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

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. In yacht racing you have a clear destination and every person on the yacht knows what the destination is. Strategies are devised in while still in harbour but once out of the harbour they recognise that things can change. You may have plotted to head north but you discover that competitors are heading south, do you change your plan and follow or keep with the original plan? 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 and intuitive. As conditions around you change so do strategy and tactics. The one element that does not is your destination or quest, 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 – it’s not something left solely up to people in the ivory tower). Ultimately the skipper (as is the CEO) is responsible for the strategy but the team is integral to developing the strategy as it emerges.

The days of long term strategic planning are over and the strategic process needs to be reinvented yacht racing can provide answers.

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

Dean van Leeuwen is a partner of TomorrowToday International, a dynamic organisation that is assisting both large and small companies navigate the rich streams of the new economy. He is recognised as a creative and strategic thinker with an ability to influence individuals and teams to explore ‘outside the box’ options. TomorrowToday have several entertaining and enlightening multimedia presentations that explore themes relevant to customer loyalty, talent, diversity and leadership in tomorrow’s world of work.

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