The Insanity of Strategic Planning

In a keynote session last week about Humanize, I once again challenged the effectiveness of strategic planning. In the book, strategic planning is one of three traditional management “best practices” that we shine a critical light on, revealing that there is solid scientific research that indicates that the way we do the practice does not work. (For strategic planning, please read Henry Mintzberg’s The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning.)

But my audience, in this case, were association executives, so I was a little nervous. I always expect to get pushback from an association audience because I find they love strategic planning more than other audiences. So I asked for a show of hands of those who loved strategic planning, and not a single hand went up. I was a little shocked, so I changed my question: I asked how many people spent a significant amount of money and time doing strategic planning. Then a good thirty or forty hands went up. Okay, this makes a bit more sense. Then I immediately asked them if they thought their strategic planning efforts worked…if they produced results for them.

And every single hand went down.

This one shocked me even more. I ended up asking my rhetorical question out loud: “So all of you who had your hands up were spending significant amounts of time and money on something that doesn’t produce results?! Stop doing that!”

Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result each time. That is the definition of insanity. That seems to be what we are doing with strategic planning. Or worse, maybe we’re doing it even though we now EXPECT it not to work. We go through the motions to appease our volunteers, or maybe even with the hope of educating them a bit.  There has to be a better way.

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