpful to have an objective guide. In addition, the exercise is best executed when you involve a wide range of stakeholders. Because the work is designed to uncover strategic vulnerabilities, you run a risk of creating a sense of overwhelming and lack of confidence with your existing plan among participants if the process isn’t managed well.

But, if done properly you can actually strengthen both confidence and commitment in the strategic direction and plan for your community (company). Key stakeholders will be more willing to invest additional resources behind a strategic plan they believe has a real probability for success. Consequently, selecting the right consultant to facilitate the process is a very important decision.

My personal experience has been with the Monitor Group. They are by no means the only consulting group capable of facilitating a strategic planning exercise, but they do have experience in the field of economic development that can be extremely helpful to achieving a successful outcome. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have no business relationship with the Monitor Group and highlight their organization solely on my experience with them as a client when I was working at Procter & Gamble. If you have another consulting firm to facilitate this type of work, please leave a comment and share your experience. That will benefit everybody.


Many communities (companies) approach strategic planning as an annual exercise. There is nothing wrong with that as long as the exercise is done right. The logic for timing is the same as changing batteries on a smoke detector. One a year helps ensure your strategic choices and resultant tactical plans are based on today’s reality. I think the answer to the question though is – ‘before you really need one’. If you wait until there is a crisis, then you have severely limited the practical degrees of freedom you have to respond. If you wait too long, there actually may not be a viable path to success left open to you. So, the best time to do strategic planning is when you feel things are going well and you don’t really need it. Stephen Covey would characterize this as Quadrant II work. It is some of the most mission critical work you can do.


Here is a list of web pages I have found contain very helpful information to get you thinking about effective strategic planning.

Scenario Planning Resources

Global Future Report: What If?

How to Build Scenarios

World Future Society – Methods


As the Nationwide Insurance commercial advises – ‘life comes at you fast’. You can’t plan for every eventuality, but you can pressure test your strategic plan to better understand its vulnerabilities and identify which unplanned events will be catastrophic if you do not start managing now for the future changes it will bring. The predictable impact of shale gas commercialization on small communities is a perfect example of a foreseeable event that requires sound strategic planning now in order to turn it into a sustainable economic win instead of a bad country song of rags to riches to rags.


What big events can you think of that your community (company) should be planning for? How robust is your current strategic plan? What would happen if a major employer in your community was acquired and consolidated to another location? What would your strategic response be? Are you ready for the future? A manager once told me strategic planning was a waste of time because you can’t reliably predict what tomorrow will bring let along what will happen 5 – 10 years from now.  What do you think of his perspective?  Share your experience and thoughts about strategic planning. By sharing, we will all get smarter.


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Category Shale Gas, Strategy

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7 Comments so far

  1. Freddy A.

    December 12, 2011

    “Strategic Planning”: common desire among every companies, or as you wrote in your blog, “communities”.
    Bottom line, this is a deep water topic, because as you mentioned, it is ussually a one year excercise, but results not always reach original goals… and it could not be other way while we are in a dynamic and adaptative world.
    I used the expression deep water because no doubt strategic planning in business is mandatory for a long term stand point for the company, but also and more common used in personal/professional life.
    I also wrote deep water since I consider, after reading yor blog post, the approach of managing change related to strategic planning might be linked with expectation management and risk management, both hard disciplines to put in practice.

  2. Jerry

    December 17, 2011

    You hit the nail on the head. Strategic planning is about scenario planning. Some include options planning which isn’t that different. Unfortunately when strategic planning is used for tactical priority setting it results in far too many plans failing to achieve their goals because they do not account for change.

    Jerry | The Higher Ed CIO

  3. Paul Brinkman

    December 18, 2011

    Thank you for positioning strategic planning as an exercise in anticipation, which, as you point out, requires preparation, readiness, risk avoidance…and commitment. In my experience, you need to pay close attention to three things: culture, data and alignment. And, since “life comes at you fast,” you also need to walk that fine line between being disciplined and adaptable. In the end, the imperative of “managing now for the future” is precisely why strategic planning must be at the core of your enterprise.

  4. William Pardy

    December 28, 2011

    I have been following this discussion for a while and have been, for the past year, engaged in developing an Economic Development Plan for The Gambia through its Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs. I came across a Harvard Business Review article called “The Fall and Rise of Strategic Planning” by Henry Mintzberg.

    I would offer two short excerpts for consideration:
    “The failure of strategic planning is the failure of systems to do better than, or even nearly as well as, human beings.”

    “But some of the best models that planners can offer managers are simply alternate conceptual interpretations of their world, such as a new way to view the organizations distribution systems. As Arie de Geus, the one-time head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell wrote in his HBR article “Planning as Learning” (March-April 1988), “The real purpose of effective planning is not to make plans but to change the….mental models that…..decision makers carry in their heads.”

    I believe the dilemma with strategic plans lying on shelves and being less that effective relates to the fact that the focus is on the plans and not on the means necessary to effect change and renewal. The plan becomes an abstract document that few genuinely understand or to which they relate in their work and their lives. The same can be said for economic development today the focus is on abstract concepts rather than the learning (and relearning) processes people require to shift the way that people think that would open the doors to the new opportunities that need be identified.

  5. Brad Leister

    August 17, 2012

    Tactics from strategic planning take place everyday, some work and others may not. Easier to correct tactics than a strategic plan. The two go hand-in hand.( like a set a railroad tracks leading into the future with back and forth checking and re-checking)

    I feel to get started on a plan is to find a quiet place for a few hours, cup of coffee,close the door,turn off phones, miusic,backround noise the best you can. (may be hard in todays world), couple pencils and a pad of paper.

    Think back through you life and business to the start of it. Jot down thoughts as you write. When you feel you are at the start of your idea for your business, write down all thoughts as to how you would start it and another buisness or hobby. (like white paper,just write!) then compare to what you did to build your business,mix in culture,new ideas,the market place,what you want to do,etc.

    You must dig like Columbo and notice every little thing. Deatils are important. Once you have done this, then do it again. Talk to people and network all the time. Use all the sensory you have. who,what when,taste,feel,smell, images and sights and sounds from childhood,etc. Use all info. Write it down.

    Sometimes it may seem easier to start a plan rather than knowing what to do down the road, kinda like having money but the hard part is where to put it to good use. (I am saying at times, it may be easier to make money than spend it)

    When you feel good about your plan and are about 75% finished and your gut tells you it will work,DO NOT fall back into your old ways and forget or say it will not work. Companies and people have ideas but the time management of people is poor and we fall back because it is a natural thing to do. As others have said, we must think about the un-known or outside the box. Our soceity teaches inside the norms for comfort-not good.

    Hope this helps,

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