Saturday, March 7, 2015

How to Create an Effective Strategic Plan

Strategic planning can be defined as the process of addressing change.1 An effective strategic plan provides a road map for an organization, directing key stakeholders towards a shared vision while identifying challenges to overcome along the way.1 A strategic plan motivates organizations to be innovative both when facing challenges and when evaluating high performing programs. It pushes stakeholders to collaborate around critical issues in the organization, and to be aware of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.1 By using the framework below, an organization can develop an effective strategic plan to confront and overcome critical issues that may arise.

Identify key stakeholders
The first step in strategic planning involves identifying who should be involved in the process. These key decision makers must agree upon the structure of the overall planning process and key steps in accomplishing the organization’s strategic planning goals.2

Clarify mission and values
An organization’s mission defines its reason for existence. Without a mission, an organization has no foundation and stakeholders can easily lose focus on what they originally aimed to accomplish. Clarifying an organization’s mission reminds stakeholders of the purpose of the organization, and can help eliminate unnecessary conflict around what the organization aims to accomplish.2

Develop long-range vision
For established organizations, it is important for stakeholders to define a long-term vision. This is difficult for brand new organizations because the future of the organization is often unclear. For mature and autonomous organizations, it is important to determine which direction the organization hopes to move towards in the future.3

Assess internal and external environments
In order to assess the environment surrounding the organization, stakeholders must consider the organization’s strengths (S), weaknesses (W), opportunities (O), and threats (T), called a SWOT analysis. In doing so, organization can gain insight into upcoming challenges and prepare for future opportunities.2

Define strategic issue(s)
After assessing the environment, stakeholders must decide which issue(s) they intend to resolve through strategic planning. Identifying these strategic issues draws attention to the areas within the organization of greatest concern. These issues can develop internally or externally, and must a) impact the organization’s performance, b) require a response from the organization, and c) have the ability to change through the efforts of the organization.3

Develop a strategy and implement the plan
Next, key decision makers must decide how they want to address the strategic issue(s) they have identified. This often involves identifying barriers to success, along with brainstorming alternate solutions to resolve the stated strategic issue(s). After brainstorming a variety of proposals, stakeholders collaborate to determine which proposal has the greatest chance of success in their organization. After developing a strategy to overcome the identified issues, the organization must put the plan into action!2

In the last step of the strategic planning process, stakeholders must evaluate the implementation of the strategic plan and assess whether goals are being met. Though evaluation is listed as the last step in the process, stakeholders should be sure to evaluate the strategic plan throughout the process, to ensure organizational goals are being met along the way.2

1 Brody, R. (2005). Strategic planning (Ch. 2), in Effectively Managing Human Service Organizations, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 20-38. 2 Bryson, J. M. (2010). Strategic planning and the strategy change cycle (Ch.9). In D. O. Renz (3rd ed.), The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 230-261. 3 United Way of Dane County. Strategic Planning Process.