What is the best way for OD professionals to plan when it’s so difficult to anticipate the future right now?


Planning and implementing change programmes is one of the pillars of organisational development. Planning such programmes is a significant challenge right now.
Most organisations operate a one-year planning cycle. Performance management and professional development are typically aligned with it. Some also have more strategic planning horizons of up to five years. No one can tell you with certainty that they know what their business will look like in five years.


The new reality is shorter performance windows. In a time of crisis, a 12-month performance window is too long. The finish line is too distant. It’s difficult to gauge if things are getting better or are coming back under control. We have shifted to shorter performance windows because they work. We identify what to achieve in the next 30, 60, or 90 days. We expect that external factors are likely to change, and that we’ll have to adapt our focus accordingly.


We’re now firmly in the era of flexible performance. We still need annual planning and longer-range strategic planning. We just need to be humbler about our ability to predict the future. We need to be more willing to adapt our plans when we can see that we were wrong. This means viewing the goals we begin with as not set in stone. Flexible performance welcomes the opportunity to course correct often. Ultimately, we want people doing the right work at any given moment.


It’s not just goals that need to be flexible. Targets also benefit from more flexibility. The targets we begin a year with may no longer be entirely possible when circumstances change. Flexing targets to acknowledge that reality makes more sense.


Employee development, especially short-term learning needs, also benefits from a flexible approach. Long-term development planning still makes sense for future roles. It doesn’t help people in the team who need to know how to use Microsoft Teams right now. Identifying short-term learning needs and addressing them right now makes sense. These needs will change over the course of a year too.


Planning is vital, but inflexible planning is harmful. Sticking rigidly to the plan when all around is in flux creates panic in a team. Applying a flexible mindset to each of your plans makes sense. Pay attention to your assumptions. Keep your eyes and ears open so that you are not blindsided by changing circumstances. Engage your team and use their insights to inform your plans. Let them know why plans are changing and exactly what you need from them. Be humble. Be flexible. Be inclusive. Stay positive.



Justin Kinnear is Head of Research at HPC

Justin is a highly experienced facilitator and coach who advises HPC’s clients on their most pressing development issues.  As well as his extensive research and facilitation experience, he was formerly Head of L&D at IBM and Britvic.


Justin features as part of the IITD’s Ask The Expert panel and specialises in organisation development. You can read more questions answered by Justin in the IITD’s Developing Your Organisation Archive.

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