Clarifying the “why” when doing strategic planning

August 2, 2012

Filed under: Strategic Planning — jonathanpoisner @ 1:45 pm

Often times in early conversations with clients, it becomes clear that they can’t articulate why they’re doing strategic planning.  This can lead to disagreements about what process to utilize, since the process should focus on meeting the organization’s primary need for doing strategic planning.  In worst case scenarios, it can lead to the process falling apart.

By way of example, a strategic planning process that aims to get the staff and board past disagreements about mission and strategy should look different than one whose primary aim is to help a smaller or medium sized organization figure out how to get to the next level.

So here are five potential “top” reasons to do strategic planning.  Before launching a planning process, I advise organizations to make sure that they’ve identified the top one (or perhaps two) reasons and make sure the process they’re undertaking will be tailored to address the reason.

  • To help with fundraising.  A good strategic planning process should strengthen your relationship with top donors.  And more importantly, a good strategic plan can be an effective tool to go to your largest donors and convince them you have a solid plan to get to the next level if they invest.   (As an aside, “next level” doesn’t have to mean larger, it could mean more effective).
  • To prioritize. A good strategic planning process can help the board and staff collectively determine priorities among what are often too many laudable goals and strategies.   This can then provide a useful tool for future budgeting and work planning.
  • To reestablish consensus around the mission.  Often as groups grow, mission creep sets in, for both good and bad reasons.  As board turnover happens, you can easily wind up with a board and/or staff that has disparate opinions about the fundamental purpose the organization is seeking to serve.  Over time, this can lead to all sorts of inefficiencies and conflict.  Strategic planning is a great way to resolve these differences, or figure out what to do if the differences are unresolvable.
  • To get the board more engaged. Even the best boards go through cycles of less engagement.  It’s hard to overcome that through one-on-one meetings (thought they’re critical).  And regular board meetings can be improved to generate more engagement.  But to take a the board up a notch usually requires a reboot using something like “strategic planning” to excite the board, build community among the board, and convince them that stepping up their involvement will help lead to more success.
  • To develop new strategies or better articulate existing strategy.   A well thought out strategic planning process should either help you identify new strategies to initiate or, at the very least, better articulate how your existing strategy or strategies are designed to lead to achievement of your goals.   Without a strategy, you’re not likely to be effective.  And by better articulating your strategy, you’re far better prepared over time to stay on track as new opportunities and threats emerge.

This is not intended as an exhaustive list.  And I don’t want to suggest you have to pick one of these to focus on.

But thinking through why you’re doing strategic planning remains a key piece necessary to design a useful process.

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