The Fifth Question (with a nod to Peter Senge)

There’s some adage about biting the hand that feeds you.

Strategic planning—as currently practiced and promulgated is based on the notion that we can not only predict the future, but can decide in advance how we will manage that future…three, five, even ten years hence.

Not only is this more than a bit absurd; it’s channeling precious organizational wisdom and commitment away from more critical endeavors like innovation and adaptive execution; and finally, by paying high-priced consultants like me to collude in these endeavors, it’s pouring a good amount of money down a rat hole.

Moving away from traditional strategic planning in no way relieves the organization of the responsibility to be purposeful in their pursuits and prudent with their resources. It’s simply that the path forward will not be a sequence of predetermined steps into what, at best, is an unknown future.

So, instead of hammering out goals, objectives, strategies, tactics, and timelines, imagine a facilitated process addressing five fundamental, provocative and exciting questions.

  1. Why does your organization exist?
    What irrational belief do you hold about the world…and the influence your organization can have on that world, which makes your very existence worthwhile?
  2. How must we adapt, so we can thrive in support of that dream?
    Thriving is distinct from surviving. Surviving is about making it to year’s end. Thriving is about the boundless and energetic pursuit of what the organization believes in.
  3. How do we build a healthy and resilient culture that continually challenges the status quo?
    Candor, optimism, and fun are signals of a healthy culture. Do people say what’s on their mind? Do they believe the future is attainable? Do you hear laughter through the walls and down the halls?
  4. How do we improve execution through learning and innovation?
    Organizations are complex living systems. And what do living systems do? They learn and they adapt. That is their nature, their way of thriving.
  5. What would achieving our vision look like, and what should we be doing right now to move in that direction?
    This is the payoff questions, where the essence of the organization is manifest. Our true colors show. And, if we have addressed the preceding questions with focus and depth, engaging around The Fifth Question is both exhilarating and liberating.

This more contemporary approach to planning assures the organization thinks purposefully, acts prudently, and executes effectively; all while creating an environment where challenges and conflicts are seen not as obstacles to maneuver around but as catalysts for new approaches, changed practice, and the reinvention of old systems.

We should be excited by…and driven by what the future holds…but we do things now, we execute in the present in order to attain that future.

To read more visit our Leadership page.

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One thought on “The Fifth Question (with a nod to Peter Senge)

  1. Ayul Abwol Dak May 14, 2012 at 9:12 am Reply

    I would like to know more about the work of Peter Senge on the Strategic Planning especially in LDCs

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