Strategic Planning in a Fast-Paced Environment

Organisations are observing today, all at once, the seismic changes of worldwide unrest, financial disruption, climate threats, global warming, mass resignations and growing concerns over corporate sustainability. So how can they focus their strategy to be ready to embrace change in times of uncertainty? By instilling a mindset adapted to change in their people, and encouraging them to keep improving their learning curve.
Celine Chami
Oct 17, 2022

There is something that companies of all sizes and sectors have in common, and that is the amount of change and the speed at which it is happening.

Change is a constant force that every organisation has to deal with. And the rate at which change is accelerating, year after year, has defined our fast-paced world. However, what we are witnessing today would have been completely incomprehensible just a few years ago. Organisations are observing, all at once, the seismic changes of worldwide unrest, financial disruption, climate threats, global warming, mass resignations and growing concerns over corporate sustainability.

Companies are finding themselves constantly navigating uncharted waters and are often unable to factor in how employees will react and adapt to these changes at their respective levels.

At the same time, they are expected to be “agile” and have enough flexibility and openness to successfully steer through these changes.

It is no longer helpful for businesses to spend months and months building inflexible strategic plans that aim to predict the organisation’s long-term future, explains Dr Lynda Folan, founder of Inspired Development and author of ‘Leader Resilience, The New Frontier of Leadership (2021)’.

According to Lynda, strategic planning must be agile and flexible enough to pivot at a moment’s notice in the current ambiguous, volatile environment.

In the past, companies relied on strategic plans built for the subsequent three to five years, serving as a roadmap for the objectives they wanted to reach.

Planning for five years ahead in today’s environment is mission impossible, and it has become a condition that the only way for the organisation to secure its presence and growth in the future is through its people. Rigid planning needs to be phased out and replaced by preparedness and openness to change.

Katja Schipperheijn, author of Learning Ecosystems and founder of Habit of Improvementa consultancy that focuses on learning strategies that foster growth and well-being in a human-machine symbiosis – suggests that strategic planning in this ever faster, innovating world can no longer be done without involving employees. There may be an impending recession yet trained employees with the right mindset are still in high demand. Many open vacancies remain unfilled and the war for talents plays out with younger employees who choose a company that, like them, is purpose-driven.

“When organisations do not focus their strategy on employees, and by extension society, it will not benefit their employer brand and will affect their long-term growth,” Katja states.

For Ruth Kudzi, founder of Optimus Coach Academy, and guest on Headspring’s podcast “The Science Behind High Performance”, strategic planning needs to focus on employees and tasks. Organisations should ensure that they have the right people in place who are able to execute the strategy and consider how their employee needs may change. It is imperative to understand how employees contribute to the overall strategy and are sufficiently prepared through training and support.

When people are not considered, companies may well have a high-growth business but not the employees to provide the required service, nor have the right training and supervision needs because they recruit too late and have capacity issues.

Andreas Slettvoll, CEO of CHOOOSE, explains that employees and strategic planning go hand in hand. Without the buy-in and wide adoption of the strategy by the team, it will be very difficult to implement. There is no use in strategic planning if organisations are not taking into account the team’s competencies to implement the plan, because it is important for employees to feel a sense of ownership.

For an organisation to become truly nimble, it needs to instil first and foremost a mindset adapted to change in its people, and encourage them to keep improving their learning curve.

So how can organisations prepare their workforce for the future? On which level should their strategy be focused so they are ready to embrace change in times of uncertainty?

Foster people’s curiosity

Curiosity is such a crucial component in times of change. Employees will frequently come across new and unexpected situations, so as they face the change and try to adapt, they must be particularly attuned to acquiring new knowledge with the purpose of making sense of what they’re experiencing.

For Andreas Slettvoll, curiosity is crucial. It helps to improve the team’s ability to take on information and build a better understanding, as they are naturally interested in the wider implications or issues around their work.

Ruth Kudzi explains that when people are curious, they broaden their minds to possibility. By imagining different scenarios and looking at opportunities, people can develop more creative thinking skills which can be effective in periods of change.

A culture of curiosity gives the organisation the head start and momentum required to see a project all the way through, and makes sure it is hitting its objectives and beyond, Andreas continues. “It often means people are ready to take on new challenges and this is exactly what every organisation needs from its team, particularly in times of change and strategic planning,” he concludes.

To learn more on how to foster curiosity in the workplace, head to our article “Why You Should Foster Curiosity As A Skill At Work”.

Establish a culture of transparency

When organisations encourage a culture of transparency, they are engaging employees in the problem-solving equation, and how to lead in times of change.

Andreas firmly believes that in order for an organisation’s plan to be implemented successfully, the whole team should be working on it to understand its purpose. They need to recognise where the company is today and where it plans to go, so that they understand the strategy and continue to be curious about their role in the wider plan. Similarly, the management team needs to be involved in the daily operations to ensure that employees have the resources and support they need to prepare for what lies ahead.

Katja Schipperheijn explains that if people don’t know why they have to keep learning, or why a task adds value, then their engagement is lower. She also noticed that companies that inform employees on strategy are more often seen as great places to work. When employees are involved at a strategic level, not only will they show less resistance to the changes coming their way, but equally they will contribute to a culture of understanding and innovation.

Encourage a growth mindset

As Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, puts it: “If you take two kids at school, one of them has more innate capability but is a know-it-all. The other person has less innate capability but is a learn-it-all. The learn-it-all does better than the know-it-all.”

A growth mindset is based on a passion for learning and an acknowledgement that challenges help a person to grow.

Katja believes that a growth mindset is very important to dare to fail, and to know that positive opportunities can come from setbacks. She also describes some essential competences that companies look for in employees. These help in dealing with uncertainty and, more so, they support their willingness for continuous learning, which creates in the organisation a strong learning culture.

To acquire these competences, she refers to the things that helped people deal with change when they were children: like curiosity, creativity and openness, as well as resilience or the gift of seeing similarities in the differences and working with them.

Dr Lynda Folan explains that people must develop and maintain resilience to thrive in the present volatile and uncertain world. To do that, they must have the ability to manage their mental processing and ensure that they maintain a constructive mindset. Constructive thinking is the process whereby the mind aligns with healthy interpretations of events and circumstances and chooses constructive reactions. If done right, a person can constructively process information, no matter how challenging, and ensure that well-being is enhanced.

Improve people’s learning curve

When an organisation has a high learning curve, it means that people on the job are still learning to perform their tasks. This may result in having more resources assigned to an initial job. However, as learning is acquired, subsequent performance of these tasks will take less time, and ultimately less resources, because employees now have an acquired knowledge.

Ruth clarifies that as change happens, the businesses that survive and thrive are those that adapt to the external environment by seeking out new opportunities and ensuring that they are responsive to change. Those businesses embed learning and development in their strategy, and invest in training and coaching alongside technology to help enhance the potential of their employees.

In her opinion, coaching and training around change can support people to look at how they behave, and help them have more perceived autonomy and control. Alongside an open and honest dialogue, learning can be embedded by involving as many people as possible.

Lynda suggests that in the current context, organisations must actively support their people to focus on lifelong learning by providing a broad range of developmental strategies that cover a range of specialisms. The challenges of a volatile and uncertain environment necessitate that developmental strategies focus on developing emotional intelligence.

She explains that new learning strategies will need to develop a broader range of skills and competence at an enhanced pace. Technological advancements have provided the platform for advanced strategies that allow for this fast-paced learning.

When an organisation prepares its people, trains them to have the right mindset and establishes a culture of lifelong learning, it will become the workplace that embodies agility and flexibility, and will start seeing change as an opportunity, not a challenge, to grow.

Celine Chami

Marketing and communications consultant

Celine is a brand expert and university lecturer with over 20 years of experience. As well as working and training hundreds of companies in the MEA region, she is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Human Resources.