The New Strategic Plan ~ Don’t Make One

Last night’s presentation by Frederic Laloux, author of the wildly popular Reinventing Organizations, added useful insight to the way that I have been using participatory practices to undo the dominant strategic planning paradigm (i.e., leadership retreat dedicated to some iteration of S.W.O.T., values and mission setting followed by action planning).

As Art of Hosting practitioners, we like to re-frame strategy sessions with the premise that while planning in complex systems is impossible, we can prepare to respond more strategically. Suggesting that it’s more strategic to go forward without a traditional plan can sound ridiculous, especially when holding a position of accountability in a hierarchical organization that is designed around set deliverables with exact due dates.

While the production-to-market-schedule of the product/service is not what is being challenged by the suggestion to expect less from “the plan”, the first reaction from leadership and management is usually to defend the necessity of well thought out marching orders. Let’s assume that having a plan or plans is a given for a moment. Every routinized machine-like process (making payroll, meeting government regulations for day care, scheduling counseling appointments, maintaining infrastructure, etc.) requires a design map and plan for the most efficient and effective operation. Great, do that and do it well.

Now, also consider that the people and environment that surround the machine-like aspects of the organization are living systems that change consistently and respond rapidly to constant stimulation. How do we strategically plan for that?

Laloux found a common thread among the 12 organizations that he researched (including multi-site industrial companies with thousands of employees) that are operating with a living systems framework (instead of the dominant Industrial Age factory model) ~ none of them have strategic plans. Instead, these organizations are designed/prepared for rapid response to the constant shifts and changes (including those that result from individual and organizational learning) in a dynamic world.

He suggests that these plan-less organizations function by embracing the living systems paradigm and integrating practices of:

  1. Self-Management ~ emphasizing peer relationships that foster trust in individual decision making vs. hierarchy or consensus;
  2. Wholeness ~ inviting people to show up as their whole self vs. professional contributions only; and,
  3. Evolutionary Purpose ~ listening to what wants to emerge vs. trying to control the future (for instance, with a plan).

Thanks to this research-based insight, my new question before bringing participatory strategy and innovation sessions to organizational settings is:

What is the minimal understanding/embracing of the living systems paradigm necessary for participatory real-time strategic practices to be useful?

About KellyMcG

working with the flow and questioning everything.
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