Strategic Planning: Disengaged Compliance or Engagement Opportunity

January 1, 2017 | Hacking Bureaucracy

The Compliance Challenge

Strategic Planning has been with us for some time now. The good is that having a plan is probably still a better idea than not having a plan. The bad is that such matters are often still done out of a sense of compliance and is still seen as a high cost“ product created in part by inside “outsiders” and outside “insiders.” The ugly is that eventual I.3 lb., double spaced tome… full of jargon, laced with pre-determined outcomes, all too soon shelved, like an aging bottle of Baby Duck going nowhere in terms of quality and flavor.

So lets look at a few reasons why the old school Strategic Planning models may not suit todays exciting organizations…

There may have been too often a temptation to “get ‘er done” with a small group and subsequently hire outsiders, who with a few insiders get together and just make it happen.
The content often more reflects a tactical plan than a strategic plan and often got very bulky, detailed and more than a little into the weeds.
There may have been tendencies to have the plan lean into stressing the wants and needs and even pre-determined outcomes of senior management rather than a reflection of what the system may have to say about the real needs.
Simplicity may not have been in play…plain language, user-friendly accessibility and maybe even a little poetry and storytelling were not often staples of many conventional Strategic Planning documents.
Consider for a moment the place of courage in the process…

How often did you read a Strategic Plan (actually how often did you read a Strategic Plan?) that tackled a real environmental scan that included internal and external politics, big positive and negative social trends and assorted leviathan elephants in the room?

The Opportunity Option
Let’s imagine moving the Strategic Planning efforts a little further down the opportunity line. Many of us have spent the last few decades exploring the emerging role of continuous engagement (rather than episodic engagement) in both the workplace and community domains.

The engagement science (Gallup) tells us that in many of our organizations we have often less than 30% of our people feeling fully engaged. We know that our best-laid and often costly programs are not catching on in our organization cultures because of this “engagement gap.” We might want to consider getting our engagement score up or at least moving in the positive direction before “rolling out” any more high profile innovative programs.

We could perhaps work harder to spot what we might call “continuous engagement opportunities” in our own organizations…these opportunities should of course, be real time workplace opportunities not the ubiquitous once a year all staff, town hall type opportunities.

Imagine that one such engagement opportunity might be the annual Strategic Planning process…

We could envision three real strategic opportunities…

The Strategic Thinking opportunity …
We are generally not wired to “think big.” Even the CEO or ADM who spent their early careers as an auditor or a policy analyst may have some difficulty not viewing their organization through the micro lens of their own skills, passions or history. Folks in the front line, on the other hand, may not imaging that they have the right or the task to see the bigger pictures outside of the cubicle or cab of the truck.
What if we were to encourage, at Strategic Planning time, that everyone and I mean everyone in the organization, for one month of the year, to think together of bigger opportunities for their work to be done better and for more opportunities to improve their field…e.g. November could now be Strategic Thinking month.
The big challenge would be how to gather and harvest the best of this great thinking…fresh Intel, if you will, hence…

The Strategic Conversation opportunity …
We now know that we have some exceptional tools and abilities to engage whole systems in conversations both face to face and virtually (check out the new hybrid big conversation model) What if every corner of your organization held at least one great OpenSpace or “big room” and “open line” conversation every November with the tag…”In order for our organization to move forward with bigger and better ideas in the coming year, we should have a conversation about…”
This one effort alone would reap some amazing Intel but to get there you would need…

The Strategic Capacity opportunity …
From a cost and full system engagement lens, the best way to deliver great engagement conversations is to have the ability to deliver from the inside and the best delivery mechanism we have seen so far is the Engagement Community of Practice model. There are many staff members in our organizations who have either chosen to develop their own entrepreneurial, corner of the desk, leadership practice or who would love to be encouraged to start their own practice.

You may have to invest a little up front in the building of this capacity but every year down the road you will now have the capability, skills and internal passion and energy to do your innovative November Strategic Thinking and Conversation month.

In conclusion, one of the things I hated the most about the old school Strategic Planning process was the thought of, once again, a few top dogs, a planner and a contractor with a flipchart heading out to a resort or somewhere nice to draft the annual plan. They would then “pretty” it up in a big old binder or perhaps the new fangled kick ass PowerPoint and then present it to us at an “all-staff” meeting. The tag line at the end of the meeting was…”we hope you appreciate the work that went into this and all we need from you now is your “buy-in.” There was my buddy and I, old front line dudes muttering to ourselves…”why not take us to the resort if you really want my buy-in?

What this little piece is about is actually that we could actually take everybody to the resort by engaging your whole system (staff, partners, clients and supporters) brought in at the front end with these strategic opportunities instead of trying to buy them in at the back end.

Perhaps the notion of the Strategic Planning process as an exciting opportunity for engagement rather than a grim compliance activity has come around.