8 Flexible Planning Tips From the Experts For an Agile Strategy

Discover eight flexible planning tips from expert strategy consultants to help you achieve an agile and dynamic strategy.

Due to economic instability, the shifting labor market, and a range of social issues and challenges around the globe, traditional long-term strategic planning is no longer sufficient. Although “strategic planning concepts and the notion of long-range planning will continue to be integral parts of responsible management… they may require a substantial rethinking if they are to remain relevant.” For example, they may have to be applied selectively based on factors such as, “the industry, the nature of competition, and the speed with which a particular organization’s environment is changing.” 

That’s where flexible planning comes into play — it’s an effective approach to strategic planning cycles that allows organizations to achieve short and long-term goals and objectives, drive growth, and improve ROI amid today’s unstable and unpredictable environment. 

Tackling strategic planning cycles with a flexible approach may be a new concept for your team. That’s why we spoke with four strategy consultants on the Catalant Expert Marketplace to get their advice on achieving a flexible approach to strategy creation and planning cycles. 

8 Tips to Achieve Flexible Planning

As Catalant consultant Elliot Wilson says, “Any significant change in your macro-environment (whether political, economic, social, cultural, technological, legal, or environmental) requires an adjustment to your strategy.” These days, the issue is that these changes are constant — that’s why strategies need to be agile and adaptable. Here are eight tips to ensure your strategies are flexible enough to help your organization win during unpredictable times. 

1. Continually reimagine your current strategies and refer to your data. –Elliot Wilson

Continually reimagine and evaluate your current strategies, initiatives, and processes to identify which aspects of them need adjusting based on the current environment. Incorporate change management principles to make this a natural process. While doing so, leverage your data strategy to, “adjust the alignment between your strategy and data efforts and ultimately maintain or improve your potential for growth. This includes updating your digital transformation strategy regularly.” 

Since an effective data strategy provides real-time insights into your market and customer base, it should guide your strategic decisions. For example, leverage customer insights to ensure every strategic decision, action, implementation, and execution is structured to improve your customer experience. You can then adjust your strategy to give you a competitive advantage and remain top of mind among your customers at all times.  

2. Conduct creative scenario planning exercises. –Brian Dapelo

Continually conducting scenario planning exercises is another effective way of managing flexible planning. Here are some steps Brian recommends working through:

  1. Consider which strategies and initiatives have been most effective for you in the past and understand why that was the case. Do the same with the strategies and initiatives that have been the least successful throughout the lifetime of your organization. 
  2. Think about new ways or approaches to accomplish your goal in your current environment. Refer to the ways your competitors are tackling the same challenges.  
  3. Scenario plan how each of the new approaches you identified would play out for you. “The more creative and active you are, the more productive the exercise.” 
  4. Develop a clear strategic plan that explains how you’ll execute your new strategies. This process will help your team clarify your vision, understand any assumptions you have about the new strategy, assign roles and establish accountability, and provide transparency across the organization.

3. Value disciplined strategic thinking. –Roy Johanson

As economic and market dynamics continually change, “the more you should value disciplined strategic thinking.” These days, it’s very easy to react too aggressively to macro and geopolitical news — Roy recommends keeping the following principles in mind to help accomplish flexible strategic planning.

  1. Be patient. If you don’t know what to do in a given situation, get comfortable with inaction, at least until you have a clearer understanding of the environment. You’ll undoubtedly have competitors that will act rashly and show you what mistakes to avoid.
  2. Consider alternative futures. Pressure-test your strategies against a wide variety of scenarios and determine which environmental conditions you really need to worry about, versus which are simply noise.
  3. Use uncertainty to your advantage. Some of the best and most innovative strategies come from radical simplification. Reduced complexity typically means increased robustness, regardless of what’s happening in the world.

4. Ensure the entire organization is aligned with your strategic plans and decisions. –Elliot Wilson

No strategy will be flexible or effective if the entire organization is not in agreement on what success looks like. Elliot recommends “aligning organizational structures to the corporate strategy” to help achieve this. “Highly-capable senior leadership must define success and promote regular progress reports, P&Ls, operational responsibility, and an enjoyable environment to execute on strategies and objectives.” 

All strategic plans should also be “openly, concisely, and regularly communicated throughout the entire organization” so employees understand, adopt, and internalize them. Each team member will then be able to approach their daily activities and responsibilities in a way that contributes to the overall strategy. This also allows for clear communication lines from the top down which is especially important in the event a strategy needs to be adapted or scratched based on unpredictable events.

5. Connect strategic planning with your other business processes. –Doug Touche

Allow the strategic planning process to connect to other planning processes within the organization.  Often, leading companies use the first year of a multi-year strategic plan to start the annual budgeting process. This helps to connect the processes between strategy and execution — intentional resource allocation allows the company to achieve its greatest priorities. For companies that prioritize growth and transformational initiatives, allocate resources that cover both short and long-term time horizons. Building business capabilities that support organic growth through innovation and R&D balanced with inorganic growth opportunities is an effective way to achieve a competitive advantage.

6. Stay informed and think two steps ahead. –Brian Dapelo

As Brian says, “No one can see into the future but there are indicators that provide a line of sight into events that we can prepare for to help improve strategic flexibility and adaptability (e.g. the first COVID cases making their way to the U.S. and Russia amassing troops on the Ukrainian border). 

Head into your strategic planning cycles with a forward-looking approach that requires your team to think through potential challenges, obstacles, and crises. Doing so will give you the necessary time to think through possible solutions without having any timing or stress pressures that inherently inhibit the logic and creativity necessary for effective strategizing. 

7. Understand and exploit your scalability. –Roy Johanson

To improve flexibility during strategic planning, “Understand your limitations and past failures as well as your scalability.” Roy believes the most effective strategies today are ones that identify and exploit scalability “in processes, markets, customers, and capabilities.” This exercise will help you capitalize on the opportunities you see, not the ones you’d like to see.

8. Use strategic planning as a way to rally around key business priorities. –Doug Touche

Leadership should use the strategic planning process to rally around key business priorities. For leading companies, there is clarity around how the strategic plan will fulfill the vision and mission of the organization.  It is used to ensure the work that has to be done across the organization is clear and purposeful and helps mitigate ad-hoc projects that may distract from executing mission-critical work that delivers the greatest value for the company.

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