Strategic plans can cause chaos

STRATEGIC planning could lead a company on a path to destruction, says John Curtin International Institute dean of programs Jo Barker.

Professor Barker said companies undertaking strategic planning were often considering just one possible future. She said if that ‘future’ was wrong, the company could be in trouble.

Professor Barker helped set up the Scenario Planning and Research Unit at the institute.

Scenario planning dates back to World War II to allow organisations to consider several possible futures simultaneously.

The process was picked up by the Rand Corporation after the war. The Shell Corporation was probably one of the largest organisations to adopt it when it took it up in the 1970s.

“Shell scenario planners are still some of the best in the world,” Professor Barker said.

She said the unit’s scenario planning process began with finding out what problem kept the company’s CEO awake at night.

“We turn that into a futurist question,” Professor Barker said.

The unit conducts interviews with 20 key staff – not all managers. It also interviews 15 people who are involved with the organisation but not directly in it, such as boards and ex-employees.

“That way we get an outside and an inside picture of what’s happening in the organisation,” Professor Barker said. “From that information we create four scenarios.

“From those scenarios we write four stories – the company’s possible futures. We can than develop four action plans for those four possible futures.”

Professor Barker said scenario planning was becoming more important as the global economy grew.

“We are working at a far greater pace. And we can no longer act as single entities,” she said. “We have to consider alliances. Managers have to think differently.”

Professor Barker said the scenarios also helped improve inter-organisational morale.

“Staff feel that management has listened to them,” she said.

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