I am often surprised by what generates reaction on the part of readers. There are some things you just know are going to get the words flyingâ€”most thoughtful arguments against social media on this or any of the other association blogs, for example.
And I admit to deliberate attempts (which sometimes work and sometimes don't) to fan the flames.
But I was surprised at the vehement reaction that "The Perils of Strategic Planning," an August Associations Now article, generated. It was so strong, we had to create a blog post about it to let people vent/converse. I was surprised by the reaction because, frankly, I didn't think what Jim Hollan wrote was particularly controversial. I thought the idea of strategic planning having lost its vitality and usefulness in favor of a more nimble, open planning process was pretty well set.
This is a long way of getting to the point of this post. I may not have given this a second thought, but when I ran across a video of the authors of Fast Strategy: How strategic agility will help you stay ahead of the game, it reminded me of that big debate. I have not read the book yet, so I can't give my thoughts on it, but their basic message seems to reinforce Hollan's point. This is from an article about the book in the Insead Knowledge newsletter:
Kosonen says he faced the challenges of strategic agility for years in his roles with the Finnish telecoms firm as head of strategy and chief information officer. At Nokia he became familiar with two dimensions of strategic agility, he says, namely strategic sensitivity â€“ that is, the way in which an organisation views the world and whether it is â€˜open-mindedâ€™ and attentive enough to sense new opportunities and discontinuitiesâ€“ and secondly, â€˜resource fluidityâ€™ which relates to whether companies can redeploy resources rapidly enough to quickly exploit emerging opportunities in a complex and fast-changing environment.
This says to me that a planning process that takes 9 months or a year or (gulp) spans multiple years to develop a plan is useless. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be thinking about what the world will look like in 6 months or 12 months or even 36 months. But I do think that the further forward you look, the more you have to realize that it is highly unlikely that the world will actually turn out that way.
For associations, plans in the next 2 to 4 months can be pretty well set, with only major, unforeseeable events causing major changes. To me, that's really execution.
Plans for things 6 to 12 months away are where association leaders (and for large organizations at least, I mean staff and task force level volunteer levels) should be doing the bulk of their planning, and making changes to plans as the environment calls for.
More than 12 months should just be future plans, more ideas or outlines than plans really. And I think all leadersâ€”board, task force, staff, other interested constituentsâ€”should be engaged in the development of those outlines.
And finally, more than 24 months â€” this is the realm of the big picture. It's where, for example, the Realtor organizations might contemplate the future of their profession given how online sources may change how people buy and sell homes. I think it's important to have these conversations, but I don't think they result in anything resembling a plan. Too much is going to change before any actions would matterâ€”some changes will come faster than expected, other things may not change at all, and, no matter what, the change that does in fact come will have significant unpredictable components. But having the conversation can and should affect things in all the other planning time horizons.