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An Evolutionary Approach to Strategic Planning

September 9, 2014

starbuckspurposeThis is the time of year where many organizations re-look at the strategic plan and where the company and teams will focus their energy for the next 30/90/180 days. Gone are the days of a five year strategic plan, with the speed of change a strategy lasts only as long as the next technological advance or customer demand.

Which leads me to the ‘why’ of this blog post- when leaders come together to focus on the next phase of a strategic plan it is very useful to use an evolutionary approach. What does it mean to use an evolutionary approach to strategic planning?


Typically with strategic planning and as outlined in many books on the topic the focus is typically on taking a macro view of the business and using models and frameworks to determine where the business is now and then creating a pathway to where the business is going. Skills needed by successful leaders include strategic thinking and strategic conversations.

These are core elements to successful strategy AND there is a huge component that is often overlooked which is the human spirit element.

I have had great success in facilitating evolutionary strategy meetings where the focus is on the ‘why’ and the ‘purpose’ and ‘the emotional connection with customers’ aka building in the ‘human spirit factor’ and then building strategy from that foundation.

Too many times a strategic meeting or discussion is on the physical outcomes while completely bypassing the emotional realities of ‘why’ employees are engaged with a purpose or vision of a company and the ‘why’ customers feel compelled to do business with the company.

Strategy is best created when there is a balance of information from stakeholders such as employees and customers as well as creating an emotional connection to vision and purpose. An evolutionary strategic planning session asks different questions and focuses the lens on excitement and possibility of what could be created to ultimately change the world. This process can be done with any industry and in my experience creates superior results for the company.

A great example is a client of mine Omnitel who I have worked with to help with internal and external branding strategy. We spent an entire day and half on the ’emotions’ of the senior leaders in regards to the massive changes needed to elevate the brand and customer engagement. Once we were able to have clear dialogues on ‘why’ leaders were resisting the changes needed and ‘how’ all leaders could emotionally connect to the purpose – which is to engage the employees and the customers playfully with the brand – then the magic happened. Two of the senior leaders gave a wonderful video testimonial to this point.

The Starbucks purpose shown above is a great example of creating an emotional connection by unifying the very large ideal of ‘human spirit’  with the local. To inspire and nurture the human spirit is a HUGE calling and desire and then to make it local with one person, one cup and one neighborhood brings it all right to the heart. Employees can ‘feel’ this purpose and embody it while customers ‘feel’ the truth of that purpose each time he or she visits a local Starbucks.

An evolutionary approach to strategic planning and thinking shifts the focus from ‘results and business’ to ‘making a difference while making business success’ and there is an energetic difference. Through the lens of ‘making a difference’ and ‘human spirit’ the strategic approach builds excitement and potential and this builds tremendous energy and momentum that helps to implement the action steps of the strategic focus and plan. Almost as if by magic.

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