Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Strategic Mapping

This will be part 1 of 2 parts on Strategic Mapping. It's an excellent article by one of my mentors, Bill Easum, which identifies how to look at and plan the future of the church.

The article has implications for the way in which the church, our church plans for the future. Do we set a course, strategically plan for it, then work the plan irregardless of the outcomes? Or do we make a map of our preferred destination and work the map knowing nothing is in concrete in life. Read on . . .

Strategic Mappers

Those who follow my antics know that I make a distinction between strategic planning and strategic mapping. To put it bluntly, I don’t think we have time in a warp-speed world to do extensive planning. Moreover, there’s not enough reliable information on hand about the future to do strategic planning. However, I do believe that we must take time to map or chart a course for our journey.

What’s the difference? Strategic plans are drawn before one begins the journey based on the information at hand. Usually one of two things happens: Either people follow the plan even if it isn’t working (because so much time was invested in drawing up the plan that no one wants to discard it), or the plan is placed on a shelf to gather dust.

On the other hand, anyone who has ever charted a course knows that course corrections take up about 90 percent or more of the navigator’s time. Likewise, a strategic map gets drawn as the journey is underway. It is never in concrete like most strategic plans. Consider Moses . . . In taking the people from Egypt to Canaan, he had some idea of the heading on which to begin because he had some idea of the landscape, but he had no concrete plans for getting across the Red Sea. He just knew anything was better than making mud bricks in slavery (continuing the slow death of the congregation), so he started out on the journey. Strategic mapping is starting out on the journey with a general idea of where you want to go, yet being flexible enough to be inspired, take detours, reroute, or even start over again if that is where God leads you. Because the destination is more important than the plan itself!

The reason so many church leaders have problems understanding and accepting this difference is that most of our churches are still firmly in the grasp of people possessed by 20th century Modernity, which includes management by objective, strategic planning, rationality, linear direction, cost-benefit analysis, quality control, and continual improvement. However, in the real world, organizations often find themselves gradually moving in directions they never intended or planned. And if something works, in retrospect they label it a deliberate strategy or a strategic plan. In other words a lot of strategic planning is not very strategic after all.

In his book The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, Henry Mintzberg uses the metaphor of a potter at the wheel, where strategy is the clay. The key to the potter's craft is the intimate connection between thought and action: guiding the clay, responding to its shape, bringing experience and knowledge to the task while looking to the future, sensing rather than analyzing, and learning while sculpting the clay. Now we are face to face with strategic mapping, drawing the map, molding the clay as we make our way through the wilderness called life. Strategic mapping, unlike strategic planning, is not based mostly on information as much as on hands-on experience.

Think of strategic mapping as different from a highway map that says “this way” or “turn here.” Think of strategic mapping as topographical mapping, filling in the hazards, terrain, contour lines of the culture, canyons, streams, etc. Strategic mapping is not so much a “do this when this occurs” or “avoid this” or “at the next intersection take a right” as it is “Here is the lay of the land. Where you want to go and what you want to accomplish will determine which paths might best get you there the safest or the fastest.” Tom Bandy has a lot more to say about this in his book Moving Off the Map (Abingdon Press).

Any thoughts . . .?

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