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That’s the response I get from the people who are very passionate about strategic planning. In case you don’t know me, I think strategic planning is horrible. In Humanize, we devote nearly 8 full pages to why strategic planning doesn’t work. And it’s not just us pontificating. We cite respected business school professors, people published in Harvard Business Review, peer-reviewed research studies.
And these sources have been around for decades. This isn’t new. The way we do strategic planning is destined to NOT work. It is designed in a way that is deeply inconsistent with the way the world works.
“No,” strategic planning fans will say, “you’re just not doing strategic planning right!” They will concede that the boring, institutional approach to strategic planning that yields those glorious binders that sit on the shelf gathering dust is a thing of the past. That is BAD strategic planning. We definitely don’t want that. They will then try to sell you on their new dynamic, nimble, constantly evolving, “living plan document” system. Besides, you can’t get anywhere unless you have a strategy and some tactics, right? So we HAVE to do strategic planning. But maybe we should just call it something different?
So here’s the deal. I don’t care what you call it. And yes, strategy is important. Yes, planning is a useful human activity. I don’t think doing things purely at random is a great way to shape our future. But I think we’re missing a much bigger and more important point:
All of this is made up.
There is no universal law of management. We pulled it out of thin air. We made it up. And we don’t have terribly strong science to back it up, either. But we have been so immersed in our management regimes (our MECHANICAL management regimes) for so long, we take them as givens. We literally can’t imagine a world where we’re not centrally defining a strategy and a list of tactics for the minions to implement. But here’s the inconvenient truth: people get things done without those. A case in point comes from a blog post from Doug Shaw over in the UK.
Granted, he’s just one person. This is not a research finding. But it is shining a light on something very important: the way we manage is only assumed to make us more successful. I think it’s more likely that our organizations are succeeding despite the way we manage them, not because of it. And it’s quite possible that managing in radically different ways (like finally jettisoning strategic planning) could actually make us more successful.
Maybe–just maybe–the world is not flat. I know that sounds crazy, but I feel like it’s time for a few of us to have the courage to set sail, willing to fall off the edge of the earth, and bring the rest of you into the 21st century.
Jamie Notter is a Vice President at Management Solutions Plus, an AMCI-accredited association management company, where he leads the Consulting Division. Jamie brings twenty years of experience in conflict resolution, generations, diversity, social media, and leadership to his consulting work around organizational change. An accomplished blogger (link to www.getmejamienotter.com), author, and speaker, Jamie has written three books, including his most recent hardcover (with Maddie Grant), Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World (link to www.humanizebook.com).
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