Empathy and strategy… is such a thing possible?

Mar 9, 2015

Any person who has spent time in a corporate planning role becomes aware that strategic plans rapidly devolve to a number driven exercise, in order to populate a financial model. Anything people centric tends to end up on the cutting room floor, allegedly embedded in the numbers or dismissed as ‘discretionary’. The only ‘emotional’ aspect of the final output is the pressure to meet a deadline.

Recently, I facilitated a 2-day strategic planning workshop with a senior team whose organization had previously been acquired by a larger entity. Head office was now remote and communication barriers had emerged. Several years into the relationship frustrations were running high.

With a historical scan, we identified high points and low points, as well as key turning points over the last 20 years. When we named the time periods between turning points, we began to uncover some very real emotions: a period of vitality and energy; a period of transition and confusion; and a period of disappointment and frustration.

When the CEO stood up and acknowledged the disappointment on both sides of the relationship, the discussion shifted from blame to problem solving. It was a pivotal moment catalyzed by a brilliant display of emotional intelligence. The CEO demonstrated both empathy and optimism which in turn re-shaped the planning discussion, affirming my belief that there is room for empathy in a strategic planning process.

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