Mar 29, 2012

Vision Post Two: Short-Term vs. Long-Term Strategic Planning

[ I believe vision is an all important aspect of strategy and, without an inspiring vision, organizations generally do not have a strong and relevant focus.  This is the second in a three part series on vision. ]

I think it is pretty clear:  Apple has weathered their economic storm.  Once near extinction, Steve Jobs ressurected Apple with the iPod in 2000 and they are now the most valuable company in the world.  Sure, they have been innovative and made some great decisions along the way.  But, what is even more important is the laser-like focus they consistently gave to their vision over the past 12 years.  That vision:  to constantly be the company in the tech world that challenged the status quo.  Think of it – Apple’s successful new devices were always first to market. Before the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, and all of their features, these products did not exist in the marketplace.  They never improved an existing device – they always looked anew at how to make a devide that did not exist.  It has been their long-term commitment to a vision – not the short-term commitment to a plan – that has propelled them during very challenging times, including two economic downturns in the past 12 years.

We live in rapidly changing times.  Education, as well as many other mature industries, are experiencing an inflection point, where traditional delivery and pricing models are clearly undergoing change.  Is it possible to even consider writing the traditional five year strategic plan when so much change in that time frame?

I think vision is so central to an organization for many reasons.  Among those reasons is the ability to keep an organization on a long-term strategic trajectory.  In our view, the traditional five year strategic plan is only an effective approach to planning if two preconditions exist:

  1. The organization follows a long-term vision that is relevant and not predicated on changing leadership or external conditions;
  2. The organization annually reviews the efficacy of the five year strategic plan and makes strategic adjustments as necessary.

 From our perspective, a long-term vision is what keeps an organization gaining momentum toward their strategic future, regardless of changing micro conditions or leadership.  A shorter-term strategic plan is key for institutional movement along more responsive paths to change.  

Does your organization have a long-term vision?  Something that is larger than the sum of its parts?  Inspiring and relevant?  In our view, that is the important focus of any long-term strategic direction.