Friday, 20 March 2009

Information that counts

At the airport yesterday I was talking to a colleague who works for a very successful large organisation. The conversation turned to planning for the future and the use of typical strategic planning tools such as the SWOT and the PEST. His frustration was that the company saw these tools as 'an annual event', completing their strategic development for that year. They even had templates for all of the steps so that it was seamless and basically ended up the same as the previous year. We couldn't help but agree that something seemed wrong here. So here are several observations:

1) As soon as you lose the ability to be flexible and nimble you are in danger of moving backwards. You don't see the outward signs of change, don't have a chance to prepare or to consider a range of possible scenarios. Businesses need to focus on building creativity into their strategy. Some would say that the age of strategic planning is over.
2) Scanning the environment is an ongoing process not an annual event. In today's economic climate businesses can't afford to miss the weak signals. Things change - fast! Miss it and it may have a profound effect on your organisation.
3) Data can choke an organisation. It can create it's own life and before you know it the technicians and data gatherers are running your organisation. And slowly freedoms disappear, new ideas have to be run through the system and are suddenly too hard to implement. Meanwhile the data gathers momentum. It ceases to have relevance, becomes overwhelming and the collected for the sake of it. If only half the data is used in an organisation think of the hours that have been wasted...
4) The PEST analysis can be a bit of a pest and here's why. It can fail to keep the focus on the values of the organisation and the fundamental moral and ethical ideas that underpin who we are. This is why many of our organisations lose direction. The STEEPV (Social, Technological, Economic, Ecological, Political, Values) is a better tool for environemental scanning. It maintains an outward focus while also holding true to the core beliefs and non-negotiable moral imperatives of the organisation.

Let's focus on developing systems that encourage us to continually look both inside and outside our organisations, that value useful information and that provide flexible knowledge development based on the needs of the future.

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