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How to leverage planning in an ever-changing tactical world

Apr 21 2016

How to leverage planning in an ever-changing tactical world

Solution Focus, PlanningHave you noticed how your colleagues are scrambling in most meetings? Do you wish everyone could sing from the same song sheet? Do you long for the good old days when things didn’t seem as out of control?

What’s going on? Unless you live in a walled garden, the digital revolution – the web and social media – has radically reframed our customer’s behaviour, our competitors’ behaviours and our organization’s operational behaviours, it’s not just a marketing issue. Hence, the apparent chaos and barrage of tactics that may or may not be connected to the big picture.

Why plan in a world where everything is unpredictable?

Planning is still sometimes done with the engineer’s mindset, i.e., in order to ensure goals are met we must explore every risk / opportunity in rigorous detail. In a constantly changing, unpredictable world this is no longer viable in many businesses. What you carefully planned a year ago is now likely defunct.

What to do?

1. Use the planning process to figure out the outcomes you want to deliver (to customers, to stakeholders / shareholders).
2. Be agile, responsive and learning focused.

1.   Use the planning process to figure out the outcomes you want to deliver (to customers, to stakeholders / shareholders)

Assess the degree to which your business changes regularly:

    • If you operate in a low customer-focus business, say pension fund management, strategic change won’t happen regularly, but certain operational aspects may change frequently. This suggests that planning should focus more on operational change in order to make the business more efficient.
    • On the other hand, if you run a wireless telco business, expect constant strategic and operational change. Strategic plans and operational plans have to be created and reviewed regularly.
    • If you run a healthcare business where change used to happen slowly, you now feel pressured by change and you are required to become more customer focused, then strategy and operational planning should become your best friend.

Remember that most of what you predict will be battered by reality, but if you know where you want to go, you will be able to deal with ambiguity and react purposefully to change.

2. Be agile, responsive and learning focused

  • Define the role of strategic and operational planning that works best for your organization (see above) and communicate its role widely in the organization.
  • Make sure the planning involves staff, mid-management and key stakeholders. Most importantly, create cross-functional operational plans, starting in the executive suite.
  • Embed conscious reference to the plans in all meetings.
  • Engage people in learning from implementation mistakes.
  • Ensure constant reviews and adjustment to strategy.
  • Measure outcomes, not process or programs.

Here’s some Solution Focused questions to ask yourself about outcomes you might want from this approach:

  • Suppose we were to be driven by planning and agility, what would we achieve as a result?
    • Where do we already plan and remain agile?
  • Suppose messages from the top of the organization were communicated on a regular basis and feedback was constantly sought, how would our customers and shareholders benefit?
    • When we communicate effectively from the top, what works?
  • Suppose our people were  agile and planning-oriented, how would that make their contribution more effective?
    • Where are we already agile and planning-oriented?
  • Suppose our people knew how to make effective decisions within the framework of planning when things are ambiguous or we are without clear data, what would we learn?
    • Where do we already most effective in decision-making and how?
  • Suppose this made us visibly sustainable, how would that attract people to want to work with us?

How do you see yourself using Solution Focus in your next planning project?

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Alan Kay