Video lecture notes - Strategic Planning - week eight, Fall 2017

This week’s SP video lecture was extraordinarily valuable. Rather than listening to most of it sped up, I jumped back often and even slowed this one down in order to keep up taking notes.

Week eight VODcast

  • Strategic issues - the heart of strategic planning
  • Strategic issues are the really important, fundamental policy choices or challenges facing an org
  • Generally arise on the boundary of the organization with its environment, issues have implications for how org relates to its environment
  • Issues mark where a bridge is needed from org to its environment - strategies are that bridge
  • How issues are addressed will have a significant impact on how the organization survives or thrives, or doesn’t, in the future
  • Some things to keep in mind while identifying issues
    1. Should be something the org can do something about. If can’t do something about it, then its a condition you have to live with. Doesn’t mean action is easy, but possible.
    2. Issues should be fundamental or important challenges.
    3. Issues are boundary crossing, different departments, stakeholders, and orgs involved
    4. Issues often involve a lot of resources to address effectively
    5. Often serious political implications to strategic issues, need to be addressed carefully.
    6. Often when you head down a path addressing an issue, you can’t turn back. Need to be able to figure this out early
    7. Consequences are important - if there weren’t consequences, not much of an issue
  • Strategic planning at it’s best is an approach to practical politics, figuring out how to deal with small p political situations in a way that’s wise, effective, and addresses the politics which almost always arise when trying to effect change.
  • Useful to think about issues as driving politics. Way that they’re framed has a powerful effect on how people interpret their interests, how they assess costs and benefits, and what would count as a winning and losing argument
  • Part of the reason the strategy change cycle is designed how it is to slow people down, to keep people from jumping to conclusions about what the organization ought to do. Human beings are machines for jumping to conclusions, and you see that all the time in strategic planning.
  • Questions asked in strategic planning process should be ones which can have multiple different answers, engages and provokes thought.
  • front end of the process, getting people to think about initial agreements, mission/mandates, internal/external assessments, are to slow people down and ensure they have a better understanding of context in which they’re operating, and to open people up to listening to what other people have to say.
  • When you ask people about what the issues are, people will typically give you a strategy or solution and not the issue. So, say okay, and write them down. Point out that these are strategies, and then guide conversation to what are the issues that these strategies answer.
  • Once you have a sense of what the issues are that need to be addressed, important to probe around the issue definitions
  • Figure out how issues are related. Write them on sheets of paper, stick them on a wall, draw arrows between them.
  • Figure out the issue precedence order and network of relationships between them. Will help guide where you start and help you figure out what effective strategies might be.
  • Issues vary a lot in their nature - some are strategic (developmental), others are operational (non-developmental).
  • Distinction has implications for who needs to be involved with addressing an issue.
  • At high level, strategic level, need to have very senior level decision makers involved
  • Different kinds of issues involve different kinds of actors and different levels of the org
  • Once you’re clear about goals, next set of problems is how you achieve those goals. Then tends towards the operational (non-developmental)
  • Vision -> Goals -> Strategies -> Operations
  • Sometimes the process moves bottom up. i.e. when a Strategy isn’t working, so Goals are re-assessed.
  • Developmental issues typically involve tensions which pull the org in many different dimensions They may require substantial repositioning of the core business and may require a vision.
  • Non-developmental issues are less ambiguous, there’s more certainty about them. And they typically can be addressed based on existing decision premises
  • Paul Nutt three categories of blunder
    1. Jumping to conclusions
    2. Poor investments - throwing good money after bad
    3. Not making use of evidence-based time-tested management approaches to issues
  • A key message that comes out of Paul’s work, in contrast to the management failures, successes happened when people took the time to figure out what stakeholders wanted, then set clear directions for what the solution needs to do, then consider lots of options to meet the need, then plan for implementation. It’s not rocket science but it’s stunning that it happens so often.
  • Most disastrous of the failures involved going in the complete wrong direction - occurred when environment was completely misread due to being out of touch with stakeholders, when people use processes inappropriately mismatching methods to problems (i.e. simple model for a complex situation).
  • So again, it’s really important to sort the issues out and get the right people involved to address the issues.
  • It’s important to understand that there are three agendas involved in organizations:
    1. New development
    2. Refinement of existing
    3. De-development
  • Important to think about what you can drop, both to focus efforts and free up resources
  • Leadership really matters. Strategic planning is not a substitute for leadership, it’s a set of tools meant to help leaders.
  • How the issues are identified don’t matter as much as the fact that you have identified them well and you have the right people on board to address them.
  • It’s important to not just assume that the way the issues are framed at the beginning captures what the real issues are.
Written on October 24, 2017