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Welcome to an era of “permanent white water.”

Instability is the inevitable reality for any organization. But, for the savvy and the prepared, opportunity is still plentiful. Skilled leadership, vigilant teamwork, clear thinking, fleet movement, and coordinated action count. Even though the present often elbows the future aside, planning still matters. Alignment, focus, and cost-effectiveness spring from planning. The plan’s job is to focus and align your energy, people, and resources to ensure that the system and collective decisions support everyone in working together to achieve the same goals. In turbulent rapids, there’s no paddling to safety when you find yourself too late in the wrong place in the river.

Planning methods are like shoes. If they don’t fit, they’ll make you miserable.

One size does not fit all. Organizational culture, size, physical geography, and the scope of your aspirations—among other considerations—all influence how a planning process is best designed. We believe that a client should actively influence the process design. While this seems self-evident, we find it has not often been the case. Clients who believe they are in charge from the get-go accomplish the best plans.

While organizations engage us for our expertise, we believe that our clients are the experts.

Our job is to surface, challenge, and organize our clients’ brilliance, using process as a tool. From the very beginning, we work to educate our clients to make decisions that are likeliest to produce their desired outcomes. We know that how a plan is created eclipses what is created —in content terms—and can make a telling difference in whether employees or other key stakeholders offer their full support and cooperation. If you’ve started talking with the people in your organization about doing a strategic plan and have discovered some resistance to the idea, don’t be surprised.

It’s no accident that the people who are often most opposed to planning are the ones who have the most experience.

Too often, plans wind up collecting dust on bookshelves because they were irrelevant to an organization’s reality before the process was completed. There are a lot of reasons that planning fails.

Not every organization is prepared to plan.

Before we begin a planning engagement, we do a readiness audit. From our experience, we assume that some key people in any client organization will oppose a planning process for a number of reasons, and inevitably some of their reasons are valid. We think this is important information for you and for us. Satisfying these concerns in a direct and candid conversation is a key step in getting ready.

No savvy employee is interested in investing time and energy in a process with no payoff. We share that point-of-view in no uncertain terms. We are interested in doing work that makes a difference, just like your most valuable employees.

Our planning process employs a series of structured strategic conversations.

They are strategic conversations both because of what they are about and who is in the conversation. The process is strategic because it involves discovering or crafting high-leverage strategies that forward you toward your objectives. We find the conversations are interesting and compelling dialogues. Though they are sometimes disturbing, they are more often fun— and very, very rich in terms of yielding strategy and options.

Like any good conversation, there is considerable preparation. These conversations are informed by a thorough scan of the operating environment and in-depth research about the issues, conditions, and competitive factors with which you grapple. Contrary to popular notions, a plan is not just a set of decisions made in advance.

A plan also tells you what to pay attention to, how to measure success, and how to make the best of your inevitable share of bad luck or bad markets. It prepares you and your organization to respond to the circumstances of your environment, whether or not its circumstances are known in advance.

There is an old Arab proverb that says, “He who predicts the future lies even if he tells the truth.”

A plan may not successfully make the call on what the future may bring. As we know all too well, the future is full of surprises. If done well, the planning process has a bigger pay-off. Because you and your organization practice engaging in a number of possible futures, you’re more skilled, flexible, and fluent in creating strategic responses to the unexpected. You’re better at hitting the unexpected curve balls that come your way. A good planning process—like any other form of practice—creates the capacity for a quicker and calmer response to the present. It’s hard to put a premium on a cool head in a tough situation.

Our clients share one very important trait: they are unafraid of fearless self-evaluation.

Not only are they smart, they want to be smarter. They’re not focused on blaming themselves for the occasional past strategic misstep. They want to get it right today. So, it’s not only our experience and insights that we offer our clients; it’s also an ongoing accumulation of our clients’ experience and insights. Working together, as we discover better, smarter, and more effective ways of reaching optimum performance, we bring that knowledge to our new clients.

Learning can be expensive. The good news is that you don’t have to invent everything yourself any more than you have to make all the mistakes yourself.