Adaptive Strategy: Engaging with Complexity
The strategic plan is dead!
The strategic planning practices that were a reasonably good fit for the hierarchical business world from the 1950’s to the 1980’s were adapted from successful military strategies used during World War II. This approach to strategic planning predicted the future based on what was successful in the past; invested heavily in gathering data; and produced a focused number of goals and directives dictated from the top of the organization for the rest of the organization to execute.
The world has become a more turbulent place. Communication is rapid, networked, indiscriminate, and constant. Top down leadership is no longer effective.
We are experiencing a cross-roads. The rate of change has accelerated. The future is no longer reasonably predictable based on the past — in fact, it is liable to be startlingly different. Good data is easy to access, cheap to acquire, and frequently overwhelming (too much information).
Some strategic planning consultants are valiantly trying to save the old military style strategic planning by using more sophisticated and complex data gathering and analysis (Big Data). Some of us remember time consuming boring processes that produced thick volumes that ended up sitting on shelves collecting dust. Many are disillusioned with these ineffective strategic planning processes. Others deny the value of strategy, arguing that the complexity of our world demands agility above all else. The truth is that in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world strategy is still vitally important! The strategic plan may be dead, but long live strategy!
Robyn Morrison has developed an adaptive strategy process to replace dusty outdated strategic planning processes; Create, Initiate, Engage.
The Create, Initiate, Engage adaptive strategy creates a scenario of a preferred future and roadmap of the terrain between the present reality and the preferred future. Realizing that there will be many different options for reaching a destination, a set of highly agile navigational tools (or strategies) are developed.
Creating strategies that are truly adaptive requires giving up on many long-held assumptions, and letting go of ‘sacred cows’. The emphasis of the adaptive strategy process is on initiating rapid prototyping and experimentation so that the organization learns quickly about what actually works. Cutting through the excess of data and information, adaptive strategy emphasizes pattern recognition, allowing the organization to see the broader systemic issues (seeing the forest rather than just the trees).
Adaptive strategy Engages people in collective leadership where decisions are made quickly based on a real-time understanding of what’s happening. Instead of management dictating a plan and expecting everyone to stick with it, adaptive strategy sets a direction and provides a framework that empowers the whole organization as a team that is innovating it’s way to success. Top-down leadership is no longer effective, simple directives from the top are neither necessary nor helpful. Instead, adaptive strategy finds ways to Engage everyone by delegating authority, accountability, and responsibility to the front lines.
The Create, Initiate, Engage! adaptive planning process focuses on answering a series of four interrelated questions about the organizations preferred future:
- What is our vision and theory of change? What social challenge are we working to address and how do we believe that we can make a difference?
- Where will we play? What part of the ‘threat’ or ‘challenge’ should we work on, what role should we play, and where will we focus our efforts?
- How will we succeed? What actions, adaptations, and economic model are required, and how will we measure our success?
- What capabilities will we need? What skills and abilities will we need, individually and collectively, to create the impact we’ve set out to achieve? Who do we need on our team?
Robyn Morrison is the founder of Create, Initiate, Engage and is fascinated by Transformation — the process where creativity, initiative, and engagement overcome challenges and threats. Her consulting practice focuses on identifying preferred futures and opportunities, developing adaptive strategies, designing organizational engagement systems, helping organizations learn, and and facilitating groups through transformations.
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