Traditional strategic planning is often neither “strategic” nor much of a “plan”. It usually resembles a peace treaty more than clear marching orders for an organization. Strategic planning also tends to be out-dated the moment it’s written.
I like this characterization from consultant Richard Gold:
“Traditionally, strategic planning has been a hierarchical, top-down process where someone in the organization sorts out the strategy for other people in the organization to implement and hands it out at the end of the year like some kind of dystopian holiday gift.”
This year has revealed the limitations of a rigid annual planning process even more starkly, as the best-laid plans of 2019 were quickly thrown out the window. Trying to read the tea leaves through all the uncertainty of 2021 will be even trickier.
There has been a lot of talk the last few years on the importance of being agile. But agility alone doesn’t replace the role of planning. Ultimately organizations have to find a way to do both.
As Alessandro Di Fiore put it in an HBR article a couple years ago:
“If planning and agility are both necessary, organizations have to make them work. They have to create a Venn diagram with planning on one side, agility on the other, and a practical and workable sweet-spot in the middle. This is why the quest to rethink strategic planning has never been more urgent and critical. Planning twenty-first century style should be re-conceived as agile planning.”
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: