Commentary: Small companies should scrap strategic planning

Kaihan Krippendorff on Fast Company blog, 3/12/12

We claim to celebrate diversity in America. But when it comes to companies, we prescribe one size fits all. Something is wrong. Most of what we learn in business schools and textbooks is written for large companies. And we make the erroneous assumption that since every small company wants to grow (it doesn't), it should strive to adopt practices of the large firms that made it. Best practices for large companies dictate they should plan carefully. They should adopt an annual planning rhythm, survey their environments, build scenarios, set strategies, and monitor their results. But for small companies, the winning recipe may be the opposite. This doesn't mean small-growth companies should fly blind. It means they should adopt an adaptive opportunistic approach to strategy. They should plan in the hallway, not the boardroom.


Commentary: Two keys to strategic agility: scanning and screening

Melissa Mendes Campo, La Piana Consulting Blog, March 16, 2012

In [the 2009 report] Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector, we challenged nonprofits to consider how they would keep pace with the speed of change. Given the accelerated rate at which shifts in the social, technological, and economic environment are now occurring, it is critical that organizations be attuned to these trends, continually evaluate the opportunities and challenges that they present, and develop adaptive responses and strategies. Two ways your organization can enhance its ability to do this are: scanning and screening. 


Scanning. [T]here is growing recognition that traditional strategic planning is poorly suited to today's pace of change. Real-time strategic planning encourages organizations to continually scan their environment to gather information and identify relevant trends. Some tips include:

  • Follow trusted resources and thought leaders on blogs and social media to see what they are saying and what is trending in the field in which you work.
  • Look across sectors, not just at other nonprofits, but at for-profit or public sector actors doing similar work, serving the same populations, or grappling with comparable challenges.
  • Ask clients and other stakeholders what changes they are seeing and experiencing, giving them an opportunity to co-create with you.

Screening. Once an organization has gathered information through scanning, [c]reating a decision-making screen, or set of criteria, helps make your organization's priorities explicit so that when weighing potential strategies, you can be objective about their relative merit and fit with organizational goals, needs, and capacity. Some tips include:

  • Develop the screen early in the scanning process, or even before you start scanning, so that the criteria focus on organizational needs and not external influences.
  • Include the criteria that the strategy must serve your mission and leverage your organization's unique strengths.
  • Consider other criteria such as having adequate organizational capacity and identified sources of funding to support the strategy.

Commentary: Are your company's decision-making protocols hurting your strategy?

Barry Hessenius, WESTAF blog, 3/4/12

Holly Sidford has released a study, Bright Spots Leadership in the Pacific Northwest-- an attempt to look at arts organizations  which are actually thriving and succeeding despite the economic hard times that [have] most organizations currently awash in attempts to merely stay afloat, and to inquire what values, processes, protocols and strategies those organizations might share. Basically, what these organizations (and their leaders) seem to have in common is that they adapt to the challenges thrown at them. They are resilient because they are willing to question everything they do and to move on and away from what seems not to be working. It is this willingness to jettison past practices, approaches and ideas that are not working and to look at what they are doing in a different light that seems to herald their current success. These qualities seem very difficult to implement -- at least for the average organization. As the report conclusion summarizes:

"We heard repeatedly about what keeps organizations from succeeding: fear of failure and the unknown, lack of discipline or will to change, unclear priorities, ignoring facts that challenge a preferred view of the world, and inadequate cooperation with others internally and externally. These behaviors are the inverse of the qualities we discerned in the bright spot organizations."

Why do we continue to have so many layers through which the simplest of decisions must pass? Why are more of our trained managers with potentially game-changing ideas not empowered to make critical decisions on the spot? Is it because of egos and people "deceived into thinking they have something to protect"? (a line from Bob Dylan's song To Ramona). Is it because we really don't trust the people we have hired and trained? Is it because we are so afraid of failure? Or are we just basically stupid? Arguably our greatest asset is our people, and yet we have to ask ourselves if we are really geared to maximizing the potential of that asset. Every organization should do some kind of internal assessment of the organization's decision-making protocols and ask whether or not their approach is designed to take advantage of their collective staff talent, and, moreover, whether those approaches are the best strategy to allow for calculated risk taking.


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Commentary: What will arts centres of the future look like?

Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of Barbican Centre, The Independent newspaper, 3/14/12

Across the arts, the issue now is how to reflect radically changing taste, and changing behaviour in our many audiences. There is a major sea change in arts venues which shows how they will need to be reimagined and designed in the future. The audience now wants to belong. They want to feel at home, to participate, and feel a sense of ownership. The old top-down model whereby arts administrators told them what was good for them, what to listen to or see, is past - it is a much more collaborative relationship now. We are feeling this effect throughout our programme. For instance, rather than one-night stands by visiting orchestras, we build relationships, primarily with our resident LSO, but also with the new range of International Associate Orchestras: the Concertgebouw and Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestras will soon arrive for concentrated periods of concerts and learning work. Arts centres need to be more welcoming, more sustainable, and placed more firmly at the centres of our communities. At a time of real challenge to our social and economic framework, the arts should be at the centre of urban life, not at the periphery, drawing together libraries, schools, restaurants, open spaces, venues and meeting places to offer a pattern of integrated but flexible activity that improves the quality of everyone's life. That would make the best possible case for the arts as we move forward in the age of austerity.

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