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Strategic Planning: it’s about creating a movement, not just a plan

Nearly every organization uses strategic planning. Few, however, leverage its full power. Too often people adopt the “usual” definition of strategic planning that goes something like this: strategic planning is a plan or a blueprint for achieving a vision or overarching goal.

While this is true and important, I would contend that strategic planning, at its best, is about CREATING A MOVEMENT in which people with shared interests and passion move ideas strategically into action.

Recently, I’ve kicked off my strategy summits by showing Derek Sivers’s TED Talk “How to start a movement” to help people reframe strategic planning. I do this to communicate that if we can engage and expand upon people’s shared interests and passions, commitment increases, leading to more meaningful business results and a stronger organization. By focusing on creating a movement, company’s not only create a living plan but also unleash a culture of strategic thinkers, actors, innovators, and learners.

Three key ideas that enable this movement are:

  1. Creating Shared Understanding for Coordinated Action:  In order to advance any plan or movement, shared understanding is essential.  From creating a shared vision of the future to developing and agreeing on key goals and priorities, it is critical to achieve not only common ground but also higher ground. This means moving beyond competing agendas to embracing  “both/and” solutions and improbable pairs.  This process is messy and emergent, but critical if people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives are to come together for coordinated action.
  2. Maximizing Free Choice: Once you have agreed on a shared vision and key goals/priorities, the next step is to organize and plan. People must consider “what” they will do. They must own a piece of the plan – figure out how to participate in the movement. This is where free choice, interest, and passion, intersect. In The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in MotionJohn Hagel describes passion as “a sustained and deep commitment to achieving our full potential and greater capacity for self-expression in a domain that engages us on a personal level.“ He goes on to emphasize that people must integrate passion into their professions. I couldn’t agree more. Bottom-line, where passion and choice thrive so does curiosity, creative solutions, and committed action to bring plans to life.
  3. Balancing Planning with Improvisation: We do create plans…they’re just part of a bigger picture, a bigger movement.  We help organizations create a “strategy on a page” or a “strategy roadmap.” Both help groups move from traditional action planning mode (long laundry lists of activities) to a more adaptive mindset. While the ultimate destination might change, a minimal enabling structure (roadmap) gives people both the confidence to move forward into the unknown and the flexibility to improvise along the way.

If companies can create a shared understanding among their people, honor free choice, bridle the passions people bring to the organization, and allow for improvisation, they can not only achieve coordinated action, they can create a movement. And, a movement is unstoppable.

– See more at: SOARing from SWOT – 4 lessons in strategic planning done right

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