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Does Your Business Follow an Efficient Self-Organizing System for Planning?

There are many different planning approaches. I am always interested when planning approaches seek to closely align culture and business. A somewhat socio-economic approach appears that we can’t ignore when we consider our internal and external stakeholders.

Life and business never forge ahead in a straight line. They evolve naturally. It is self-organizing. In nature, seemingly random things happen that shape the very fabric of existence. This happens in business too. Businesses tend to operate as self-organizing systems and their natural evolution often leads organizations in the right direction. Embracing this natural progression is referred to as an organic approach to strategic planning.

Examples of self-organizing systems can be found in biology. They include people, plants and animals. These systems change and evolve in many different ways and they naturally embrace the need to survive, strive and thrive in their world. In the absence of structure they will naturally organize themselves. This happens in many traditional people cultures and young organizations.

The organic approach to planning is considered somewhat avant-garde, as some think it is not strategic planning at all. Strategic planning can follow a predictive or an adaptive approach. Organic planning is far more inclusive and adaptive, but that does not mean it’s not strategic.

As a unique approach to company growth, organic planning focuses on best practices, processes and the methods a business uses to get things done. People are encouraged to focus on what is working rather than problems. Continuous improvement is filtered through what the business is seeking to be, rather than what it is trying to achieve. Emphasis is placed on what the company does best.

Your organization would benefit from the organic strategic planning model if the following apply:

  • The mission and vision apply to a large team and take time to implement
  • Stakeholder groups are different and don’t align well
  • The business is not normally an organized structure with clear ways to do things
  • Your beliefs, values and attitudes of people are really important
  • The organization likes to tell stories and culture is valued
  • You can benefit from customers and investors willing to forgo traditional strategic planning
  • You’re focused on relationships among stakeholders over bottom-line results

If you’re in a self-organizing business and culture, then you need to consider the way you approach strategic planning. Your approach should include the following steps:

Find a way to tell your story. Use dialogue and storyboarding approaches to discuss business values. Like a campout, sit around the fire and share your story. The challenge is having the right people at the table.

Bring the organization’s vision to life. Diagrams and pictures speak a thousand words. Have people develop an action plan around the vision and the way they impact it.

Don’t lose sight of your goals. Provide a means to talk about the business processes needed to achieve the vision and mission. Do this at least quarterly and get the team engaged in how they are making it happen.

Embrace and build on your success. Focus on discovering your business success stories and engage the planning stakeholders. The strengths, wins, moments of truth, and what has worked should be identified and discussed. Record it and acknowledge it.

Focus your team on continuous improvement. Business planning and improvement is a never-ending process, and it’s important to remind your team that continuous improvement is the ongoing goal. Create a living action map and keep it updated. Get people to discuss what they are doing to make it happen.

If the business culture is not willing or able to follow orderly approaches, then organic planning may work. This is especially true if there are a number of influential stakeholders involved and where results are not the key to success.

Like any biological system, organic planning needs to unfold with consideration for the whole system. What you get is an organization focused on naturally occurring wins and successes. It just takes time.

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Richard Lannon
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