By now you probably know that I believe short term planning has killed good strategic thinking. Boards are failing and should do more to revive good strategic thinking. If boards are truly to add strategic value then they need to bring something different than management to the process.

I had the good fortune of being invited to meet a great bunch of people directing and managing a well known not for profit at their recent board meeting. I was impressed with their common commitment to the cause and their enthusiasm.

They had a well-developed strategy and planning function and process and were well governed.

After some conversation, I become uneasy with the well-oiled planning process and challenged the combined group on whether their strategic thinking was long range enough.

I suppose this comes from my many years of seeing strategic thinking horizons shrink to the current average of about three years out. Aside from this, the challenges they faced would be unlikely to be solved in three years given the vast infrastructure required to do what they do.

There was an interesting tension between the management group and the board. For management, three years was ample. Their focus in planning was what they could get their arms around and it felt that strategic thinking for them was more about making sure this year was in line with ‘something’.

The board on the other hand seemed genuinely activated by a possibility of pushing the timelines back fifteen, twenty or more years. Detaching from operational planning and exploring the remote future for ideas.

I was struck at how natural this interest was for the board and how natural the tighter focus was for management. In fact I liked the tension in the room.

I am often asked whether strategic thinking is the role of the board or management. I find that both need to be involved however without taking the lazy approach and leaving it at that, I think boards could do more to push for long range thinking and use their wonderful breadth of experience and distance to really cast for brighter ideas.

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