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Strategic Planning As Action Learning Commerce Essay

Describes the basicss of a “ planning as acquisition ” attack to strategic planning based on action acquisition, and the near- and long-run experience of a mid-sized commercial Canadian company that has adopted this attack. Answers the inquiry “ How can a learning-based planning attack be embedded in the concern procedures of an organisation so that larning and be aftering go manus in manus of course, on a day-to-day footing? “ .

For a company to win in the turbulency of our typical concern markets, it must ne’er stand still or let employee mentalities to jell ; this has come to be associated with uninterrupted larning and agile-adaptability at all degrees of the organisation. However, at the same clip, the company must hold some signifier of traditional constricting strategic concern program to place concern jussive moods and enable aligned action to be undertaken. This quandary raises a critical practical inquiry: “ How can a learning-based planning attack be embedded in the concern processes so that larning and be aftering go manus in manus of course, on a day-to-day footing? ” . This article illustrates the attack we have taken to reply this inquiry. The attack is illustrated through the experience of a mid-sized commercial company with which we worked to successfully present “ planning as larning ” based on action larning rules.

The above quandary is non new ; more than a decennary ago Michael Porter wrote “ Strategic Planning in most companies has non contributed to strategic thought. The reply, nevertheless, is non to abandon planning. The demand for strategic planning has ne’er been greater. Alternatively, strategic planning demands to be rethought and recast. While some companies have taken the first stairss in making so, few have transformed strategic planning into the critical direction subject it needs to be ” . ( Porter, 1987 ) .

So, at a clip when legerity and seasonableness are critical to success in an of all time more complex, disruptive and unpredictable market place, Porter ‘s warning has gone ignored, and organisations are still mired in additive thought and academic planning methodological analysiss ( Mintzberg, 1994 ; Leavy, 1998 ) . Given the increasing criticalness of cognition to commercial success, the challenges confronting strategic planning can merely go more serious.

Presently there are basically three major schools of idea with respect to strategic planning ( Mintzberg, 1994 ) . The Porter school declares that the key to success is to understand what drives markets and to take market place consequently ; the Hamel and Prahalad school is at the opposite terminal of the planning spectrum, believing that an organisation must understand its ain strengths and construct on these internal capablenesss to be successful ; and the Mintzberg school sees success founded upon an apprehension of the implicit in causes of market kineticss and on edifice relevant flexibleness.

Whichever attack is chosen it is critical that execution be “ synergistic ” ( Ackoff, 1977 ) . Synergistic planning focuses on “ doing it go on ” by easing acquisition, and by researching and working state of affairss as they eventuate in dynamic manner. Synergistic planning besides addresses the mundane organisational worlds such as civilization, political relations, and mentalities. This is of import, because as De Geus has noted ( De Geus, 1988 ) “ … planning means altering heads non doing programs ” .

Facilitating acquisition, and researching and working state of affairss as they eventuate in dynamic manner are subjects whose importance has been boosted in recent old ages by constructs of among others, “ The Learning Organization ” ( Senge, 1990 ) ; “ The Knowledge Creating Company ” ( Nonaka & A ; Takeuchi, 1995 ) ; and by De Geus ‘ impressions of planning as acquisition ( De Geus, 1988 ) . De Geus has had considerable support for his contention that “ The ability to larn faster than your rivals is the lone sustainable advantage ” .

Although impressions of larning as planning are clearly non new ( Ackoff, 1977 ; De Geus, 1988 ) , the planning of scheme through explicitly learning-related contexts is still non at all platitude ( Mintzberg, 1994 ) . Examples of organisations larning to alter and accommodate before a crisis impacts have been the topic of documents co-authored by one of us ( Smith & A ; Saint-Onge, 1996 ; Drew & A ; Smith, 1995 ) . A all right reappraisal by Leavy ( 1998 ) besides sets out in item both the benefits and issues associated with a learningful planning attack.

The work reported here is unusual in that it sets out a practical illustration of the execution of “ planning as acquisition ” , and besides in that it deals with “ planning as action acquisition ” .

A Corporate Challenge in Strategic Planning

The instance of “ planning as larning ” we are about to depict began when we received a petition from the President of a mid-sized Canadian company ( Company X ) to suggest a fresh attack to that organisation ‘s strategic thought and planning. Company X is responsible for the Canadian operations of an international organisation with central offices in USA. Company X concentrates on selling and distribution, plus a little fabrication operation. In add-on to the President, the executive commission consisted of four senior functional-area executives and an executive helper. The President wanted to transform the ability of this squad to believe strategically within certain boundaries ( set mostly by the organisation ‘s US-based central office ) . It was besides critical that these executives be capable of reassigning this capableness to the directors that reported to them, and so down through the organisation in a cascading mode.

Company X was non unfamiliar with strategic planning ; in bespeaking our aid in presenting a new effectual strategic planning method, the President specifically forbade usage of the more traditional attacks which they had tried and found wanting.

During our first meetings with the President of Company X and some of the staff at their office site, we remained sensitive to the possible barriers that the organisation ‘s civilization might present with respect to larning. Schein ‘s Cultural Analysis ( Schein, 1993 ) was used informally by us to place any positive or negative factors. Merely positive factors were apparent. For illustration, we noted that the office infinite was set up with an oculus to non merely optimum concern organisation but besides to ease collaborative x-functional exchanges of cognition. Visible symbols and overall office atmosphere wholly pointed to plume in the company, and at that place was a relaxed informal ambiance among direction and staff. Large white-boards were mounted in corridors at assorted locations, demoing on a day-to-day footing how the company was making with regard to different functional countries and their concern marks. Based on such cultural indexs, we both agreed that this organisation seemed to hold an first-class opportunity of successfully following a “ planning as acquisition ” attack.

The result of our preliminary meetings with the President was that an off-site two-day workshop was proposed by us and was accepted. At this session we expected to help executive commission members become familiar with:

o the doctrine of action acquisition

o a model for “ action acquisition as planning ”

o an unsophisticated intuitive executive committee-meeting procedure

o some simple relevant “ tools ”

o a method for familiarising their direct studies to the attack

o a procedure for cascading the attack down through the organisation

These six workshop elements and participants experiences in using them are discussed in the undermentioned subdivisions.

Principle Elementss of The “ Learning as Planning ” Workshop

1. Action Learning

The workshop began with some preliminary geographic expedition of strategic planning and its aims. Participants were so encouraged to portion their ain planning experiences. They rapidly began to discourse how as persons, and in squads, they are afloat in premises, assuming cogency at their hazard in concern contexts which are going progressively complex, equivocal, and competitory.

It was clear to these executives that if they wished to larn to successfully be after to turn to this battalion of issues, peculiarly in a strategic context, it was critical that they continually collaboratively explore and oppugn their guesss by come uping their penetrations, and germinating fresh inquiries taking from their ignorance. There was understanding that the ability to believe things through and de-brief experiences at non-trivial personal and contextual degrees was indispensable to their effectual acquisition, planning and public presentation. There was besides consensus that the traditional strategic planning methods with which they were familiar did non fulfill these demands. To supply a sound puting for such enquiry, we recommended that the executive commission follow an action larning attack.

It was explained to the executive commission that action acquisition is a well-proven person, corporate and organisational development methodological analysis. Further, that it is generically a signifier of larning through experience, “ by making ” , where the undertaking environment is the schoolroom, and the undertaking the vehicle. We recommended that action larning be envisioned as a doctrine with plans typically based on the undermentioned dogmas:

o Participants tackle existent jobs ( no ‘right ‘ reply ) in existent clip

o Participants meet in little stable larning communities ( “ Sets ” )

o Each “ set ” holds intermittent meetings over a fixed plan rhythm

O Problems are relevant to a participant ‘s ain workplace worlds

o A supportive collaborative acquisition procedure is followed in the “ set ”

o Process is based on contemplation, oppugning, speculation and defense

o Participants take action between set meetings to decide their job

By presenting action larning to the executive commission as a doctrine instead than as a method, a much less formal and structured attack than that traditionally described in the literature ( Pedler, 1991 ) could be adopted by the squad, and we were able to rapidly bespeak to them how they could readily place their normal meeting procedures on an action larning foundation.

We besides helped the executives to appreciate the “ elicitive ” nature of action larning which is designed to pull out, gaining control and construct on what is, instead than run in a pure, detached, analytical and rational universe of what should be. By coercing contemplation and advancing insightful enquiry with perceptive spouses such as those in the executive commission, in state of affairss where solutions are non ever obvious, and by seting duty for execution of the programs in the participant-planners ‘ custodies, the executives could do sense of ensuing experiences by gestating them and generalising the replicable points ; their programs for farther actions would so be based on the acquisitions gathered. In a sense action larning within the executive commission meetings would supply a “ safe pattern field ” where the participants ‘ mental theoretical accounts and future actions could be shaped and reshaped in continual learning/development/planning rhythms.

2. A Model For “ Action Learning As Planning ”

In this subdivision we discuss merely the framing procedure ; in Section 4 we will place tools the executive commission members found utile in assisting them think through their strategic jussive moods.

Our “ action acquisition as planning ” model ( ALPF ) introduced at the 2-day workshop was taken from a structured attack to action larning called Performance Learning ( Smith, 1997 ) . Performance Learning provides a solid systemic and strategic foundation for strategic planning, since it seeks foremost to clearly specify mensurable high-ranking strategic results, so to specify lower-level results and activities which finally link to and back up the higher 1s. This cascading procedure of planning, alliance and acquisition was one of the critical demands called for by Company X for their new planning method ; our ALPF satisfied this demand as the undermentioned treatment will demo.

It should be noted that the executive participants in the 2-day workshop were exposed to the ALPF in an indirect and informal mode, “ by making ” . Appropriate parts of the workshop procedure were structured to suit the model, and supply the results the model was designed to arouse. The executive commission were shown the basicss of the ALPF, but at the same clip as other tools and procedures were explored, so that the ALPF itself did non go intrusive or theoretical. However, for the intents of lucidity in this article, the ALPF is described in some item.

Our ALPF is founded in systems theory which tells us that systemic demands are placed by each incorporating system on the systems it contains in a cascading mode. This is applied in ALPF theory as illustrated in Figure 1: the client system will demand certain service norms of the organisational system ; the organisational system in its bend will demand behaviours of the organisations functional and squad subsystems which satisfy these behavioral norms ; the subsystems in their bend demand appropriate elaborate behaviors of the persons that comprise them. As Figure 2 illustrates, in this manner a concatenation of coupled results is defined in response to the demands placed on each sub-system. By accomplishing the low degree results, the higher degree results will be achieved. Outcomes can be defined for “ soft ” every bit good “ difficult ” subjects. For illustration, teamwork can be ensured by specifying results which will further squad behavior.

At Company X, the ALPF was to be foremost applied by the executive commission, and so the same method was to be applied by describing directors, functional squads and persons in a cascading mode. By bordering and driving the public presentation of the organisation in this manner, alliance and uninterrupted betterment would be addressed without unduly curtailing creativeness and freedom to move ; this would be because the assorted systems and subsystems would be planned to be harmonious.

More peculiarly, by necessitating that experiential larning groups ( cascading down through the organisation ) explore and develop outcomes-driven models for their ain local activities, we could supply an organizationally aligned context in which all of Bateson ‘s Learning Levels ( Bateson, 1972 ) would be nurtured, and the purposes of action acquisition in general, would be adequately addressed.

3. An Uncomplicated Intuitive Meeting Procedure

The meeting procedure recommended to the executive commission was besides based on Performance Learning ( Smith, 1997 ) . It was made as simple and intuitive as possible whilst still being based on up-to-date constructs and tools, and its simpleness was non achieved at the disbursal of acquisition or personal development. For illustration, attitudes, emotions, , mentalities etc. of both the executives and their studies are explicitly explored in PL with ensuing developmental benefits. As will be detailed below, this geographic expedition is consistent with Revans ‘ position that action larning contributes to self-enlightenment instead than simple behavioral betterment ( Revans, 1983b ) .

It should be noted that, as with the ALPF, the executive participants in the 2-day workshop were exposed to the meeting procedure in an indirect and informal mode, “ by making ” . The executive commission were shown the basicss of the procedure described below, but at the same clip as other tools and procedures were explored, so that the procedure itself did non go intrusive or theoretical. However, for the intents of lucidity in this article, the procedure is described in some item.

The PL procedure is based on the outcomes-driven public presentation theoretical account presented in Figure 3. The theoretical account has been utilized extensively since the mid-80 ‘s by one of us ( Smith ) in organisations every bit diverse as Exxon ( Smith, 1993 ) , Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce ( Smith and Saint-Onge, 1996 ) , and IKEA ( Drew and Smith, 1995 ) .

Harmonizing to this theoretical account, public presentation is envisaged as dependant on three elements – Focus, Will and Capability. These three elements form a dynamic system. The public presentation degree achieved by the system depends on the interactions and mutualities of these elements. Focus represents a clear definition and apprehension of the public presentation proposed ; Focus is associated with inquiries such as What.. ? ; How.. ? ; Who.. ? ; Where.. ? ; When.. ? ; Why.. ? The component Will represents strength of purpose to action the public presentation defined in Focus ; Will is associated with attitudes, emotions, beliefs and mentalities. Capability represents the wherewithal to transform into world the public presentation defined in Focus ; Capability is associated with such diverse countries as accomplishments, substructure, budgets, tools, physical assets etc. A alteration in any one of these elements may consequence a alteration in the province of one or both of the other elements.

The most favourable set of conditions for optimum public presentation occurs when Focus, Will and Capability form a self-reinforcing system, with all elements in balance and harmoniousness. As Figure 3 shows, current public presentation potency is represented by the grade of convergence of the circles ; optimum public presentation being represented by complete congruity of all three circles. Imbalance and deficiency of congruity will typically take to misdirected and wasted attempts every bit good as loss of public presentation. Areas shown in the Figure, where merely two theoretical account elements overlap, are typical of real-life state of affairss. The cardinal to public presentation optimisation is the continual dynamic tuning of the grade of convergence of the elements based on larning enterprises.

In the “ planning as acquisition ” context for Company X, the executives foremost defined the coveted strategic results, so worked back to analyze whether the necessary “ ideal ” Focus, Will and Capability existed in the organisation or whether the executives had to be after to supply them as necessary. As existent public presentation deviated from optimal and results were non to the full achieved, the executives would larn by comparing existent to awaited consequences and associating to the provinces of Focus, Will and Capability, and/or by dynamic tuning of the three public presentation elements to seek to better public presentation. If it became necessary to joint fresh results to turn to altering conditions or for a new strategic rhythm, planning and tuning would be facilitated utilizing the same public presentation system.

As Figure 4 illustrates, the public presentation theoretical account is consistent across all degrees of the organisation ; nevertheless, the significance of Focus, Will and Capability alterations to reflect the altering context. For illustration, for the executive commission at Company X, Focus might stand for the house ‘s strategic programs to come in a new market ; Will would reflect the organisation cultural potency to back up the new enterprise ; and Capability could associate to the house ‘s plus place on come ining that market. For a functional squad working on a linked but more local job, Focus might stand for spliting up a gross revenues district ; Will would be associated with how the participants and members of the gross revenues organisation at big would experience about the proposed new cleavage ; and Capability would turn to the accomplishment demands and substructure required for the freshly segmented gross revenues force to work adequately.

As noted above, the public presentation system receives feedback by comparing measured public presentation versus the results defined in the ALPF phase, and dynamic tuning is undertaken by the executive commission and their studies to try to keep harmoniousness and balance based on this feedback ; in other words through acquisition. However, as shown in Figure 5, this tuning and acquisition is greatly facilitated through the sort of collaborative larning cardinal to action larning. It is so a logical measure, as illustrated in Figure 6, to follow collaborative larning enterprises which are extremely relevant to the public presentation component being explored. For illustration, Focus may be tuned via methods for rational analysis as described by Senge ( 1990 ) , Dixon ( 1997 ) , Rosenhead ( 1989 ) , and many others ; Will may be tuned utilizing methods described by Argyris ( 1993 ) , and Schein ( 1993 ) ; and Capability could be tuned via audit methods described by Drew and Smith ( 1995 ) . Company X has non taken this measure as yet ; nevertheless, in the interim the executive commission and the coverage squads have utilized the clip to go expert at simple well-proven tools. These tools are described in the following subdivision.

4. Tools

The executive commission were introduced to two really simple tools to ease their strategic duologue. The first was PEST ( Political, Social, Economic, Technical ) Analysis. This tool was intended to assist develop x-functional systemic apprehension of where the concern as whole, and the assorted functional countries, were headed in the wide contextual sense. Besides to pull attending to the deductions for Company X. Although this attack is consistent with the industry and competitory analysis associated with the widely followed corporate scheme of Michael Porter, the action larning procedure of collaborative acquisition ensured that an synergistic planning attack resulted.

Some of the issues that emerged and were explored as a consequence of this analysis were: authorities subsidies, impact of Canada ‘s right of first publication act, university support, emerging economic theoretical accounts, Canada-US transportation pricing, and impact of “ warehousing ” shops. It was apparent that no clear solutions existed for many of these x-functional issues, and in fact many more strategic quandary emerged as the assorted functional countries expressed their ain involvements. However, the executives were surprised at how capable they were at placing of import contextual tendencies etc. when the PEST format was used in the spirit of action acquisition.

The following tool to be applied was a SWOT ( Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat ) Analysis. Here the contextual information from the PEST Analysis was considered in more strategic footings, and with regard to the strategic model that the US central offices had already articulated. Again the sharing of positions x-functionally was really helpful both in acquisition and in making consensus around where organisational attempt should be concentrated. It was besides realized that this sort of attempt would be priceless in the hereafter with regard to a Canadian input to US headquarter ‘s programs.

Consensus was reached from the consequences of the SWOT Analysis as to what to draw together on a Maestro Analysis grid. This was a matrix screening urgency and precedence versus strategic issues. The cells in the matrix were used by the participants to get down to concentrate on those issues considered of high strategic importance, and to specify mensurable results for them. Overall, this was similar to the procedure used in constructing a Balanced Scorecard ( Kaplan & A ; Norton, 1996 ) .

5. Cascading the Approach Down Through the Organization

The workshop included some farther personal development activities ; nevertheless, in footings of strategic planning, the above docket mostly constitutes what was covered. After the workshop, the executive commission met a figure of times to specify clearly the strategic results to be achieved by Company X in the undermentioned twelvemonth. Once the executive commission had reached consensus on its strategic programs, functional meetings were held lead by each executive with his/her ain studies. The same meeting procedure was followed by the executives in assisting their studies to concentrate on functional affairs in support of, and aligned with the executive commission ‘s strategic dockets.

“ Contemplation ” is a critical facet of larning. Hammer and Stanton, in discoursing contemplation, are of the sentiment that “ Reflection must be profoundly rooted in a company ‘s daily operations. In short, contemplation must be institutionalized as a concern procedure ” ( Hammer & A ; Stanton, 1997 ) . The above procedure was intended to accomplish this terminal and guarantee larning at all degrees of the organisation.

Executive Interviews: How Di It Turn Out?

It is now about two old ages since the executive commission workshop was held. Interviews to arouse long-run feedback on the workshop and the “ planning as acquisition ” attack were held late. Over that period, Company X has made the procedure its ain, retaining some facets and pretermiting others.

Planing footings and linguistic communication have been standardized so that they have common significance to all the planning participants. Flow diagrams to clear up the procedure and programming of executive commission meetings have been developed. These include cascading planning to the functional directors and loop between the executive commission and the functional teams.. The overall agenda is timed so that Canadian input to the US central offices be aftering rhythm is made on clip.

It was critical in the President ‘s sentiment that the executive commission adhered to the new procedure pig-headedly, and did non acquire discouraged or pervert. After the workshop some executives were confused by the wide graduated table involved when they still had mundane issues to cover with ; the executive commission needed about six months to digest and experience comfy in using the new attack.

Cascading be aftering down to the studies was considered comparatively easy by the executives, and worked best when the studies formed an action larning group and the appropriate executive facilitated. Having the executives take personal duty for turn overing out the cascading procedure was a cardinal factor in the success of this enterprise. It was noted that where an executive had anxiousness about the procedure the axial rotation out did non travel as swimmingly. In peculiar, when inquiries arose in the roll-out that were unexpected, the procedure became laboured. In such instances it was of import that the executive “ lasted the class ” , and in all such cases the directors and their executive worked through their jobs and were able to eventually to the full take part in the procedure.

Benefits envisioned by the President from a sound strategic planning attempt have been realized and there is excitement and satisfaction among the executives and their coverage directors. For old ages be aftering was a irritant in the side of executives and directors likewise, and there was no connectivity between scheme and day-to-day activities, or between executives and directors. Now, Sessionss are unfastened, and executives and directors see them as larning chances. There is a feeling of being in control and of holding increased lucidity. Setting of precedences has been peculiarly helpful to back up map efficiency, and the attack has now even lead to formation of x-functional squads concentrating on specific undertakings.

Executives universally regard the attack as highly utile and the consequences as first-class. The whole cascading strategic planning procedure is now working really swimmingly, and Company X ‘s ability to lend meaningfully to headquarters strategic programs has improved significantly.


We believe that the basicss and instance reported here supply an reply to the inquiry “ How can a learning-based planning attack be embedded in the concern procedures of an organisation so that larning and be aftering go manus in manus of course, on a day-to-day footing? “ .

We hope that this article will promote other organisations to encompass a “ planning as larning ‘ attack to their strategic planning, and to see action acquisition as a simple practical vehicle to ease their attempts.

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