Once the darling of every business, taught in every business school, strategic planning can no longer address the challenges of our Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous (VUCA) world.  Almost as quickly as we start the implementation, the world has changed and shifted.  Though traditional planning may no longer serve, we still need clarity of direction

Strategic Planning is Dead

Strategy is a process of defining where we are, where we want to be and how we get there.  Whether we are addressing achieving project objectives or achieving long term corporate goals, the path to success requires closing the gap from where we are to where we want to be.

This is true for individuals and organizations, for simple tasks to large complex initiatives.  Yet in today’s dynamically changing world, when we execute the environment is not likely to be the same one in which we planned.

A client asked us to help them develop the strategy, the key initiatives, clear responsibilities defining who would do what by when and even scheduled regular follow up meeting to keep them on track and focused.  By the first quarterly review, two of the seven key initiatives no longer applied due to changes in the competitive environment.

The military saying “no plan survives the first engagement with the enemy” is applicable in today’s business environment.  This is why so many strategic plans end up sitting on the shelf, outdated within 1 to 2 months after they were developed.

 Strategic Clarity is Critical

Yet every organization needs to have a clear sense of where it is going and why.  It is critical for establishing priorities, guiding resource allocation, setting the context for making decisions and aligning the organization. What is needed is not a strategic plan, but a Strategic Compass™.   A process to provide the guidance needed to navigate to the future.

I was working with a client who wanted to achieve better alignment among her executive team.  She organized a strategic offsite for the team to gain clarity on their purpose, their “true north.”  I remember how we spent time selecting the right words, developing a clear statement that everyone agreed captured the very essence of why they existed.  As we sat back and read what the group developed, one executive said,” it says all the right things, but it feels flat.”

These and many other examples made me realize that the way we approach strategy development had to change, whether at the project team level or the corporate level.

Developing a mission/vision/values statement, even defining the deep purpose, often feels flat and does not achieve its intended function of energizing and aligning the organization.  And rarely does a structured plan, however well thought out, get implemented as developed.

The Living Organization® Strategic Compass

A complex living organization operating in a complex, dynamically changing environment can no longer rely on a set of initiatives developed by an executive team to serve as a recipe for execution.  To execute in today’s environment, we must be able to respond, to whatever comes our way as a collective.  We need an organizing principle, a rudder to guide our way forward.  The Strategic Compass is that organizing principle.  It is a narrative built on four key components.

  • The Soulful Purpose™
  • The Mission
  • The Vision of Future Impact
  • Guiding Beliefs

The Strategic Compass is a different approach. While the elements may look similar to mission/values/vision, It is not so much a set of statements as it is a set of narratives and stories.  Stories give energy to the ideas and concepts that form the compass.  They bring the compass to life and provide guidance for the organization to respond to the unknowable future.  Stories give employees the understanding of how to apply the compass to the challenges they face on the front lines, allowing them a degree of autonomy to move the mission of the organization forward.

I worked for Hewlett-Packard from 1973 to 1988, a time when HP was the still an iconic figure, the darling of Silicon Valley.  I grew through the ranks becoming a key executive in the largest sale region in North America.  Much of the leadership principles that infuse The Living Organization® model was forged from my experiences at HP.

We lived by the HP Way.  It guided every choice and decision we made.  The HP Way allowed everyone to know what were the guiderails by which we operated.  It was never written down, yet everyone knew what it was.  We knew when we were abiding by it and when we weren’t.  It wasn’t until the late 70s early 80s, due to a period of hyper growth that a document was developed that tried to codify the key elements of the HP Way.

The HP way was embodied in a set of narratives and stories about what it meant to work and lead at HP.

Don’t build plans, build a Strategic Compass that serve as aligning guiderails allowing your organization to operate with agility and flexibility while keeping on track to fulfill your Soulful Purpose.

For more information about the Strategic Compass click here