“[…] There is no such thing as a purely deliberate strategy or a purely emergent one. No organization—not even the ones commanded by those ancient Greek generals—knows enough to work everything out in advance, to ignore learning en route.” – Henry Mintzberg
As change practitioners, how do we translate these insights into practice?
A few suggestions:
- Plan for flexibility. The value of strategic planning is often in the process, rather than the resulting document. Set up a planning process that builds-in flexibility. This can be done through a governance model that includes regular check-ins on how the plan is progressing, and what course corrections should be made.
- Measure, learn, refine. Measurement is always an important part of strategic planning. However, it’s particularly vital in the case of organizational transformation. A laser-like focus on performance measurement helps provide the directional clarity organizations need, while enabling the adaptive flexibility needed to respond to changes in the environment. For example, if a transformation project is focused on enhancing customer service, metrics on service performance provide clarity on “which way is North”. Teams can then adapt their approaches to achieving that outcome based on the actual realities of the internal and external environments.
- Cultivate a culture of continuous improvement. A pre-condition to enabling an environment where emergent strategy can work is that employees and managers must be encouraged to experiment and take risks. Critically, this must be demonstrated consistently through actions at the executive level, not just words. The most successful organizational transformation initiatives depend on a culture that is open to testing models, piloting new business practices, and evolving approaches based on the identified best practices and lessons learned.