Roger Parrott

Why Long-Range Planning Doesn’t Work

Based on history and the shaping of cultural and market forces, I could easily speculate about what the future might hold, but I don’t plan for a specific future, nor do I work to hit specific growth targets. Having lived Opportunity Leadership for many years now, I know that when I look back to consider what I might have anticipated five or ten years ago, today’s reality will look nothing like the future I could have imagined at the time.

Leaders are expected to have a vision for the future, articulated with measurable outcomes. But is that really the best way to lead?
“Where do you expect the university to be in five or ten years?”
As the president of a university, this is a question I am asked regularly. That’s a very natural question to ask of any CEO because society expects leaders to have a ‘vision’ for the future. And we’ve been schooled to believe that we must lavishly articulate that vision in measurable outcomes.
When asked that question, my response is—and this is the absolute blunt answer which I’ve even shared in television news interviews—’I have no idea. But I do know that the best plan we could come up with around conference tables pales in comparison to the plan that God has in store for us.’
Candidly, I don’t know what our future as a university looks like. We may have more students five or ten years from now, or fewer students. I don’t know what new academic programs we might add or cut. I don’t know where we might open new campuses or close some. I don’t plan the future. Our destination is totally dependent on God bringing us opportunities. And so, not only do I not plan for the future, but even more importantly, I don’t worry about it.
Based on history and the shaping of cultural and market forces, I could easily speculate about what the future might hold, but I don’t plan for a specific future, nor do I work to hit specific growth targets. Having lived Opportunity Leadership for many years now, I know that when I look back to consider what I might have anticipated five or ten years ago, today’s reality will look nothing like the future I could have imagined at the time.
Opportunity Leadership is grounded in waiting in anticipation for God-given opportunities to develop that mesh seamlessly with our mission, gifting, and capacity—propelling us to destinations that are heavenly ordained. As a result, we become leaders who hone traits that enable us to become highly sensitive to the wind of God and create an organizational culture that allows us to respond to new opportunities with urgency, adeptness, and energy.

Instead of destination planning, what we must plan well is the execution of our implementation agenda. At my university, we teach history, hold chapel services, play football, provide food service, pay the bills, and complete all the other functions that go into running a small city on a campus. We plan and work hard to ensure those activities are robust, efficient, seamless, and effective. It is good stewardship to plan well what we know we are responsible for doing, and I believe God won’t entrust us with more if we don’t use well what we already hold in our portfolio.

This type of implementation planning must be developed as locally as possible, with the people in the trenches carrying out the specific work. In contrast, comprehensive visionary plans are often drawn up by boards, CEOs, and strategic task forces. Then those leaders spend the following months or years in frustration because the frontline implementers can’t move the changes forward with the same seamlessness envisioned by the planning team.
As leaders, we find our true calling when we break free from a traditional planning process anchored in structure, stability, and control. Instead, we focus on being attentive, informed, and flexible enough to capture opportunities.
The Negative Effects of Destination Planning
The church has learned to build organizations that often mirror the impressiveness of those constructed by the business world. But unlike secular institutions, our eternal focus values the quality of the journey, not simply establishing new beachheads. Structured destination planning not only limits what we might accomplish, but the nature of the process creates five by-products that pollute a ministry’s organizational culture.
1. Destination planning rarely produces the most significant outcomes in our ministry.
Look back on the last decade of your ministry. What was the most significant outcome? Was it drawn out in a plan?
Read More

Scroll to top
Refcast

FREE
VIEW