While the circumstances of the past few years have been frightful, the reality is that, as organizational leaders, we know that now, more than ever, our members and various stakeholders require our support and guidance. This must be considered an opportunity for organizations, as history has demonstrated that often it is those who emerge from hardship best that go on to be triumphant.
General Electric, General Motors, IBM, FedEx, Burger King, CNN, Uber and Airbnb are just some examples of enormously successful organizations that were founded during trying times.
Character of growth
As a South African and someone who worked for and knew President Nelson Mandela personally, I take great pride in employing some of his awe-inspiring statements, like the following: “It is in the character of growth that we should learn from both pleasant and unpleasant experiences.” (November 1997)
While the pandemic has disrupted our lives for two years now, this is a man who wrongly served 27 years of his life in prison and regardless of the tremendous hardships and mistreatments suffered he still emerged as a President who pursued a progressive and inclusive ideology for the country.
In respect of strategic planning, what we are basically striving for in our organizations by way of our various think tanks, visions, goals etc., is to create what I often refer to as the “perfect storm”. This represents a set of circumstances where an organization’s offerings are of such nature that stakeholders who already are participants undoubtedly wish to continue participating and prospective ones vehemently long to become part of the journey. This includes current and potential employees of the organization.
While much is made of the process of strategic planning, in essence it relates to the realization of: (1) where the organization is at a specific stage, (2) where we want the organization to go, (3) how we believe we can get there and (4) how we are going to assess whether we got there.
As an example, at the Executive Master in Association Management of Solvay School of Business & Economics, a strategic vision for an organisation is defined as follows: “An ambitious image of a future state that is radically preferable to the current state, according to those who develop it. It is a box that becomes a reference for an organization, and thus serves as a guide allowing each employee to approach work more effectively”
This is a very creative description of a strategic vision and involves having to know in detail what the organization’s current state is – good and bad. It also involves a process of having to establish what, for all our role players, a radically preferred picture of the future should or could look like. And, to complete the process, agreement must be reached on the proverbial “box of tricks” which, if fulfilled by the agreed role players at the agreed time, will lead to us realizing that envisioned new state.
To best determine this radically preferred picture of the future, when taking into consideration the likely effects of the pandemic, organizations will need to increase the extent to which they engage with their stakeholders, prior to the strategic process and thereafter. This stakeholder engagement involves all appropriate information gathering means available to the organization.
Intensively understanding the various difficulties our stakeholders require to mitigate, together with the opportunities they are seeking to explore, is what will allow us to meaningfully find the innovation, tools, solutions, knowledge, or box of tricks if you like, to create that “perfect storm’ for our organization.
Rightfully, much is made of organizational agility as it aids adjusting to market and internal changes, but as we all know agility requires the latest intelligence. Commensurately during volatile times, strategic planning processes may also require an increase in regular intelligence and, as a result, we may want to consider the prospect of an agile strategy requiring regular review.
Because we have been unable to convene with our stakeholders in the same way we did before the pandemic and considering the many changes that happened over the past two years, asking the right questions to our organization’s stakeholders is currently of such an importance that it would even be sensible to host a pre-strategy session for everyone to be aligned on what, how and when to ask.
Obtaining feedback from stakeholders regularly, as part of the strategic review process, will bear fruit as the pandemic and its effects are still ongoing. Same as with an agile project management approach.
Unfortunately, not many individuals have the time to diligently read extended commentaries or complete surveys as everyone is already exposed to large amounts of information and simply don’t have the time.
Therefore, the challenge or rather the opportunity for leaders and their respective teams involves finding innovative ways to create reciprocal internal and external communication mediums, which will provide the executive team with the latest stakeholder intelligence. This will be needed to strategize, evaluate, and adjust as the global evolves.
I end by wishing you all the very best with your respective strategic endeavors during the coming year and one final statement made by President Mandela: “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
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