Is Strategic Planning Dead?

How to move on from 5+ year business plans to shorter strategies that succeed in a long term


Times, when companies could succeed with a 5 or 10-year-long strategic plans, are gone. The current business environment calls for agility, meaning strategies must be set for short-term plans and long-term goals. Firstly, rising competition forces strategists to keep an eye on their surroundings, and secondly, the shift in working generations, and fast technological progress has meant that long-term plans can be outdated in only short time. Does it mean that strategic planning is dead? The traditional version of it, yes, but if you manage to adapt planning to modern challenges, execution can happen much faster.

Agility is critical across all corporate levels as it allows the business to continue growing whilst protecting valuable assets from disruption. Millennials, who currently shape the largest working group in the US can help with agility, but at the same time, they shouldn’t shoulder the burden themselves. The problem lies in constantly changing career aspirations among many millennials which has caused corporate turnover rates to increase in the last decade, according to Forbes. If a company operates with a 5+ year plan, creates a problem.

In particular, it is this problem with retention which can affect an existing long-term strategy. If the plan, for example, is in the fourth year of its completion, and key employees decide to leave the company, the process may be disrupted or slowed as as newcomers need to adapt to strategic processes, decreasing agility. However, there are still ways to achieve continuity, one of them is by focusing on corporate culture.

Today, smart leaders plan 3-6 months ahead, and in order to execute fast, they build a team of cross-functional professionals. If employees are competent and capable of completing several tasks simultaneously, executives can stop stressing about the structure of their business. With a strong and engaged workforce, the corporate ecosystem can adjust to changing conditions quickly and achieve agility.

As for technology, there is a strong correlation between employees' capabilities, the speed of execution, and the software and tech approaches a company uses. Technology has affected the business world to the extent where it's simply unnecessary and costly to have a long-term plan. Tech innovations and analytics have come a long way and offer services and software that can knock at least one or two years from long-term plans. These allow faster data processing across all business activities - from sales to supply chain. Digital and cloud solutions then allow the transferal of the missional critical mechanisms to the digital space, where companies can operate faster, without geographical borders, and with a more efficient organizational structure.

With the focus on building a team with improved working capacities and the use of advanced technology, strategic planning has evolved from a lot of time-consuming paperwork with vaguely set targets to dynamic processes where it's clear how the team can hit them. Agility doesn't resonate with a rigid 5-year plan, nor with the old fashioned methods of planning, so if companies continue using outdated trends, it's only their competition who adopt more modern approaches who will benefit.

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