Five Steps to Resilient Strategic Planning
Feeling worn down from constantly adapting your plans to rapidly changing conditions these days? You’re not alone. This year has challenged even the savviest, most seasoned planners among us. Take a deep breath. You can push back against tumultuous times—now and in the future—with strategic plans that flex in the face of adversity.
This post is adapted from XPLANE’s “Recovery, Retooling, and Resilience: Three Lenses to Inform Your Strategic Planning Process” webinar. For expanded content, view the webinar here.
Strategic plans are core to how most organizations operate.
The problem, as they say in the military, is that no plan survives first contact.
Very few, if any, plans anticipate obstacles and events that might pop up along the path. No one could have predicted, for instance, how COVID-19 would overnight shift our entire global context.
How then can we create pliant plans that, like a building built to withstand seismic activity, flex with turbulent times?
How to Find Your Footing
When obstacles arise, we need to evaluate our options. Sometimes we need a small course correction; sometimes we must shift to a completely new route—at least for a bit.
While even the best strategic planning process can’t anticipate every obstacle, it can anticipate that there will be obstacles—and build in resilience.
A simple set of tools, which we call the three R’s, can help with this:
Recovery. How will you get your organization back on track today and possibly accelerate growth through the broad economic recovery?
Retooling. Given the new context, what parts of your business need to change to meet the new demands of the environment?
Resilience. How can you use scenario planning to make your strategic plan more responsive to changing conditions?
Five Steps to Achieving Resilience
If you are struggling to play catch up and want to invest your future plans with some much-needed flexibility, you can apply the three R’s to your planning process in these five steps.
Step 1. Start with your existing process
Your existing process might include a formal strategic planning process, a budgeting process, a dashboard, measuring KPIs or other objectives, or even detailed work planning.
Collectively, these processes shape how your organization plans its work and rallies people around common goals.
The three R’s do not replace these systems but rather work with them to enhance impact and effectiveness.
Step 2. Identify shifts in context since your last planning cycle
What are the major shifts that will impact your journey going forward?
XPLANE uses force-field analysis to understand shifts in context. This simple exercise involves brainstorming and then grading (as weak, medium, or strong) forces working for and against a plan.
Results can then be turned into a prioritized list to inform risk mitigation and scenario planning and help you take advantage of opportunities.
Step 3. Envision your desired future
Visioning is too often ignored in strategic planning.
We generally plan one year to the next with a set of growth assumptions and performance objectives, but we rarely step back to think about what we want down the line.
Visioning is critical because it allows us space to think creatively and dream about what’s possible. It doesn’t limit us to a current trajectory.
To get strategy right, we recommend that you try some vision mapping.
Step 4. Add the three R’s to your planning process
With a clear current context and a destination in mind, you can now do the work to get back on the correct path and prepare for a more resilient journey by addressing recovery, retooling, and resilience.
Recovery thinking helps us accelerate our recovery and get back on track quickly.
To build a plan, you’ll need to answer a few questions.
- Do we understand the forces at work and how they impact us?
- How must the forces shape our planned activities and investments?
- Have we built new activities and investments into our plan that will help us accelerate our goals?
Understand. First, you’ll need to pull forward the force field analysis that you completed.
This is your foundation to understand forces at work and their impact. Discuss these with your team. If this list feels incomplete, refine it with your team as needed and then move on.
Prioritize. Next, prioritize how you’re going to assign your resources. This is possibly one of the most important steps in recovery.
Unforeseen crises, like a pandemic or a recession, require us to ruthlessly triage our activities. For everything you add to your plate, something’s got to come off.
At XPLANE, we use start, stop, continue to prioritize activities.
When you do this exercise, you’ll probably end up with many activities in the start and continue buckets but fewer in the stop bucket.
This is completely normal, but you’ll need to facilitate a challenging discussion around what you’re going to stop doing.
- Pro tip: Remember that stop doesn’t necessarily mean forever. A good rule of thumb is to put as many activities in your stop bucket as you’ve added to your start bucket.
Document. The last step of recovery is to document the resulting decisions and make a short-term plan that aligns your team around recovery priorities.
Using the 30/60/90-Day Road Mapping Worksheet, you can organize activities into a progression over time and build a clear road map of how to invest time and resources to get back on the path.
- Pro tip: This is a good time to discuss three things with your team. One, are the due dates realistic? Two, what dependencies exist between them and how might that affect the schedule? And three, what’s missing? Do you have the resources you need?
Changes in context can be so great that you might need to look at your organization and its structure and make decisions about how it might need to be changed or upgraded to meet new conditions.
To do this, you’ll need to compare the recovery plan you developed to the organization you currently have and identify changes that might need to be made.
For this, we recommend using the eight dimensions of the organization framework.
This framework helps you break down your organization in terms of critical capabilities, such as vision, mission, and strategy, and helps you and your team brainstorm changes that might be required to successfully implement your recovery plan and achieve your long-term vision.
Once you’ve identified key themes, document the results.
This is your potential retooling plan, the changes you need to make to prepare your organization for the journey before you.
Resilience might be the most important of the three R’s.
Once you’ve regained your route and are heading toward your destination again, you should expect and prepare for future obstacles and opportunities.
- Pro tip: Keep in mind that failing to recover from an obstacle on the path is as devastating as failing to take advantage of an unforeseen opportunity.
To prepare, you’ll want to do some resilience planning, which XPLANE encourages clients to do as a core part of every planning process.
We recommend four views scenario planning for this step.
Scenario planning helps your team get on proactive footing, anticipate possible situations, and pre-think possible responses to each.
For each scenario, you’ll need to develop a potential action plan so when the time comes you can make adjustments quickly.
After you’ve defined each scenario, brainstorm possible responses with your team.
Once all ideas are on the table, you’ll want to prioritize them, select the plan that makes sense, and document your collective action plan for each—then update and maintain them as new information comes in.
- Pro tip: Where you start might not be where you finish. For instance, a situation could erode or might suddenly shift in your favor. By having these scenarios in hand, you’ll be prepared to act more quickly when shifts occur.
Step 5. Bring it together, and repeat
These days, designing a more resilient strategic plan is not a luxury, but a necessity.
While your destination might not shift, the route you take probably will. When this happens, you can always apply the three R’s, a repeatable model that can get your organization back online.
Remember, recovery will help you quickly get back on track. Retooling will help you upgrade your systems for the new context. And ongoing resilience planning with scenarios will ensure you always have a ready course of action when the situation changes.
Each of these elements can be blended into your existing planning process, either independently or together as a module, to better prepare you for changing times.
- Pro tip: Remember to check your scenarios often. Make it a habit to periodically evaluate where your organization is relative to the scenarios you established.
In this sense, the three R’s help your organization move more quickly, be more resilient, and avoid the lag that oftentimes happens in responding to a crisis—a comforting place to be when a “new normal” materializes.
Interested in learning more?
If you found this content useful and wish to see it put into action, we invite you to check out our “Recovery, Retooling, and Resilience: Three Lenses to Inform Your Strategic Planning Process” webinar recording.
Additionally, you might want to read “Augment Your Long-Term Strategy with a Near-Term Resilience Plan” on our blog.
For additional resources, including downloadable worksheets and exercises, visit our website. And as always, please reach out to us with any questions or feedback you may have. We’d love to hear from you.