How to get better business outcomes with collective strategic planning

How to get better business outcomes with collective strategic planning
7 minutes read

For fans of Star Trek, they are very familiar with ‘The Collective’ – a term that describes the interconnection between the Borg, who operate with a hive mind. Without going full science-fiction, the group operates to protect itself as well as to support their ultimate goal – to assimilate other species. However, the existence of a Borg ‘Queen’ hints at more coercive or directive decision-making, providing an element of free-thinking when required. This isn’t too dissimilar to how many organisations appear to function. For example, whilst frontline staff, operations and back-office functions handle the day-to-day, the leader appears every now and then to clarify the direction of travel. When it comes to strategic planning for the future, this approach may not be optimal. So, read on as we answer how to get better business outcomes with collective strategic planning.


What is strategic planning?

In 1974, Peter Drucker described strategic planning as a “continuous process of making present entrepreneurial decisions systematically and with the greatest knowledge of the futurity”. He went on to describe how efforts, or capabilities and resources, must be co-ordinated to deliver these choices and the need to systematically measure the results against what you expected to happen.

There are several key words in the previous paragraph. ‘Continuous’ runs counter to the cadence of planning, budgeting and forecasting in most organisations. Sometimes, the Herculean effort required to come through a bureaucratic and often laborious process loses the flexibility and diligence required. ‘Entrepreneurial’ hints at the risk-reward or cost-benefit trade-off of key business decisions such as which markets to operate in, which products to launch or what projects to invest in. However, this is also mired in bureaucracy in many larger organisations. Where delegated, it may also result in risk-averse decisions to avoid painful personal consequences.

‘Greatest knowledge’ suggests not only that those informing such decisions are experts in their field, but that they can see all the potential risks and opportunities in the market. Additionally, it implies that research has perhaps informed the decision to proceed or not, or that other parties provide an outside perspective. Finally, ‘futurity’ implies that much of the effort involves looking to the future. This goes beyond your organisation, focusing on the competitive, political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental landscape.


How do you conduct strategic planning?

Returning to the opening example, most strategic planning appears to happen in one place – namely, the head of the CEO. In some cases, the CEO is a strategic thinker, labouring at length over the data, facts and figures available to them, to set the best course for their organisation. They may see themselves as the captain of a ship, setting course for a new destination. If we are lucky, this is documented to bring all of these thoughts into something that others can review.

In the case of the Borg, the drones do not appear to input into the overall strategic direction – that lays squarely with the Queen. However, the collective, much like a business, cannot function without the whole of its employees operating together. To give a balanced view, some leadership teams brainstorm future strategic choices, bringing their experience and expertise to bear. Others simply wait for the CEO to come down from the mountain carrying stone tablets with decisions already made.

As we shall review in the next section, there are challenges with each of these approaches. There is also a sizeable opportunity to do it better, with more information and greater discipline. Perhaps, you have missed the largest opportunity of them all. Perhaps, your organisation is investing in the wrong areas. It may also be the case that some decisions are unachievable with where we are and what resources, capabilities and capacity we have today. This is the true beauty of strategic planning. It gives you context across your organisational capability, your advantageous competitive competencies and your contextual operating environment to maximise potential outcomes. It enables you to make bold strategic choices with confidence. Ultimately, it leads to better business outcomes, more transformational decision-making and galvanising change initiatives.


Challenges with strategic planning

There are a number of challenges with strategic planning, such as:

  • Bias – Various biases, from specialist bias to confirmation bias and beyond, may undermine the quality of decisions we make. We also fall foul of ‘anchoring’, where we rely too heavily on the first piece of accepted information. Furthermore, the last information that we received, or that to which we had a recent, strong emotional response, may guide our next decision. Other biases can lead us to overestimate the impact of a decision or event, overload us with too much choice or stop us viewing things in isolation. Unfortunately, humans can be ‘blind’ to information and choices right in front of us. Sometimes, we even believe that we can outsmart our biases.
  • Misconceptions – Many leaders have long-held misconceptions about the strategic planning process. Many believe that it is focused on productivity i.e. doing more with less. Others view it as a waste of their precious time or that they are too important to be tied up for days in planning. Furthermore, some fear becoming ‘exposed’ in planning meetings for a lack of knowledge. Ultimately, all of these will kill off any prospective benefit from a strat plan, so you need to be open-minded and brave.
  • Organisational culture – Like the analogy of the CEO coming down from the mountain with stone tablets, many wait for the leader to identify and set their priorities. This nullifies the benefits of different perspectives, points of view, experiences and more. Additionally, some organisations and leaders are reluctant to ask employees for feedback or ideas. Others are perceived as unapproachable or fearsome or a mono-culture reduces the diversity of viewpoints. We could go on. However, you get the simple idea that less perspectives, inputs and experiences may reduce the number of strategic choices. In summary, your strategy, even if other great strategies were missed or ignored, needs people committed to delivering it.

Now, let’s look at how we might do things a little better.


Collective strategic planning

Unfortunately for the Borg, they never quite seem to win. Sure, they get close in the many movies and episodes where they appeared. However, they somehow always manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Just as they appear to have triumphed in their despicable pursuit of perfection at any cost, they seem to miss what is right in front of them. Perhaps, the drones (akin to employees in a business) are unable to relay what is happening to the Queen. Perhaps, the drones have insufficient decision-making autonomy to respond rapidly and iteratively to this unpredictable opponent. Maybe, their singular strategic vision has blinded them to other possibilities – despite their all-knowing Queen. Ultimately, we see that resistance isn’t futile and we, ultimately, outsmart the Borg.

Leaving the Borg analogy behind, leveraging the collective cognitive abilities of a group is nothing new. People and firms crowdsource ideas from the general populous. Scientists crowdsource solutions to long-term problems from across industries and disciplines. Market researchers search for insights through cross-sections of the population to identify opportunities. Whereas one ‘smart’ person, commonly defined by your IQ, in the room is a plus, ten smart people in a room should yield the best outcomes (in theory). Collective strategic planning, therefore, is the continuous process of a shared intelligence making present entrepreneurial decisions systematically and with the greatest knowledge of the futurity. Since collective intelligence is an elevated mental capacity from a group working together, often displayed via consensus in decision-making, there isn’t room here for a Queen or a single, brilliant mind to rule all decisions.


Why you get better outcomes with collective strategic planning

Ultimately, it comes down to research. Psychologists observed that those with a high IQ tend to have larger blind spots in terms of bias. Thus, this gives rise to a risk of erroneous or flawed decisions, based on only what you know and believe. It can also lead to project failure from the underestimation or timescales and cost or the overestimation of capability and reliance on past experience. Sometimes, such business issues are solvable with a different point of view on your business challenges.

Furthermore, since the successful outcome of shared intelligence is agreement in decisions, it goes against the commonly-held view of intelligence. Yes, the researchers found that a group of average to low IQ people was measured to display four times the collective intelligence of one with all high IQ individuals. Why? The group with average to low intelligence were better able to collaborate as a team, with less conflict, more innovation and greater consensus. In conclusion, when applying this to strategic planning, it means that you increase your chances to hear different points of view, reduce the chances of argument, uncover more ideas and obtain broad agreement on the best course(s) of action. It also supports a democratisation of strategic intent, bringing your employees along for the ride. Now, isn’t that something worth putting your time into?


Supporting collective strategic planning

Think Beyond offers strategic planning workshops and frameworks to help you plan ahead. We use research and our own frameworks to identify opportunities and to help you to prioritise your strategic choices. Crucially, we don’t herd the leadership team in a room to pluck your brains and replay the information back to you. We come armed with information, we offer channels to obtain more insight and analysis and we challenge you to think beyond. From a 1-year annual operating plan to a 10-year long-term plan, we have you covered. Having worked with organisations with over 100,000 people and operating in over 100 countries, we bring a range of perspectives and some external examples to draw upon.

So, if you would like to arrange a free initial chat, simply call us or ask us to call you. Alternatively, send us a short email if you have any questions for our team.

Finally, why not take 5 minutes to read about the best business strategies.