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Strategic Planning – The Power of Parallel Thinking

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime”.  Babe Ruth


The power of Parallel Thinking

A few years ago, we were approached by a large company, to help the internal-audit unit manager develop a strategic plan. We soon discovered why we had been asked to help. The manager was a dictator. He believed that it was his job to retreat to a quiet place (his office) and emerge several weeks later with a fully formed plan for his group to implement. The problem with his plan? It only contained his thinking, which wasn’t right, and as a result nobody really cared.

Strategic planning is a collaborative effort. Experts may be consulted and offer perspectives, but there is no substitute for those working in an organization, coming together to consider options and make plans. While final authority often rests with the Executive and Board, these groups seldom have the diversity, knowledge or understanding of customer needs to comprehensively plan for the future.

“Concertina planning”

The most successful approach to strategic planning that we have seen deliberately uses different groups of people at different times. Think of a concertina – the musical instrument – as a metaphor. When the concertina is squeezed the smallest group (management and/or the Board) takes care of their piece of the planning process – most often aspects that require in-camera discussions, confidential information and areas where authority is required

Where the concertina is expanded, more people are brought to the table for specific purposes – often to tap their knowledge, explore a diversity of opinions and insights, action planning or to keep them abreast of developments.

Strategic planning is seldom accomplished in less than two months. This starts from the time that initial meetings are held, through data gathering, forming judgements, making decisions and detailing action plans. During this time the concertina may be squeezed and released several times.


Three Critical Elements for ensuring a robust but living plan:

  1. Robust Process – Plan the planning process carefully with a simple but effective build from one element to the next.
  2. Engage the right people at the right time – Harness the power of people’s brains, experiences and diversity. In doing so, you guard against group think or dictatorship.
  3. Let leaders lead – The planning approach suggested here is not democracy. Leaders must lead through the process – they must exercise clear thinking, courage and decisiveness.

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