When I was growing up, my dad always had a bird dog. When the dogs were little, Dad would work with them, fine-tuning their natural instincts until all he had to do was send them off in the right direction and let them follow their sense of sight, smell, their inner compass and quick reflexes to flush out the best opportunities (which in this case was probably a covey of quail).
Oh, if organizations could be so nimble when it comes to strategy. Well actually, they can be, but most aren’t. Somehow, far too many organizations have connected strategy with such rigidly quantifiable plans that they rarely consider, much less capitalize on, unexpected opportunities that maybe rustling around in the grass right next to them. Think about it . . . is it really realistic to know, in specific detail, what you should be doing three years down the road?
Let me be clear, I think a solid strategy is critical for organizational success, however I believe a strategic framework that provides direction, rather than a highly detailed strategic plan that dictates specific action, is much more conducive to optimizing impact in an ever-changing environment. What exactly does that mean? For example, a strategic framework might reflect the goal of collaborating with another organization or organizations related to integrated health, or developing new community-based programming, or geographic expansion, or revenue growth. All of these provide a direction, and you can measure whether you accomplished these things, but they also encourage on-going scanning of the environment regarding the best opportunities in these strategic directions.
I’m not alone in my skepticism related to “traditional” strategic planning. In his article “The Big Lie of Strategic Planning” (Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 2014), Roger Martin contends that developing a detailed plan maybe a great way to cope with fear of the unknown, but it’s a terrible way to make strategy. Discomfort and the unknown, and I would add nimbleness and instinct are part of the strategic process. In other words, sometimes on the journey to an intended goal, you end up following an entirely different path than you might have intended . . . and you’ll only find that path if you have the flexibility to follow an unexpected trail or two along the way.
Which brings me back to Dad’s bird dog. As the “governing body” of the enterprise, Dad made sure the dog didn’t get too far afield, but he also encouraged the pup to sniff out possibilities before focusing in on point. The process wasn’t always neat and tidy, but it certainly was effective . . .
… Maybe more of us should consider bird-dogging strategy.