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c  

   
   by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in ›   à 1994à

(3)à 3-4. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

Ian Wilson in the lead article argues convincingly that in this period of rapid change we should
shift from strategic planning to strategic thinking and strategic management. Henry Mintzberg
(1994)à in an article appearing in the latest issue of the       titled "The Fall
and Rise of Strategic Planningà" states that the label     should be dropped
because strategic planning has impeded strategic thinking.

Mintzberg's argument is as follows: strategic planning is about analysis (i.e.à breaking down a
goal into stepsà designing how the steps may be implementedà and estimating the anticipated
consequences of each step). Strategic thinking is about synthesisà about using intuition and
creativity to formulate an integrated perspectiveà a visionà of where the organization should be
heading. The problem is that strategic planning proponents believe that analysis encompasses
synthesis; that in the best practiceà strategic planningà strategic thinkingà and strategy making are
synonymous. This beliefà in turnà rests on the assumptions that prediction is possible and that the
strategy-making process can be formalized.

Mintzberg arguesà and Wilson would probably agreeà that predicting seasons of the year is
simpleà but predicting discontinuitiesà such as a technological innovationà is difficultà if not
impossible. Moreoverà Mintzberg maintainsà formalizing a strategy implies a sequence from
analysis through procedure to action. Certainly we do think in order to act; but also we
sometimes act in order to think. We experiment; those experiments that work converge into
patterns that become strategies. To Mintzbergà the essence of strategy making is the process of
learning as we act. Formal systems can never internalizeà comprehendà or synthesize hard
information. Thus planning can not "learn." Mintzberg saysà "Strategies can develop
inadvertentlyà without the conscious intention of senior managementà often through a process of
learning. . . . Learning inevitably plays  if not  crucial role in the development of novel
strategies (p. 111)."

Mintzberg sees strategic planning as practicedà as strategic programming²articulating and


elaborating strategies that already exist. When managers comprehend the difference between
planning and strategic thinkingà it is possible to return to what the strategy-making process
should be: "capturing what the manager learns from all sources (both the soft insights from his or
her personal experiences and the experiences of others throughout the organization and the hard
data from market research and the like) and then synthesizing that learning into a vision of the
direction that the business should pursue (p. 107)."

Mintzberg does not mean get rid of the planners. Insteadà those with planning responsibilities
should make their contribution around the strategy-making process rather than inside it. Planners
should supply the data that strategic thinking requiresà should act as catalysts who support
strategy-making by aiding and encouraging managers to think strategicallyà and should help
specify the implementation steps needed to carry out the strategic vision.
Mintzberg distinguishes between planners and managers. Planners do not have authority to make
commitmentsà nor do they have managers' access to that "soft" information critical to strategy
making. Managers are under time pressure to make decisionsà to actà not reflect; they may
overlook important analytical information. Planners have the time and the inclination to analyze.
Their role should be to pose the right questions rather than to find the right answersà opening
complex issues for thoughtful consideration. Planners should function as strategy findersà
analystsà and catalysts. Planners should encourage managers to think about the future in creative
waysà to question conventional wisdomà to raise difficult questionsà to challenge conventional
assumptionsà and to help themselves out of conceptual ruts. Mintzberg cites Arie de Geus (1988)à
onetime head of planning at Royal Dutch Shellà in a classic article titled "Planning as Learningà"
as arguing that the real purpose of planning is to change the mental models that decision makers
carry in their heads.

What are the implications of the Wilson and Mintzberg arguments for college and university
leaders? Firstà presidentsà chancellorsà provostsà and deans should focus on strategic thinking and
strategic managementà on developing a shared vision for their school. Their colleagues with
"planning" either in their title or in their assigned responsibilities should function in the role of
planners as described by Mintzberg. They should not be toldà "Draft the plan." Such
commandments usually result in another document for the archives.

There are a number of tools available to planners to assist them in helping senior administrators
think strategically. Ian Wilson points to visioning and scenarios. Perhaps Ian will present a
seminar through the UNC Institute for Academic and Professional Leadership on these topics.

›   itself can serve as a tool. Our editorial board is charged with identifying signals
of change in specific sectors of the macroenvironment (socialà technologicalà economicà
environmentalà and political) and suggesting their implications for higher education. Our lead
articles focus more broadly on what is on the horizon that can affect colleges and universitiesà as
do our pieces in Commentary. The Situation Room focuses on emerging issues and on issues
management techniques. We have begun a new section in this issue: The Internet. In the next
issueà we will began another section: Methods and Techniques. In the April issue for exampleà
Mark Champion and James Rieley will describe their experience with environmental scanning
and with Hoshin planning respectively as two approaches to effective planning.

If you wish to contribute an articleà please send me a 800-1200 word manuscript for our review.
As always we welcome your comments and suggestions as to how we can make ›  
more useful to you.

 


Mintzbergà H. (1994à January-February). The fall and rise of strategic planning.    


   107-114.

DeGeusà A. P. (1988à March/April). Planning as learning.       70-74.