Strategic Planning 2.0: Effecting Positive Change in a Disrupted World

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Thinking Further Ahead…to Get Further Ahead

If you have the sense that the world around you is moving faster than ever before, you’re not wrong.

You’re also not alone.

The last several years have been marked by an accelerated — and increasingly accelerating — pace of change. As Forbes magazine observed, “In future history books, this rapid adoption of technology will be viewed as a wartime-like response as we battled the virus by fundamentally shifting the way our economy operated. Spurred by the pandemic, several areas have catapulted forward as both companies and consumers rapidly adopted technology.”

But it’s not just the pandemic that accelerated this rate of change we are all feeling today — disruption has been the norm for the past couple of decades or more. It’s just that the future seems to keep coming at us faster and faster, and companies are being forced to respond more quickly than ever, lest they risk becoming fixtures of the past themselves.

This “brand new world” we’re all reading about, talking about, and experiencing firsthand demands a new approach to strategic planning — one that looks further out into the future — not just to protect our futures against oncoming risk and disruption, but to imagine new possibilities and pursue paths never before considered.

The future’s not what it used to be. It’s time for the next iteration of the organization and business blueprint: Strategy Planning 2.0.

At Upland, we have ingrained two major shifts in how strategic planning must be conducted into our company DNA in order to address this rapidly changing world:

  1. We are, by mission and intent, foresight-driven, grounding all planning initiatives in where the world is going and identifying emerging paths to success.
  2. We use impact as a North Star to create strategic vision, in a world that recognizes organizations can create positive change amidst disruption — and should.

We will dive more deeply into that second component of “impact” in our next blog post, but for today, I’d like to focus on foresight…

Is It Really True that “Nobody Likes Change?”

Perhaps “disruption” has become an overused term. It certainly is one often misunderstood. For too many, the notion of “disruption” conjures negative emotions — fear, anxiety, doubt. But in reality, disruption really simply means a change. And a change can be a very positive thing, if done with strategy, purpose and intent. In fact, it may very well be what’s necessary, if a company is going to thrive and grow well into the future.

Perhaps we need to embrace disruption — not as an external infliction that is foisted upon our organization, but rather as an active tack we, ourselves, take…to further a goal, achieve innovation, or to make both the company and the world better than it was before, had we simply stayed the course.

This change in mindset emboldens a new approach to traditional strategic planning, different from what many organizations undertake currently. My sense for what presents a shortcoming of traditional strategy planning is short-sightedness. That is, when many leadership teams embark on strategy design, they often begin (and sometimes end) with analyzing present-day realities. Even SWOT analyses (defining strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities) tend to take a far too near-term view of realities facing the company, in my view.

Instead, a better approach may be to step back, look ahead, and start to think in terms of possibilities — potentially endless opportunities for what the future could look like, as opposed to merely forecasting what the future will look like. If your company is planning for the next three to five years ahead, it might be too focused on what’s real and realistic, and not enough on what’s imagined, dreamt, and aspirational.

Foresight: The Act of Looking Ahead and Thinking Ahead (in Order to Get Ahead)

I often challenge leaders to think ten, or even 20, years ahead as a starting point. The goal here is to remove limiting beliefs and preconceived assumptions and to explore exciting and invigorating unknowns. Rather than being disrupt-ed, we start to imagine ourselves as the disrupt-ors. This sort of imagining and ideating energizes leadership teams, breeding creativity and innovation. Passion and optimism replaces skepticism.

This is all rooted in a concept that has become a pillar of nearly everything we do: Foresight. To plan ahead, you must look ahead. For the purposes of this specific, critical objective, remove the shackles of the present and the baggage of the past and focus only on the “what-ifs.” Consider how your organization, team, or offering can positively disrupt the future…and the ecosystem in which you operate.

This empowers the leadership team to put onto paper a map to an optimized version of the future. It allows the organization to create scenarios, then link them back to tangible, tacit actions and outcomes and deliverables that exist in the organization day to day. It works from the distant future, back to the present, so that new paths can be charted and followed.

A bold vision for impact is a powerful and motivating tool that should inform and inspire the actions of everyone and everything working in the business or organization. Of course, “hindsight” is eventually woven back in, so that the team can examine past behaviors and outcomes, but now through the prism of what the ideal future is to become.

Both the leadership, and the rest of the team, then actually lean into future disruptions, as opposed to shying away from them.

Back to the Future

Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

This is possible, through foresight and future-casting exercises. One way we do that is with our signature DisruptorID offering, which is a future-focused assessment of the influences, shifts, and dynamics that have the potential to disrupt an organization’s world and define the future landscape. It’s important to carefully design frameworks and outputs to ensure that foresight-focused endeavors are actionable and understandable for all in the organization to embrace and follow. You don’t want this hard work to simply live in one’s optimistic imagination nor live only in the conceptual abstract — we need to get back to the real world to have an impact on what you do and how you do it. 

Example: DisruptorID Process Framework

Approaches like DisruptorID can serve as the connectivity between the current and near-term realities and the future vision of where the organization might go.  

Another critical tool we use with both for-profit and nonprofit clients is our Role Evolution Map, which in one chart clarifies what the organization is today and shows the potential strategic paths it can take to deliver impact and own that future. 

Example: Role Evolution Map for a Nonprofit Organization

This tool fully integrates the evolving landscape with an organization’s mid-to longer-term ambitions, moving out from its core, providing a powerful, actionable roadmap for success. 

Learning to Love Change

Having guided both nonprofits and for-profit enterprises through such “Strategy Planning 2.0” initiatives, I do want to note what each sector might uniquely bring to the table and where a sharing of best practices and perspectives can be game-changers. 

Despite differing end goals and operating models, integrating a strong sense of impact (that nonprofits have woven into the fabric of their enterprises) with more deliberate focus on financial, revenue, and “market” drivers (highest priorities in the for-profit world) adds a powerful dimension to strategic planning. 

In a world that I envision, there will be an intriguing combination of the two, ideally with both sectors learning from each other to drive greater impact on the communities and people they serve. The future may be disruptive, but if the change is positive and creates a better world for us and future generations, then the rate of change can accelerate all it wants.

The faster we all get there, the better.

Phil Roos

About The Author

Former CEO.