Complex Issues Means Rethinking How We Plan

Given the nature of my work as the principal collaborator of a social enterprise focused on supporting seasoned and aspiring leaders to meet complex community demands, January is often marked by a flurry of emails and calls from organizations who, after finally getting a chance during the holidays to slow down and reflect,  get pumped up about organizing a strategic planning session. 


Quite rightly they would see the beginning of a new calendar as a time to bring key stakeholders together to plan for the future by establishing a common direction, prioritizing their many competing demands, and determining financial requirements for the upcoming year.

While there were some consultants and facilitators who perhaps made planning more complex than it needed to be, over the years I learned that planning doesn’t necessarily have to be all that complicated. Whether you’re planning for your personal life, a business, an organization or an entire community, its really quite simple.

You start by getting a good handle on where you are at. Secondly, you determine where you want go. Then it simply becomes a case of sorting out the steps that have to be implemented to get you from where you are now, to where you want to go. In other words, the plan addresses that gap in between.

Although there are many within organizations who resist planning because they just wanted to get busy with the action items, I can honestly say that organizations who spent even one day together planning, always leave as a team that is more enthusiastic, motivated, and committed to action.

As a result while I remain absolutely convinced that planning is the way to go, I also think we just may need to rethink how we’ve traditionally gone about it doing it.

Our approach to planning needs to change because challenges everywhere are much more complex. Because the challenges and solutions are so complicated, we too often continue to react to symptoms rather than dealing with the often multiple root causes. Even if we are able to wrap our thinking around the root causes, the fixes are daunting as they are often long term and involve multiple stakeholders and sectors.

This complex often chaotic environment has resulted in too many people retreating or hunkering down within their own bunkers assuming that someone else will tackle the big issues. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough stepping up to the plate so we too often lose sight of what’s really important.   

Bottom line though is that we all want our organizations, businesses, and communities to be successful from both an economic and quality of life perspective.

We also know that happiness and wellbeing are determined by a complex mix of factors that include personal relationships, job satisfaction, and the character of the neighbourhood in which we live. Some factors are under our personal control e.g. regular exercise, good eating habits, but we’ve left a lot of responsibility for the other factors sit with government and business.

However, the research shows that abdicating responsibility is not the answer. In fact, recent academic research shows that happiness and wellbeing are improved when stakeholders are empowered.

This means that all our planning efforts need to answer three key questions.

Whether planning is taking place for an organization, business or entire community, ask yourself, “Are we providing opportunities for our stakeholders to influence decisions that affect them? Their workplace? Their neighbourhood? Their community?

Secondly, “Are we facilitating regular contact between stakeholders?”

Lastly, “Are we helping our stakeholders gain the confidence to exercise control over their circumstances”?

These three questions will be a sound starting point for the rich discussion necessary to initiate truly meaningful planning that will result in organizations, businesses, and communities reflecting happiness, and wellbeing. 

Of course, we all still need plans that include a vision, values, and strategic directions to get to where we want to go, but first we need to do more to make sure we’re headed in the right direction.


Posted on 01-03-17

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