Strategic Planning – Past, present, future

Strategic Planning and Chess

Strategic planning is not nearly as complex as it is made out to be and it is the most complicated process used in business and non-profit organizations around the globe. Both of these are true.

Where did strategic planning begin?

Goal directed planning has been around since humans began to think with their pre-frontal lobe, maybe longer (I’m pretty sure my cat plans based on very clear goals). Strategic planning as we now know it, evolved out of military strategy. “Strategos” literally means “general of the army” in Greek. The strategoi provided “strategic” advice to political rulers and war councils about managing battles to win wars as opposed to providing tactical advise about managing troops to win wars. That distinction has haunted strategic planning process for close to 2000 years. Even the language of military strategy remains entrenched in the work place. “Front line” workers and being “in the trenches” began as accurate description of the reality of those on a battle field, not an employee with an air conditioned office next to a Starbucks.

The adoption of strategic planning in the business world began somewhere between the 1950′s and 60′s. The exact date has yet to be agreed upon but most scholars and business historians agree that the practice along with the philosophy emerged over a few decades and that strategic planning continues to evolve today. Strategic planning in the non-profit and educations sectors flowed out of business practices, perhaps as a result of leadership folks moving from business careers to positions in NGO’s and bringing with them a set of planning tools and paradigms.

What is strategic planning today?

Modern strategic planning has been influenced by systems theory and the ideas put forth by Peter Drucker, Edward Deming, and Peter Senge to name a few. The shift from the machine age to the knowledge age changed the thinking from top down, command and control to worker empowerment, decentralization and bottom-up planning. We seem to be in an era of choice. Strategic planning is relatively new in the business world and there are still many organizations using the early models and processes while some have moved into more collaborative and inclusive models. Some organization still have a “war room” and only top leadership is included in strategic planning. Others have adopted a variety of methods and processes from the growing strategic planning buffet.

Does strategic planning work?

You would think that there would be a clear answer to that question. There is not. Although most of the critics do agree that there is good strategic planning that works and not so good strategic planning that does not work. Tom Peters described strategic planning as “death by a thousand initiatives” and Henry Mintzberg suggested that the evidence clearly showed that, “lead boots” and “paperwork mills” were the usual outcome of strategic planning. Mintzberg also found and shared many examples of organizations that had been successful in strategic planning. He notes that these organizations approached strategic planning in a less structured and rigid way.

How do we create a strategic plan that works?

One of the challenges with strategic planning is that sometimes the people involved are not on the same page. There may be differing understandings of what strategy entails, what a plan need to be grounded in and how a strategic plan should be created including who should be involved. The first step in creating a successful strategic plan may be getting everyone involved to agree on one model of strategic planning. Another, often missed step, is to actually use the plan.

What is the future of strategic planning?

Non-profit and educational organizations are realizing the value of diverse perspectives and are inviting customers, “front line” staff, and other stakeholders to inform the strategic planning processes. The education and community development sectors have really grabbed on to the idea that strategic planning is best accomplished with the inclusion of community. Technology has enabled this. Without a connected and accessible “environment” like the internet, community engagement in strategic planning would not be feasible. Our connected environment is changing how we work.

Greg Satell, the DigitalTonto, suggests the future of strategic planning is emergent saying,

… strategy is not a starting point, it’s a process and a collaborative one at that.  It is not written in stone, nor is it ever truly complete.  It evolves over time, becomes stronger as it adapts to new challenges even as it remains true to its core principles.

Good strategy is never being, it is always becoming.

Check out Greg’s full post on the changing game of strategy.

Strategic planning is not on it’s way out but it is changing, evolving, as we are.

What’s your prediction for strategic planning in the future?



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>