The fall and rise of strategic planning – Henry Mintzberg

‘The Fall and Rise of Strategic Planning’ by Henry Mintzberg – Harvard Business Review

When we started with strategic planning in the sixties it was the ‘one best way’ to come up with a strategy and to implement one, which would improve the competitive advantages of different departments. Nowadays, the opinions are divided.

Strategic planning isn’t the same as strategic thinking. Strategic planning is analyzing, while strategic thinking is synthesizing. With this statement, we come to the core of this article, written by Mintzberg: most of the strategic thinking contains visions, not plans. When companies don’t learn the difference between strategic planning and strategic thinking, they should go back to what developing a strategy actually means: to capture what the manager learns from all different sources and combine this into a vision.

Planners should develop their contribution around developing a strategy and not within it. By redefining the function of a planner, companies will acknowledge the difference between strategic planning and strategic thinking. Planning has been about analyzing: divide an objective in steps, formalize these steps so they can be executed almost automatically. Strategic thinking on the contrary, is about synthesizing, this involves intuition and creativity. Strategies can’t be developed in a schedule and can’t be received soilless. They should be free to occur at any time and at any place in an organization. By thinking outside the box, strategy developing can occur which would lead to new perspectives and combinations.

The pitfalls of planning
Planners let people believe that the plans will not succeed when there is too little support from the top management or when people in the organization are not open to change. The problem with planning is that they handle a calculating style instead of an involving and concerning style. Strategies get their value when people who are involved infuse this with energy.

Fallacies of strategic planning
An expert is being defined as someone who avoids pitfalls in their way to the fallacy. The biggest fallacy of strategy developing is: because analyzing contains synthesizing, strategic planning is the same as strategy developing. This fallacy is being supported by three wrong assumptions.

  • The fallacy of prediction: we can’t say that the world will stop spinning before plans are being approved, and from that point the world will start spinning again just like you predicted. It takes a while before plans are being approved and in that time things can change which may influence your plans.
  • The fallacy of detachment: Different professors state that an administrative system develops the plans and policies because the system captures a task and the management will only succeed if it’s not being disturbed with the details of this task. Mintzberg states in this article that from this point of view, strategies will be separated from the operational. Thinkers will be separated from the doers and formulation from implementation. Systems have never been able to synthesize like a professional can, and they probably never will. The detachment of the system is a fallacy.
  • The fallacy of formalization: the failure of strategic planning is within the failure of systems which people see as something that is as good as a human being. Formal systems can process more information, that’s for sure. But they can never assimilate, understand or synthesize. Formal procedures are blocking the learning process of developing a strategy.

So, what do you think after reading this summary of Mintzberg’s article about strategic planning? Do you think we should stick with the traditional planner (when the traditional planner is within the process of developing a strategy)? Or do you agree with Mintzberg and should the strategic planner be around this process, because of all the pitfalls and fallacies? Let us know!


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