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April 3rd, 2016

Part 1 of the 3-Part Series
Successful Strategic Planning

Clients often hire me to guide them through the strategic planning process. Organizations pursuing lofty goals – and in most of my clients’ cases, aiming to change the world – understand that planning is essential. A Strategic Plan illuminates an organization’s vision and the road map to get there.   When done correctly and for the right reasons, it becomes not a document that sits on a shelf, but a compass that helps the organization navigate all important decisions and activities – from operations to programs to hiring. It engages the staff, board, funders and other key stakeholders and assures that everyone is moving together in the right direction.

Given all these benefits, wouldn’t it make sense for every organization to engage in the process? Actually no. This series explores the Top Three Reasons for organizations to forgo strategic planning (for now):

Reason #1

Time & Timing

Strategic planning is not an event, it’s a process that requires incredible amount of thought, preparation and stakeholder engagement before anyone ever meets as a group. I once got a call from a non-profit who wanted me to facilitate a strategic planning off-site for their staff and board… in two weeks… in half a day! Does it sound supremely unrealistic to you? It should!

Because I want to set up every client for success – whether they hire me or not – I explained the minimum steps it would take to make the process useful.

  • Plan the plan – work with your consultant to make sure that the scope and timing of the strategic planning process is realistic. What do you hope to accomplish? What should the process clarify – mission, vision, values, strategic priorities, goals, all of the above? Who needs to be involved and at what points? What time span will your plan cover? Will you have a strategic planning committee and who’ll be on it? How will the plan be used? Who’ll be in charge of implementation and the project management thereof? And most importantly, do you and the implementers have the time and bandwidth to give this process due justice (at least several months) and then to implement the plan (for the duration of the plan)? Yes? Great, let’s keep going!
  • Engage key stakeholders – one of the most revealing parts of the process is the data gathered through confidential interviews with key stakeholders. Even if your organization doesn’t have budget to hire a consultant for the duration or the process, definitely invest in this piece. As an objective third party people feel safe sharing with me information they wouldn’t share with an internal interviewer. The data collected confidentially, synthesized and presented from an objective, outside source is priceless!
  • Engage staff – preparing staff for the process and including them makes them feel important, valued and engaged. Your consultant will help you gage the most appropriate way to do this. Since they’ll be the ones mostly implementing the plan you want them to feel ownership of the outcomes.
  • Game-day(s) – depending on how extensive your plan will be, you’ll need
    anywhere between one and several days for the strategic planning meetings. They can be in sequence, but even more effectively they’ll be spread over a few months to allow time in between for percolation, discussions and following up on what came up in the preceding meeting. If you’ve gone through the process before you know how much gets unearthed in those meetings to be processed and integrated before the next group conversation. Hopefully you have a competent consultant, external or internal, that helps you mine lessons learned each step of the way and integrate them into the ultimate plan. And let’s review a list of everything you’re possibly aiming to accomplish, clarify or reaffirm:

    • Mission, vision, values, strategic priorities, goals, all of the above;
    • Who’ll be in charge of implementation and the project management thereof?
    • What’s the follow-up plan and structure that will keep everyone on track and accountable?
  • Game over? Congratulations, it’s been a few months, everyone worked hard and you now have a fantastic strategic plan! You’ve done an amazing job planning, adjusting along the way and including all stakeholders. Everyone from staff to the board is energized and ready to go! You’ve even planned who will implement what and when. You’re done, right?

I wish you were done, but not yet. Because now you begin the journey of implementation, accountability and holding others accountable for implementation. Aren’t you glad you planned for the time, structure and bandwidth to do this for the next few years?

If you feel overwhelmed and deterred by this first reason to forgo a strategic plan (for now) I promise, you’re not alone. This is a great time to pause, meet with your team and consultant if you have one – if not, please reach out and I’ll be delighted to help – and thoroughly go through the steps and thinking outlined above. This conversation will probably take a few weeks at which point I’ll be back with the next set of ideas to make sure your Strategic Plan succeeds!

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  1. Florence Navarro comment:

    Dear Margarita,

    Thank you very much for this step by step guide. This is very helpful for our organization to assess when will be the best time to launch such exercise.


  2. margarita comment:

    I’m so glad it’s helpful, Florence – stay tuned for more on strategic planning in a few weeks!

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