Its that time of year again. Across thousands of (success-minded, forward-thinking) businesses, teams of people are heads down, working on annual strategic planning activities. As I step away from these types of day-to-day activities, I find myself reflecting on the value of such efforts and what adaptation must be made to serve us better in the future.Every year, thousands of hours are dedicated to doing the work to orient our company in the marketplace. With the operating environment shifting under the pressure of impacts like demographic changes, geopolitical power exchanges, and hyper-charged innovation, it’s harder than ever to spot change and anticipate what’s likely. Yet every quarter or year, we dedicate the time to scan the environment. We analyze and debate growth plans, and craft strategies to out-maneuver the competition. Teams negotiate for resource allocation across lines of businesses and up and down the organizational ladder.
What makes these massive organizational activities even more sensitive is the necessity to align and synchronize our objectives and efforts. Maintaining a healthy operating environment requires that people work toward a shared objective or objectives. This demand is a defining characteristic of the Knowledge Era. It’s foundational to resilience and success in the dynamic and disruptive operating environment.
Most contemporary senior leaders are aware. Acting as ‘visionaries’ for their organizations, they share their hope to out-maneuver disruption. They give speeches in corporate town halls to urge more from employees to keep their organizations viable and in the game. They fixate on making sure they – and their people – understand the complexities of their business environment as it is defined and redefined by rapid technological change. They seek to enable innovation and risk-taking with advanced technologies like AI, machine learning, and advanced data analytics that fuel a faster pace and more certainty.
Complacency has no place in this environment. Of course, combatting inertia and its risks is one of the main reasons why teams return every year to the planning table. Even with the highest amount of discipline, most annual strategic planning activities miss a crucial component. They neglect to clarify how time and differing paces of change impact their ability to achieve in today’s business environment.
Time (or the lack thereof) is a top-of-mind topic for most business leaders. The world continues to accelerate and to do so at desynchronized rates, making it seem (accurately) that time is an increasingly limited commodity. Disruptive changes coming from every source and angle adds pressure to this frightening velocity. Leaders, teams, advisors – at every level and in corporate boardrooms and business strategy meetings everywhere – we are dedicating annual planning efforts to developing strategies for speeding up how we operate and scale. Put simply, the stresses of the global environment keep multiplying faster and faster and while some organizations are keeping up – many are not.
Unfortunately, desynchronization is adding to the challenge. Businesses are under pressure to change rapidly, and many are meeting that imperative. The educational system, however – the source of the employees they need to enact the strategies – is changing at a remarkably slow rate. Similarly, the government agencies with which they interact move at the speed of a drugged tortoise.
Most corporate plans do not consider how the rhythms of these stakeholders and influences are out of sync. As part of the annual planning process, it’s critical that leaders and teams spend the time to dig into how the inherent varying rates of change will impact the plans they need to undertake in the year to come. It’s time they become students of change and time to position for advantage. That effort includes answering questions such as:
Modern business strategic planning activities must investigate what needs to be measured and how to measure differing rates of change or time of various aspects of business. With this understanding, strategy making can determine where there is an advantage to synchronize or when there is an advantage to desynchronize rates of change.
As ‘bigger and better’ are replaced by ‘agile and advancing,’ it’s more important than ever to scale differently. Organizations that achieve an optimal state of flow reap benefits historically associated with traditional growth means. As your team engages in the annual planning process, begin by investigating what organizational redesigns are necessary to achieve your state of flow. As the leader of your organization, carve out the time to question what you and your organization are doing and make sure you are positioning for the future rather than executing to habits of the past.
Where, what, when, and how will you accelerate or decelerate to reach the objectives you share across your organization this year?
Deborah Westphal is a passionate humanist who has guided our era’s top minds and leaders to challenge biases, ignite ideas, and build connections and resilience for a secure and sound future. Her career spans more than 30 years in government agencies and Fortune 100 companies, and on virtually every continent. In 1999, Alvin Toffler tapped her as one of the founding members of his eponymous consulting firm, Toffler Associates. From 2007 through 2018, she served as the firm’s CEO and has since contributed her experience and knowledge as a member of the board. Through her work, she has guided notable organizations including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Marriott, U.S. Air Force, Baxter International, Bayer, Heinz, Microsoft, Koppers, PPG, DARPA, National Security Agency, Loral Space Systems, NASA, Qwest, Verizon, and Westinghouse. Deborah’s empathetic and thought-provoking style helps readers spot patterns that signify future risks and opportunities. She’s a sought-after speaker and writer who provided the Foreword to After Shock. Her book, Convergence: Technology, Business, and the Human-Centric Future, was published in May 2021 by Unnamed Press. Find her at deborahwestphal.com.
Toffler Associates is a future-focused strategic advisory firm. Our Future Proof® business consulting approach helps global leaders understand how future shifts impact current decisions so they can take advantage of opportunity, manage risk, and create future value.
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