“Time to Blow-up the Strategic Plan!”


A friend sent me an email last week with the subject line proclaiming “Time to Blow-up the Strategic Plan!”

The body of the email contained the gruesome details of the outcome of his organisation’s tender submission for the continuation and expansion of a major part of its business. To say the least they had been highly unsuccessful and are now facing a sizable contraction to their operations. According to my friend his organisation’s Strategic Plan had them “launching into the stratosphere over the next three years, but reality was going to bring them crashing to earth.”

While I felt for my friend and his colleagues at this very difficult time, it was his understandably cynical closing words … “Guess whoever is left will have to write a new Strategic Plan for the bookshelf” that I really want to talk about.

For some time now, we at Cause & Effective have held the view that Strategic Planning, as we have traditionally known it, is well past its use by date as a management tool. You know what I am talking about : The 3 or maybe 5 year ritual where perhaps the Board and senior management take themselves off to some retreat and hatch an exciting plan for the future. The Plan manifests itself in some glossy publication or, maybe to reflect the austerity of the times, in a humble ring bound folder. No matter what the format, typically the fate of these Plans is the same – a dusty shelf or a box in some cupboard. The only time they see the light of day is at some funding event or to allow the organisation to tick a box on a tender and truthfully say:

“Yes we have a Plan!”.

Surely it is time to end this farce. Today, static plans can no longer be relied upon to guide organisations through turbulent times (and it is debatable that they ever did). Instead these plans need to be urgently replaced by cultures and management practices that embrace and develop more adaptive strategic frameworks. Dana O’Donovan and Noah Rimland Flower of the Monitor Institute write about this in their excellent article “The Strategic Plan is Dead. Long Live Strategy”.

According to O’Donovan & Flower today’s world dominated by high-tech tools, globalisation and, paradoxically, the rise of the individual, has led to an environment where the, “traditional approach to strategic planning is based on assumptions that no longer hold.”

What is required from leaders is strategic thinking not strategic plans. A way of thinking that is based on a loop that has four simple steps:

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act

To assist leaders through this process, and to put this approach into a not for profit context, O’Donovan & Flower suggest leaders engage with stakeholders with the view of answering a series of four interrelated questions about the organisation’s strategic direction:

  • What vision do we want to pursue?
  • How will we make a difference?
  • How will we succeed?
  • What capabilities it will take to get there?

If you think this approach may better serve your organisation in the future let us know and we would be happy to assist you.

I suggested to my friend perhaps his organisation would be better served by a new way of thinking and not a new plan. Watch this space, he tells me the bookshelf is set to survive so the temptation will be there to put something new on it!

By Chris Gandy – Founder of Cause & Effective. We link exceptional subject matter experts with cause-based organisations that are making a positive social, cultural and environmental difference


About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

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