Towards strategic flexibility
Trever Cook links to the Association Blog which writes about Strategic flexibility.
“strategic planning, an approach grounded in the command-and-control management model, fails to produce the requisite creativity and dynamism necessary for associations to succeed strategically in the years ahead.” The point here, I think, is not that strategy is bad or unnecessary, rather that just doing a strategy and faithfully implementing it free of any meaningful interaction with the world is absurd. So: “in successful companies, tactics drive strategy as much or more than strategy drives tactics. These companies do something and learn from it. It changes their thinking ... Sometimes, the very first tactic you execute changes your plan. Amen! If you want to get from A to Z, first you must do A. And once you do, guess what -- B changes. You realize B isn't what you thought B was. Or you realize you can skip ahead to D. Or you realize that A didn't work out and you need to start from scratch. Or you realize you didn't really want to get to Z in the first place.”
In reality, of course, great strategists have always adapted quickly to a changing environment and have used their strategic capabilities to quickly assess and respond to opportunities and threats as they arise. The challenge is not to faithfully implement some dusty document, but to be so deeply immersed in the ‘action’, while also seeing that action from a broader perspective, that you can make the strategy a lived reality. We could call this approach to strategy ‘action informed by thought’ rather than ‘action for the sake of doing something’.
But back to command and control: Old-school association strategic plans lock organizations into mindsets that are outdated before the laserprinter is done spitting them out. They stifle innovation and create a "pass-the-buck" mentality among staff, who are rewarded for following the rules rather than introducing innovation -- and who can easily blame the plan (and by extension, the association's leaders/members) when ideas that sounded good eight months ago in a boardroom fail miserably in the field. Every one of us has the capacity to be a strategist. In fact, the capacity to set goals and to think backwards and forwards through time and to conceptualise (think in generalities) – all the skills we associate with strategy and planning – are some of the essential differences between ourselves and other species.
Too often strategies have failed, and got a bad reputation with employees, because they are designed and used as a means of control – the modern version of Taylorism. Instead, we should see ‘strategic thinking’ as a way of making employees more creative, innovative and productive by engaging them fully in the strategy process as a way of life (‘thinking about what we do’) not as a dusty manual.