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8 minute read

3 Reasons Why Your Three-Five Year Strategic Plan is Sabotaging Your Future

Dr. Thomas Vande Zande
8 minute read

A few days late, but in honor of May the 4th be with you, I present the Darth Vader to your company’s Luke Skywalker. It's sitting on your shelf after being excitedly developed in your recent three-day offsite meeting. This enemy is your three- to five-year strategic plan. It exists with a shining aura of safety and security that gives you a sense of relief—relief that you have planned for the future, for another year or three of successful operations. However, the question remains: have you indeed planned for the future?

Are you aware that strategic plans, in reality, do not plan for the future? These so-called “strategic plans” are developed through mission and vision exercises and then enhanced by a SWOT or gap analysis. If you're lucky, you identify some future tasks to improve your current operations. These plans should be called three-five-year operational plans instead if strategic plans. But, therein lies the problem: real strategic plans need to be a roadmap to the many possible futures that an organization may encounter. That roadmap needs to monitor outcomes of the broader environment on an ongoing basis for course correction and proper navigation to your preferred future. It should also have specific actions, accountability for execution, and measurable results, creating a clear path forward.

So why do typical strategic plans not hit the mark? Here are 3 clues there might be a dark side to your strategic plan.

Plans Are Based on Current Business Models and Not Potential Futures

The first problem with many strategic plans is their lack of identification of the current organizational reality. The plans don’t typically consider or challenge the underlying assumptions of the current business model. Challenging assumptions can be as simple as asking: “How do we keep our business model relevant and what happens if our environment changes?”

The harsh reality is that strategic plans created today only reflect things organizations already know. They don’t stimulate future thinking or actions that are outside of the current operations. By basing their strategic plans on the current business model that only represents “how we operate today,” many organizations are missing the opportunity to challenge their current reality in meaningful and useful ways.

Non-Forward-Looking Vision Statements

The second reason many three- to five-year plans fall short is their basis in the currently crafted vision statements. Vision statements may not consider alternative futures at all. By crafting the “vision” as the starting point of the planning process, without consideration of potential alternative futures, we end up with a false sense of completeness. It doesn’t stretch the imagination to consider the other possible futures that could also exist given specific significant environmental changes and events between now and a future time.

Let’s take a moment and give kudos to those who have some actionable tasks meant to get them to their pre-crafted visions. However, what happens if a change makes one or more of those tasks completely irrelevant? It wouldn't be the first time a company misses a significant change that makes their vision, and possibly business model, irrelevant. These vision statements do not usually consider the internal and external environmental changes happening today or in the future that could invalidate them altogether.

The real question should be: What could change today that makes the vision completely irrelevant and what should l be doing about it? We should only develop vision statements after careful assessment of the organization's possible alternative futures. Considerations of changes in technological, socio-demographic, economic, and legal environments, to name a few, should be a significant part of this process.

Absence of Active Scanning

The final reason for failing three- to five-year plans is a lack of active environmental scanning. Scanning requires the aggressive and deliberate search for potential environmental changes that could impact the organization's possible futures. The ideal is the identification of events that portend the advent of significant change allowing the organization to get ahead of the trend and proactively take action. Being able to anticipate events and discover clues which help identify which potential future is most likely to unfold provides the basis for timely and informed strategic actions.

Adapting to change is much easier when we see it coming versus being blindsided or surprised and having to put out a raging fire.

So, What Now?

The typical way organizations create and use (or don’t use) their strategic three- to five-year plans has to change. There should be an aggressive challenge to the current reality, consideration of alternative futures before vision development, and an active scanning for clues to which futures are possible.

By shifting your current perspective to the future, you can be better informed to create a compelling organizational vision and truly strategic plan to pursue and achieve your preferred future. Do not rely on your three- to five-year plan based on your knowledge of today’s environment as your foundation for the consideration of your future. A consulting futurist can help your organization create and maintain a regular and timely cadence of strategic thinking, planning, and execution to help you plot the course and avoid being seduced by the Dark Side. Let Flagship Futures Group show you how today:

Image credits: Disney/Lucasfilm

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