Do Long-Term Strategic Plans Still Make Sense? We Don’t Think So.

long-term strategic plan

For decades, strategic planning has been conducted in 3-to-5-year cycles. Every few years, executives will crowd into conference rooms to predict and debate the future of their organizations.

Visions will be written; mission statements revised. SMART goals, BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), and OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) will be haggled in painstaking detail. All of this is born from a belief that organizations must have a 5-year plan to survive and thrive in an uncertain future.

But in a world that is changing as fast as ours, is it really possible–or even useful–to predict and prepare for competitor actions and customer desires 3, 4, or 5 years from now?

We don’t think so.

That’s not to say that “vision questing” activities aren’t useful. It pays to learn about trends, consider economic scenarios, and guess what your competitors might do. But holding too closely to a particular vision of the future can be disastrous for leaders because it prevents them from recognizing unplanned opportunities and threats.

rethinking strategic planning

Rather than long-term strategic plans, here’s what to do instead:

  1. Shorten your planning cycle. We recommend that companies revise their strategy every 1-2 years. Why? The world is simply moving too fast to build a relevant plan for a longer period.
  2. Evaluate your strategic position often. As you shorten your planning cycle, don’t make the mistake of abandoning all long-range discussions. Your executive team should continuously monitor your strategic position, with both short-term and long-range risks and opportunities in mind.
  3. Think in terms of scenarios. Rather than building your plan to address one possible future, prepare for several. Train your leadership team to consider multiple versions of what might happen. By considering several futures, your leadership team can best answer the question, “what should we be doing now to position ourselves for what could be next?”

Has your organization experimented with alternatives to long-range planning?  What’s worked best for you so far?

We’d love to hear about it! Simply click here and let us know.


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