Strategic Planning in a Changing Environment

In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. -Dwight D. Eisenhower

Strategic planning excites me because it engages the planners in imagining an “ideal state” in the future where all is possible. What often derails quality planning is the external environment, which many see coming at them fast and unpredictably.

But the future does not have to be a scary place. We do not have to be passive about our future, bracing for impact. Instead, we have a responsibility to be a part of shaping the future. As leaders, we do that through planning by focusing on the future we would like to see and working backwards to develop strategy and tactics to reach it.

While the world is changing quickly, it is not totally opaque and random. There are trends that planners can use to understand how the evolving industry environment is taking shape.

That’s the main topic of this post.

I read a wonderful report from Nielsen at the beginning of 2018 that summarized a comprehensive approach to planning for an uncertain future.

In the report, it discussed 12 “change drivers” (see image below) to evaluate that will shape the future environment. By analyzing and synthesizing these drivers, we can get a better view of what the future will look like in our industry, especially from the consumer perspective.

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While this approach is helpful, it would be silly to think that it is a a crystal ball that show us the future (if I had a crystal ball, mine always would see the Nationals winning the World Series). Instead, it is an opportunity to perform a holistic scan and to figure out where the greatest opportunities and threats are going to come from.

Using tools like this one from Nielsen can help planners pinpoint areas to focus. For example, in health care the trends that are most significant may be customer values and attitudes, population, tech adoption, and policy and legislation. Once the list has been narrowed down, planners can use tools like the Implications Wheel to explore different possible future scenarios and their impact on both the industry and the organization.

In the health care context, a good question for the Implications Wheel would be: what are the implications of the baby boomer generation getting older and inevitably sicker on hospital care in Maryland over the next five years? From there, planners can consider various scenarios and understand what actions to take to promote an ideal future.

Perhaps from the exercise, hospitals do more out in the community with baby boomers, encouraging regular blood sugar and blood pressure checks to promote wellness. Perhaps planners recognize that medicare funding may be at risk, which would then mobilize hospitals to work on a plan with policymakers to mitigate that risk.

The point is that we can use the historical data, trends, and intuition we have to think holistically about the future. The 12 “change drivers” and Implications Wheel are important tools to help us understand the opportunities and threats between us and our desired future. Once we understand these areas, the planner can take action to either take advantage of opportunities or minimize threats in pursuit of a larger vision of the future.

Strategic planning, done right, is not a wish list. Rather, it is a helpful guide to navigating a changing environment in pursuit of an “ideal” future state. I hope you find these tools as helpful as I have during your next personal or professional strategic planning session.

KEY TAKE-AWAY: There are many excellent tools to help you understand what stands between you and your ideal future. It is vital to be proactive about the future and it is our responsibility to help shape the future in a positive way. Start with the end in mind and make that future urgent.