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Is strategic planning still necessary in today’s “agile” business world?

The importance of a strategic framework to give leadership and teams the latitude and flexibility to change as things change around them.

Like it or not, we are living—and working—in a constantly changing environment. In the workplace, we’re dealing with new technologies, new laws, and regulations, changing policies, new competitors, an international marketplace, and many other rapid advances. It seems like nothing stays the same for any length of time.

A lot of time and energy is being spent these days talking about the “agile” workplace and the need for organizations to be nimble, flexible, and open to change. That is true, now more than ever you need to be agile, but it shouldn’t impact your overall strategic direction. It’s still critical to engage in a long-term strategic planning process.

Every organization, regardless of its type or size, has to have some vision of its future and some roadmap for how to get there. The classic strategic planning window is 3-5 years and that does seem like a long time given the current state of affairs. That window may be shortening a bit, but it’s still critical to look out further than just your next sprint.

The key to keeping strategic planning relevant is to create a dynamic, living strategic framework—not a static plan that you force yourself to stick to no matter what. Creating a framework gives you the latitude and flexibility to change as things change around you.  You’re not necessarily changing your strategic objectives or your ultimate future state, but you’re giving yourself a process by which to change the way you get there.

We like to use a strategic visioning process to create the framework. It consists of a series of visual, small-group-oriented work that ultimately leads to your strategic objectives and the operational action plans to get there. The visioning process includes four key steps:

  1. Conduct Environmental Scan – The environmental scan is simply taking stock of what is going on around you. It includes identifying all the current trends, happenings, changes, and issues that affect your work. The scan also includes a SWOT Analysis. The SWOT focuses on internal strengths and weaknesses and how those could potentially manifest themselves as external opportunities and threats.

  2. Validate Your Vision and Mission – The next step in the process is to develop or validate your vision and mission. Many think this is a “touchy/feely” exercise and not necessarily critical to the strategy, but that’s looking at it too narrowly. You must have a sense of who you are and why you do what you do to be successful. All the data generated by the environmental scan helps develop or validate your vision and mission.

  3. Define 3-5 Key Objectives – Leveraging the environmental scan and your vision/mission, the next step is to identify your organization’s 3-5 key objectives. It’s tempting to have more, but the magic number is 3 to 5. More spread things too thin and add too many distractions. Less isn’t enough to make a difference. These objectives become the drivers for everything you do within the organization. Nearly every effort, project, activity, etc. should relate back to one of the objectives. If it doesn’t, then you need to think seriously about why you’re doing it.

  4. Develop Action Plans – This is where most organizations fall down when it comes to strategic planning. They spend time to identify objectives, then don’t spend time developing detailed action plans on how to achieve those objectives. The action plans, like any good project plan, should have activities, milestones, dates, resources, and other critical factors. These action plans should be reviewed and updated on a consistent basis. This is where you account for rapid changes in the environment. Rapid change may not change your objectives but it will definitely change the way you get there.

What you’re creating through the process is not a hard and fast set of activities for the next 3-5 years, but instead a strategic direction and framework, supported by short-term activities to move your forward. The framework gives you the latitude and flexibility to change as things change around you.  Your ultimate strategic goal isn’t changing, but the way you’re going to get there does.

You may need to refresh your plan a bit more frequently than in the past, but you’ve at least adopted a framework for those updates. And given yourself, the ability to change as change occurs around you.

 About Ernstmann Consulting

 At Ernstmann Consulting, our goal is to maximize your potential—as an individual, team, or organization. We develop and deliver practical, sustainable leadership solutions through a personal and customized approach. Our core services include strategic planning, facilitation and training, executive coaching, team-building, and marketing strategy. Our customers include commercial organizations, government contractors, associations/non-profits, and the federal government. We are a small, woman-owned business based in Herndon, VA. For more information, visit www.ernstmann.com.

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