I recently wrote two posts criticizing strategic planning. It’s always easy to deconstruct the status quo; it’s tough to reconstruct a viable alternative. I’ll propose some alternatives in my next few posts and I am very interested to hear your thoughts on them.
Consider this quote:
“Executive summaries of requests for decisions are useful tools to consolidate our thinking, but they are not an end in themselves, intended to replace the substantive analysis that normally accompanies such high level summaries. If we begin framing all our thinking and communication in briefing note formats and bullet point analyses, there will inevitably be a tragic erosion of deep engagement with the issues” (Self, 2010a, p.18).
While Self wasn’t directly critiquing strategic planning (SP), that “tragic erosion of deep engagement” is an articulate description of many strategy plans as well.
John Bell wrote a great post called “Why Mission Statements Suck”. I agree, but only because most organizations write the mission statement, post it on their boardroom wall and then forget about it (until the next SP retreat of course). Mission is usually figurative, not integrative. The fault is not in the mission statement itself, but in the discernment of the mission and utilization of the mission in decision-making. But how exactly does one ‘discern’ the mission?
My colleague Dr. Gordon Self has developed a Mission Discernment Tool for use within Covenant Health (Disclaimer: I also work for Covenant Health). In a nutshell, the tool allows leaders to ‘discern’ which path to take as they inevitably face crossroads of decisions, using their mission as the guide.
SP assumes we know all the paths ahead, and that if we try hard enough, we can map our organization’s linear path through the future. But it becomes useless when those paths inevitably change or end up as deadends or cliffs. Mission Discernment assumes the future is blurry and somewhat unpredictable. It assumes leaders will face really tough decisions that can’t be predicted in detail. It is not for petty decisions like what colour of pencils you should buy. Rather, it is for organization-altering decisions such as: Do we expand into this market? Do we lay-off part of our workforce? Do we bribe our way into this country or not? Do we outsource part of our organization? Do we invest in this new service/product? These are tough decisions that make or break leaders and organizations. The Mission Discernment tool gives a framework to wrestle with them.
Mission Discernment also gives us a framework to wrestle with moral decisions our organizations inevitably face. I wonder if Niko Resources would be paying a $9.5Million bribery fine if they had discerned their decisions before bribing foreign officials?
The tool was developed for a Catholic healthcare organization, but I foresee it being adapted to any organization that has a strong, thoughtful and unique mission, and wants to thrive in the future through that mission. It won’t replace strategic planning, but can definitely be a great resource for any leader facing a formidable labyrinth of decisions ahead of him/her.
The Mission Discernment Tool can be viewed here.
Self, G. (2010a). Mission Discernment: A preventative ethics strategy for leaders in Catholic health care organizations. Doctoral Dissertation at St. Stephen’s College.
Self, G. (2010, Nov-Dec). Put values Up front: New discernment tool makes sure values aren’t left to chance. Health Progress. Download article here.