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Topics: Change

In an earlier blog, I raised the question to what extent is your organization tapping abilities to support innovation and encourage employees to create the future, not merely react or adapt to it?

If you accept the world is changing – and changing fast on many levels – then the need for the ability to make change happen in an organization is patently clear. Businesses, government and nonprofits cannot continue doing things the way they did in the past. There is a need to be aware of the assumptions, biases, and blind spots that could make your organization no longer relevant.

How is awareness such as this developed? In the good old days (though continues to this day by some!), leaders relied on strategic planning processes that typically included an internal SWOT assessment, market analysis, benchmarking vis a vis the competition, a look at emerging trends (including customer expectations and new technologies) and pricing strategy. Such planning processes had their limitations. As the book, Blue Ocean Strategy www.blueoceanstrategy.com suggested (way back in 2005) such an approach not only took too long before the data became out of date but also the very process itself constrained participants to thinking inside the box. The process itself curtailed creativity.

The key to creating agility and adaptability is to move beyond thinking how to respond to the current state to thinking how you might actually shape the future and develop new value. This necessitates deep conversations with diverse stakeholders inside and outside your organization to identify the advantages you can leverage. The conversations will reveal what is no longer of value and what you could do differently to thrive in the new order which, by definition, will be (vastly) different from the known world in which you function today. Risky? Yes. But failure to think this way is far riskier.

Whenever I receive a call from someone wanting help with a strategic plan, I therefore ask a few basic questions:

• What do you want the plan for? (Is it simply to identify tactics to propel existing goals? To satisfy a requirement of a Board of Directors?)
• What are you most concerned about as you approach adopting a strategic planning process? (Any mention of ‘the competition’, ‘inconsistent performance’, ‘a problem team’, ‘it’s expected’ etc. and I will typically dive in with questions to identify whether the leadership is even thinking about the new world order).
• What have you been doing to tap the creativity of your employees? (It’s amazing to me how many CEOs draw a blank on that one or they say something along the lines that they have been too busy keeping up with “other stuff”)
• Who are you willing to engage in the process? (If it’s just the ‘top team” I alert them to the importance of execution and the need for those responsible for execution to have a place at the table. These executioners may not be so emotionally vested in the current state as their leaders and may have much needed ‘outside the box’ thinking skills!

It’s not simply how we work that needs to change but the way we focus and engage in planning has to transform. That’s where the real work happens!

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