Strategic Planning in the Groovy 1970’s

Last month we covered strategic planning in the swinging Sixties and I discussed Peter Drucker’s philosophy “Management by Objectives”. MBO still has concepts that have survived the decades and continues to offer some value to modern information age companies. However, in the 1970’s, “strategy” started to become a popular business concept and in particular “strategic planning”.

The 1970’s

First let’s remember the 70’s. Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” on repeat, the first cellular phone was produced by Motorola, we all purchased a Sony Walkman and the world changed with the release of Space Invaders in 1978. The pace of life in the workplace was still somewhat “traditional”, and gender equality and workforce diversity were virtually non-existent.

Strategic Planning

The idea of formulating and planning a business strategy was around well before the 1970’s, but during the 70’s it was popularized and formed a regular executive business activity. It was very much a formal, scheduled annual (or longer) event. The concept was sound: to use the ideas of many to craft a vision with supporting business growth strategies. The output of this process then formed the familiar “strategic plan”.

Executive Offsite

I am sure we have all been there (although a bit before my time in the 70’s): the executive team has an annual scheduled planning “away day” (usually interfering with your weekend). Everyone gathers somewhere central where there are no phones to distract anyone, and then the ubiquitous flip chart appears with a rainbow of markers. There is a call to “create a vision statement”, we break into teams, and half the day is wasted. Ultimately some poor soul would be tasked with consolidating myriad flip charts and posters into a document, which was unlikely to ever be read. The following year, last year’s plan would be reviewed, the question of “did we do the things we said we would do” is asked.  Answer: probably not.

Strategic Baggage

Like Drucker’s MBO, elements of classic strategic planning live on, unfortunately for the later. Strategy should not be considered an annual event. Strategic planning and execution, is a constant dynamic way of thinking. It should be interwoven into the fabric of any business’s performance culture (public or private). The most important part of the process is that it got groups of people collaborating and thinking about market challenges and opportunities. It showed that strategic thinking is important, recognized and a critical business function. Strategic planning of the 70’s in many ways, laid the groundwork for how we think and plan today.

Next month, I’ll talk about the awesome 80’s.