Strategic Planning: Anticipating and Dealing with the Unknown

Strategic Planning: Anticipating and Dealing with the Unknown

In an earlier article, "Strategic Planning: Thinking Critically About the Future" I introduced this topic, Anticipating and Dealing with the Unknown, and provided a few examples. Now I'd like to expand on the topic, applying it to Strategic Planning for Organizations, Departments and Career Development.

A solid strategic plan includes external scenarios that could happen and derail your direct chosen path to achieving the goal of your plan.

If you are working on a strategic plan for an organization these external scenarios could be new competitors or competitive products entering the market. It could be new government regulations, economic downturns, and even geographic political changes that might happen.

If you are looking at a strategic plan for a department within an organization, many of the same scenarios that might impact the organization could also impact specific departments within it. Other scenarios that might only impact a given department can be technologies, expansions in hiring, key staff reductions, and more.

If you are looking strategically at your personal career development, external scenarios can be new job opportunities that arise unexpectedly, layoffs, changes in health (yours and others), loss or gain of outside funding sources, and other things that might end up impacting your plans.

The point is, you must take a broad sweep look at what might occur in the environment around you and then you must look strategically at how it might help, hurt, and/or necessitate a change to your existing strategic plan.

To get yourself thinking about the potential "What If" scenarios, you can start sharpening your contemplation by focusing in these four categories of influential change dynamics:

  1. Social Dynamics

  2. Economic Dynamics

  3. Technological Dynamics

  4. Political Dynamics

Regardless of scope - organization, department, or individual - a common mistake is not revisiting a strategic plan at least every six months to check if any important external dynamics have changed.

Remember what I said in my earlier article on Strategic Planning: Thinking Critically About the Future…

In reaction momentum is lost.

It's good to always keep this in mind. Being proactive in scenario planning is better than having to be reactive.

With that said, if you must change your planned course of action because an unanticipated event occurs, remember to think through the various scenarios that could occur if you choose to go down a new path.

Finding the correct course of action to follow is a dynamic process unto itself.

  • If you are beginning from an awareness of a problem and you start plotting a course of action, you'll want the consider any scenarios that could occur along that pathway.

  • On the other hand, if you are starting from a hypothetical scenario, you want to give some mental energy to looking for potential problems with that choice before committing to the direction.

Strategic Planning is all about opening your eyes, opening your mind, and doing a lot of Critical Thinking.

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