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Thought on the Start of Strategic Planning
At work, I will play a significant role in the upcoming strategic planning process. To many, that might sound dull, dry, and perhaps even depressing. To those who feel that way, you have my fullest condolences.

Much has changed since the existing strategic plan was adopted and implemented. The COVID-19 Pandemic has run its course leaving profound changes in its wake. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has exploded onto the scene with transformational implications. Just these two developments could create the sense that one is a mere bystander to passing events or a powerless prisoner of fate. Such sentiments are toxic to the strategic planning process. They strip it of bold vitality before it even has a chance to begin.

Stories that set the stage for the process can provide a "clean slate" and build a sense of direction that puts the odds of success one's favor. Good framing can lead participants to see challenges as opportunities in themselves and recognize past failures as chances to improve.

Anyone who has lived (and that's everyone within an organization) has stories to tell. AI might even reinforce storytelling. A personal story with relevance to starting the strategic planning process:

One summer day, I parked my car and walked home. It had been hazy, hot, and humid. As I neared home, the first large drops of rain hit the burning asphalt and parched dirt triggering a powerful scent of petrichor. A brisk cooling breeze set in. The relief from the day's heat, even if short-lived and followed by the punishment of higher humidity, was welcome.

Suddenly, something brilliant white that seemed to be floating toward the ground in front of me caught my attention. The bright light was mesmerizing. It was beautiful. It was dramatic. Down it came until it could descend no farther, making contact with the wet concrete just in front of me to connect the sky with the ground. There was a deafening explosion and then silence.

Had things been different—had I been just a few seconds earlier or 2 meters farther ahead—I might not be here. My now 12-year-old son might not be here.


Differences in small details at a specific moment in time can produce monumentally different futures.The start of the strategic planning process is just such a meaningful moment in the life of an organization. The beginning of the strategic planning process creates the nuances that ultimately make big differences in what the organization becomes. Those nuances are matters of choice even if every event is beyond choice or foresight.

At the very beginning, the recognition that choice matters, along with a courageous willingness to take an imaginative look ahead, are crucial. A status quo perspective--what the organization is right now and all the metrics that describe its current state--is the enemy of its future. As Shakespeare wisely observed, "...every plan breaks easily, because the intention is a slave to memory."

One must go beyond memory. One must leave a past that is beyond one's control to change and the present that this past has birthed behind. One must begin to construct the future. Only imagination can break the shackles of status quo thinking.

A handful of big questions guides the imagination. Such questions include: How will you "write" the next chapter of your organization's story? What will your organization look like in the imagined future? Who will you include in that story? What role will you play? That will be the charge I give those who will work with me.

The questions implicitly assume that the organization has a future, it has the ability to chart its destiny, its people are its essential resource, and that it will shape the lives and wellbeing of people. The answers to those fundamental questions form the rich foundation on which the organization can plan its journey into the future.

Only afterward, metrics, specific tasks, responsible people, and myriad other details come into consideration. Only then, can one be confident that the organization's strategic plan will not 'break easily' when it comes into first contact with reality.

4 comments

William Sutherland said:

Excellent article! Was it a meteor that fell from the sky?
3 months ago

Don Sutherland said:

It was a stroke of lightning.
3 months ago

William Sutherland said:

Good thing it missed you. Nevertheless it would've been just as bad as a falling meteorite.
3 months ago

Kayleigh said:

☆☆☆
3 months ago ( translate )