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Feedback Loops: The Key to Strategic Planning Success

Boards of Directors and non-profit organizations invest thousands of dollars and countless hours engaging stakeholders and staff, assessing the marketplace, seeking out and defining new opportunities and collaborating to create a strategic plan for the next three to five years. When I check in in two years, often the strategic plan sits dusty on the bookshelf.

I’m not laying blame here. In most organizations, the staff and management teams are overwhelmed by what needs to be done in their 8-hour day, often dedicating time after hours to keep things afloat. Strategy is commonly far from their mind.

As a Board, strategy often falls off the radar as other more pressing priorities arise: a board member resigns, or new members join; board training and governance work take precedence. The result? The focus shifts away from checking how the organization progresses toward its strategic goals.

It’s a consistent “perfect storm.” It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

Communicating Goals & Objectives:

When the Board of Directors and the Executive Director are committed to the strategic plan and goals, they establish clear objectives, reporting processes, and check-in points that ensure time each month, quarter, or bi-annually to check progress. Every month, this may mean that the Executive Director reports back to the Board on critical objectives for the time frame and quarterly provides a detailed analysis of progress and highlights what’s working and what’s not, opening an honest conversation that re-directs activities if needed.

In an ideal world, the Executive Director sets clear key performance indicators (KPIs) related to strategic objectives for each team member. Each team member reports progress weekly, bi-weekly, or quarterly. These reporting discussions highlight what is and is not working, where assistance is required, and what changes are recommended.

Check out "Committing to Action: The Missing Step in Strategic Planning," for more on how to get your team committed to action.

Feedback Model Loop for Informed Decision Making:

As noted in the diagram below, the strategic plan reporting feedback loop can be broken down into a 6-step circular process:

  1. The Board of Directors in consultation with the Executive Director sets the strategic goals and objectives.

  2. The Executive Director then communicates that to the Management and Staff teams who compile department action plans to move the organization forward toward its goals and objectives.

  3. With regular progress reporting discussions between staff, management and the Executive Director, progress is reported and feedback is filtered back up the line to the Executive Director.

  4. The Executive Director then works with the Management team to determine what is and is not working, make recommendations to the Board, or to approach the Board for advice.

  5. If the feedback from staff, management and the Executive Director identifies a strategic problem that will impact a goal or objective, the Board then has the opportunity to make revisions and/or change the goals and objectives to reflect the new realities.

  6. If changes are made, the Board then informs the Executive Director who then feeds that information back to the staff and managers who it impacts.

Free Flowing Feedback Empowers Team to Take Action

When a feedback loop like this exists, communication flows within the organization freely. Empowering each individual to respond to situations within their control and push the remaining feedback to those who can respond appropriately.

Consider the following examples… which would provide you with the information you need to make strategic decisions?

Having said that, no feedback loop is valuable unless details are provided. Without the details, the Executive Director can not assess the situation fully. Staff who assess the situation themselves, clearly state the situation and contributing factors, and provide alternative approaches provide the management team with the information they need to make informed management decisions such as: what is the root cause? can I solve this from an operational perspective? or do I need to take this to my board?

A well-managed feedback loop ensures that everyone’s voice and contributions are heard and that situations that arise are triaged and solved with the organizational goals in mind. When a feedback loop like this exists, the likelihood of strategic decision-making increases substantially. And this means that achieving the goals set out in your strategic plan is more likely to happen.

What is your internal feedback loop? How might it be improved? Share your thoughts and ideas below in the comments section.

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