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Steam or electricity – why bother with strategy?

At a recent conference it was stated that 75% of not-for-profit organisations or companies do not have a strategic plan!

Strategic planning can and should be a dynamic process that crystallises purpose and identifies tactics that are useful, measurable and achieve mission.

Even more so this planning should always provide a dynamic lens to prepare for the future.

Many people dread the annual strategic planning lock up. Senior management disappear and after some grinding work developing more paper-based planning (punctuated with dinner and a bit too much wine) the ‘plan’ is presented to a Board. At the end of the day the piece of paper – the ‘plan’ – is usually seen as a servant to fiscal commitments (that is determined by the budget) not a way to generate new ideas that will take the company into the future.

Producing a ‘plan’ is crucial, but it’s only one challenge to overcome.

The unconscious commitment to a particular view of the things by those in the planning process is another. A person’s unconscious worldview or the collective commitments of a group in the organisation that shapes thoughts and inhibits new ones – that perhaps is the greatest challenge to overcome when strategic planning takes place.

Don’t think so?

I recall a well-told story in my MBA program of America’s largest and most powerful transport company – a steam train business – Baldwin Locomotive Works – that in 1900 was the biggest, the best and the most profitable. Their steam trains were ‘best practice’. Looking strategically into the future they commissioned a consultant to research future options to develop their business.

The consultant’s final report about strategic future options for the company was rejected in full by the Board of Directors. The consultant had come to the conclusion that the future was ‘electricity’ not ‘steam’.

The Directors proudly asserted that they had the best transport company in the world, the best steam engines ever made and a robust company that would steam into the future.

And so the company went out of business.

Commitment to ‘steam’ – a worldview – a particular view of their business that precluded alternative futures and new ways of transporting people and goods, contributed to the demise of a great business.

Strategic planning needs to commence with a process that provides opportunity for those participating in the planning process to critically reflect on their own worldviews and how these might inhibit their acceptance of a new future that just might be an alternative to going out of business.

Critical thinking is an essential ingredient in the strategic planning process offered by The Dragonfly Collective. Check out what we do.

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