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.

APPROACHES TO STRATEGIC PLANNING

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.

EFFECTIVE SCENARIO PLANNING

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.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME FOR STRATEGIC PLANNING?

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.

HELPFUL RESOURCES

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

DISCUSSION

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 ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

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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