（Forwarded）Forgotten side of strategic planning
Looking ahead to a new year is a time when many organisations start thinking about strategic planning (though of course strategic planning can be instigated at any time really). A strategic planning process normally involves revisiting the vision and mission, and asking those tried but true questions: Where are we now? Where do we want to be? How will we get there?
This is all critical to successfully navigating a way ahead, particularly if that future may be somewhat different from the present and therefore is going to involve change.
Unfortunately, strategic planning associated with change doesn’t have a good reputation in many organisations, particularly amongst those people who are generally not involved in the planning process but who experience the outcomes. Too often, a significant change of direction resulting from a strategic plan can cause uncertainty, upheaval, the loss of important people, and a downturn in morale.
Our experience suggests that often the reason for this is a failure to balance the mechanistic aspects of the plan with its cultural implications.
Generally, the board and senior management of an organisation are responsible for developing the plan with the implementation being handled by the organization. In too many cases, the plan becomes a list of initiatives and activities, the achievement of which becomes management’s focus. That’s the mechanistic part.
In order for those actions, and the results of them, to fall smoothly into place and be broadly accepted, they need either to sit well with the organisation’s existing culture, or the culture needs to be aligned to fit the changes the organization wants to achieve.
One of the reasons culture is often overlooked when plans are being implemented is a perception that it is complicated to define and measure and often difficult to change. Certainly, being all about people, it is not as black-and-white as, say, production output. But that doesn’t rule out measurement, and it doesn’t rule out planned culture change.
Put simply, the culture of a workplace is reflected in its behavioural norms – that is, “the way we do things around here” – which are the product of the ‘messages’ consistently sent within the organisation. These messages are generally sent through three channels: behaviour, symbols and systems.
So, for instance, behaviour in terms of what is done and said, especially by key influencers, forms part of culture. A simple example: whether people consistently turn up to meetings on time, or drift in five minutes late.
Symbols are very powerful components of culture. They include things like instant coffee in the communal kitchen but an the espresso machine in the boardroom, or management wanting dedicated car parking spots. Symbols generally have more impact than statements of intent: a senior leadership team seated in separate offices in an otherwise open plan environment is a stronger symbol than statements espousing a ‘one team’ culture.
The systems that contribute to culture include where resources are invested, the way in which information is communicated, how goals are set and how people are developed.
All of these cultural aspects form the ‘beating heart’ of an organisation. For a vision to be successfully implemented, for a strategic plan to succeed and change to be adopted, it is critical to align the culture at the same time.
It’s not always easy, and it does take time, but there will be no lasting success without it.