If you think about it, we don’t know how many times we have heard well trained professional executives like ourselves talking proudly and endlessly about how smart we are for ‘having a plan’, strategic planning, and/or acting on a plan. Yet, how many of those plans actually worked? How much of our implemented strategies are actually emergent (reactive) rather than deliberate (planned) in characteristics?
The problem lies in the increasingly irrefutable need for a forward looking visionary leadership in modern organisations. While in the by-gone era of command and control leadership of the passing industrial age may be suitable for the classic strategic planning approach, the post-industrial era where knowledge form the basis of organizational competitive advantage, the practice of enabling and adaptive leadership have become a necessity for strategic planning to succeed. Unlike the physical resources of the past, knowledge is fluid, evolve and co-evolve to create a new form of knowledge time and again. This is beyond management control and any effort to control it would prove detrimental and hinder the birth of organizational constantly refreshed capabilities and creativities.
The complexity which is popularly known as the complex adaptive system of the modern organization called for systematic as well as independent fostering of organizational learning. Learning is essential for the growth of individuals; it is equally important for organizations. Since individuals form the bulk of the organization, they must establish the necessary forms and processes to enable organizational learning in order to facilitate change. Learning is a dynamic concept and it emphasizes the continually changing nature of organizations. The focus is gradually shifting from individual learning to organizational learning. The key here is the successful aligning the individual and/or group interests of the actors that made the organization, and about the development of tacit knowledge into shared knowledge.
The Complex Adaptive System model argues that the world within which an organization need to survive and excel continues to dynamically evolve and co-evolve. Organizations themselves are potentially chaotic. To move from one dynamic state to another can be extremely difficult, and any intention in making a purposeful and concerted move towards one single desired state may in most circumstances not possible. In the world of nonlinear relationships (encompassing the traditional hierarchical and other boundaries that made up the command and control system within an the passing industrial age organization) with negative and positive feedbacks, the link between cause and effect of what is happening in between and among functions, departments, layers of an organization can easily be lost in translations.
Engaging constantly in critical reflexive mode, I came to found the experience of Shell as presented by Bovaird (2008) to be very useful. Bovaird described how ‘meta planning approach’ which called for constant exploration, parallel exploration efforts by different organizational members and the combination of incremental steps (adaptive walk) with occasional major leaps as opposed to the traditional form of strategic planning have been successfully implemented by Shell to bring in a consistently creative and implementable strategic planning and execution. The approach embraces the notion of ‘bounded rationality’ (there is only so much we can know; we don’t what we don’t know) and aim to facilitate or even utilize the ‘nature and strength of connections between agents and their schemata’ within a complex adaptive system and subsystem to meet the ever changing environment of the competitive landscape of the organization.
In the case of Shell the adaptation had resulted in shorter time horizons of strategic plan and the shifting of emphasis from the use of strategic plan as highly defined guideline to treating it as a coordinating mechanism, and a performance and output anchoring tool. The latter served as the ‘strange attractor’ that leads to a form of a symbiotic actions that would bring the organization to a new level of knowledge (knowledge creation), knowing (evolving realities) and effective timely action. Domestic example of the adaptation of the ‘meta planning – strange attractor’ approach can be found in the application of the Sampoerna Performance Development System (SPDS) in the 1990s through to early 2000s by HM Sampoerna, Tbk.
Furthermore, Kim and Mauborgne (2009) popularly argued that the above-mentioned approach has helped many other successful organisations across the globe to shape their competitive environment and create their own market space, termed the ‘blue ocean’.
In practice the ‘strange attractors’ can take many forms and variations including some creatively formulated bonus/incentive tied to certain commonly shared outcome. Strategy meetings will no longer strictly involved the outdated form of formal presentations but should involve open discussions where assumptions and beliefs were challenged and critical issues identified.
In closing, I would like add that as distinctive competence (the very element any strategic planning is based on), success depends tremendously on the capacity and capability of the management team to add value in the process of competence building. As Confucius once famously said:
“…When names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, rewards and punishments will not be properly awarded. When rewards and punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot”.