CEOs lose faith in strategic planning, they should look to yacht racing for answers

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The Great Recession has made CEOs rethink strategic planning. Walt Shill, head of the North American management consulting practice for Accenture believes that: “Strategy, as we knew it, is dead…Corporate clients decided that increased flexibility and accelerated decision making are much more important than simply predicting the future.”

In my my latest presentation Brave New World which explores the realities of the new world of work and steps companies need to take to become a talented company, I compare strategic planning of today with that of yacht racing. Strategic planning of yesteryear was more like an egg and spoon race. Competitors lined up at the annual starting line, ran in a straight line from point A to point B, making minor quarterly changes (normally to budgets and not strategy!) and once in a while someone dropped the ball (in this case the boiled egg) and pandemonium ensued.

However, for the modern talented company strategic planning is like yacht racing. Talented companies have a clear destination or vision of where they want to get to. But once out of the harbour they recognise that things can change. The course you plotted may head north but you discover that competitors are heading south, do you change your plan and follow or keep track? A weather system may develop causing rough seas on your route, do you tack around the storm or hit it head on? The key for yacht racing is that strategy is emergent! As conditions around you change so do strategy and tactics. The one element that does not is your destination (vision), how you get there depends on team work (in emergent strategy everyone understands the quest, provides input and is involved in the strategic planning process). Ultimately the skipper (as should the CEO) steers the boat and emergent strategy required bold leadership but the team is integral to the strategy as it emerges.

The days of long term strategic planning are over but that does not mean that strategic process is dead it has just changed. Strategic planning has now become emergent strategic planning.

For more information on emergent strategy and what it can do for your business please contact me.

You can read more about the latest thinking on strategic planning in the Wall Street Journal

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