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Say Goodbye to Strategic Planning? What’s Next?



We can all agree nothing is certain except death and taxes. Is it time for executives and teams to say goodbye to strategic planning? Annual off-site meetings to change dates on unsuccessful strategies don't make sense. One of the most significant downfalls of contemporary strategic planning is the failure to account for a growing uncertainty in a fast-paced, generative AI environment. I am not suggesting leaders give up on strategic planning and accept gambling on their company’s future. I'm suggesting that a new approach is desperately needed. As the world changes, businesses and leaders must change too. Organizations and leaders need to evolve strategic thinking and planning approaches to go beyond what is already understood. So, how can organizations and teams account for uncertainty and make progress on what matters? This is where the good news comes in. Here is a practical strategic planning method that can push your organization and team toward positive actions.




Scenario Planning: A flexible strategic planning method

Scenario planning helps organizations focus on likely and critical external elements impacting the business and think creatively about their situation.


The benefits of scenario planning are changed thinking, informed narratives or stories about possible futures, improved decision-making about the future, and enhanced organizational learning and imagination.


Scenario planning is a decision-making tool for exploring and understanding various issues impacting your business. Since you cannot predict the future, both learning and preparation are essential.


The goal is for leadership teams to become more informed by broadening ideas about what multiple futures might bring. Scenario planning involves identifying a specific set of uncertainties and different realities of what might happen in the future.


Wind tunneling is a metaphor for the basic concept. Scenario planning allows the organization to be tested in various turbulent times.



As with any strategic planning process, you must carefully consider identifying vital internal stakeholders. It helps to have inclusive representation from a cross-section of departments, functions, and subject matter expertise.


The most threatening competitor leadership teams face is themself.

The typical approach to scenario planning involves the following eight steps:

  1. Identify a focus question: When selecting a question, it needs to help focus on the uncertainty you want to prepare. For example, you could ask, “How may generative AI affect our organization, what should we do, and when?

  2. Identify critical environmental factors: This is where you brainstorm anything related to your focus question happening in your surrounding environment.

  3. Identify driving forces: These underlying forces could shape your focal question. Using a Futures Wheel aligned with the STEEP (Societal, Technological, Economic, Ecological, or Political/Legal) framework can help brainstorm these forces.

  4. Rank critical uncertainties: Scenario planning is often more qualitative than quantitative, and it is easy to be influenced by optimism bias. Ranking helps avoid cognitive errors in scenario planning.

  5. Choose the central theme: These are the most uncertain and essential driving forces selected from the ranking in the prior step.

  6. Develop scenarios: This step can be sped up by selecting already developed scenarios. If you decide to build your scenarios, you should aim for four. This is a good number because it provides a variety of plausible futures.

  7. Examine the implications of the scenarios: This is where the team assesses the current state using tools like a SWOT analysis to identify impacts and potential adjustments to your strategy.

  8. Identify ways to monitor changes: Monitoring helps account for risks and opportunities in your strategic planning. Start by identifying what signals movement in each driver and scenario.

Leaders facing environmental conditions like today without scenario planning will likely either stop strategic planning and only operate in the short term or take too much risk and gamble on one specific future.


How can your organization move beyond what is already known and evolve your strategic planning approach?

References:


Chermack, T. (2011). Scenario planning in organizations: How to create, use, and assess scenarios. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.


Cornish, E. (2005). Futuring: The exploration of the future (First Paperback ed.). World Future Society.

Lewis, K., (2019). Preparing for the 2030 labor market. HR Magazine.



Ludwig, L., Giesecke, J.,& Walton, L. (2010), Scenario planning: a tool for academic health sciences libraries. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 27: 28-36.


Lund, S., Manyika, J., Segel, L., Dua, A., Hancock, B., Rutherford, S., and Macon, B. (2019). The future of work in America: People and places, today and tomorrow. McKinsey & Company.


Nugent, T. (2020). 9 trends that will shape business education in 2020. Business Because.


Tibbs, H. (2000). Making the future visible: Psychology, scenarios, and strategy. Global Business Network.



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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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