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Confusion reigns around strategic planning

In 2019, as with every year, I spend a lot of time working alongside non-profit executive directors and boards facilitating strategic planning, board orientations, and training.

Each process is as unique as the non-profit who has hired me; however, there are certain things that arise over and over in strategic planning sessions that cause confusion:

1. Stakeholder engagement requires established relationships:

The process of inviting stakeholders to take part in the planning process requires that the non-profits have strong existing relationships if engagement is to happen at any deep level. These stakeholders need to know your organization; its values, vision, and mission; and what you are ultimately working to achieve. If they are invested in your purpose – and actively engaged in supporting you to achieve it – they have more feedback to offer and they are more likely to show up.

2. All planning processes uncover organizational concerns:

Strategic planning, even using the appreciative inquiry SOAR framework, require that the board, management, and stakeholders take a close look at what is working and where improvements can be made. While the focus is on turning challenges into opportunities, concerns will still be raised that need to be considered as part of the planning process. Honestly, you want them to be raised. They offer opportunities to improve, learn, and grow together as a team. This process of hearing and responding to the concerns builds trust and strengthens relationships when managed well.

3. The work doesn’t end when the strategic planning process is done:

In fact, the opposite is true. The strategic plan and resulting action plan are tools that should be utilized throughout the year as tools to manage organizational focus, evaluate progress, and assess what is and is not working. Remember, the annual action plan you create can be revised should circumstances change (for example, if funding adjusts or the market shifts dramatically). Reviewing these documents frequently is a great idea and one that should be built into team meetings (operational issues related to the action plan) and board meetings (governance issues related to the overall strategic direction).

When you enter into strategic planning, think of it as being a launching pad for ongoing growth. It that needs to be anchored and responsive to ever-changing stimuli. If you take this approach, and you continually refer to, and use, the strategic plan and action plan as tools for organizational growth, your team will:

  • be more highly engaged,

  • understand what is expected of them, and

  • know how best to communicate results to their managers and their board.

What surprises have you encountered when working through a strategic planning process? Leave a comment and let me know!

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