Thursday, March 12, 2015

How to Implement a Strategic Plan

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” 
-Alan Lakein

I’ll be honest: when I was first introduced to the term “strategic planning,” I thought it was just another trendy business buzzword without any real, concrete applications… A term on the same level of meaninglessness as other buzzword bingo hits like “synergistic flow” and “hyperconnectivity.” However, I must admit that my first impressions were completely incorrect. This semester, I have had the good fortune of learning that strategic planning is much more than just another hyped up trend in business jargon. Instead, it is a thorough and comprehensive process that allows organizations to identify and respond to critical issues through action-oriented planning.

While the basic ideas behind the strategic planning process are relatively well established across the board, different organizations do employ slightly varied conceptualizations of the specific planning steps. For example, Forbes utilizes a five-step strategic planning process, whereas the Jossey-Bass Handbook proposes a more detailed, ten-step version. I personally prefer a sort of hybrid strategic planning model, based on both Brody’s (2005) work and the United Way of Dane County’s process. This approach breaks the strategic planning process down into eight concrete steps, as described below:

  1. Come to a consensus around the need to implement a strategic planning process. This step entails organizing around a shared conviction that a strategic plan is necessary for your organization. Strategic planning is an intensive process, so it’s important to ensure that all relevant stakeholders agree that the benefits of a strategic plan outweigh the time cost. Without organizational buy-in, a strategic plan will not be optimally effective.
  2. Form a strategic planning group. Strategic planning groups should be as inclusive as possible, preferably with representatives from all levels of the organization, as well as board members, funders, and other important stakeholders.
  3. Clarify organizational missions and vision statements. In order to avoid mission drift, it is important for the strategic planning group to come to a strong consensus around organizational mission identification and vision statements.
  4. Assess the external and internal environments to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (a.k.a., SWOTs). In assessing the external environment, it’s important to consider social, economic, political, and technological influences that could impact the organization. Internal assessments should look at organizational capacities related to staff, finances, technology, structure, and information access. Finally, a SWOT analysis includes assessments of both internal conditions and external trends that have the potential to shape the organization’s future.
  5. Identify the strategic issues facing the organizations. Strategic issues are high stake developments (internal or external) that the organization can exert influence over. Through collaborative discussions, the planning group can identify strategic issues and prioritize them through a probability and impact analysis.
  6. Prepare action plans containing goals, implementation activities, and names of those accountable for follow-through. An action plan must be created to address each critical issue. Action plan goals should be measurable, attainable, and mapped to a timeline. In order to promote accountability, individual roles and responsibilities should be explicitly agreed upon, as well.
  7. Implement the plan. The beauty of strategic plans is that they are designed to be flexible; organizations can modify strategic plans as needed based on circumstantial changes.
  8. Evaluate the plan, reassessing strategies on a regular basis. Based on feedback measures, evaluate whether or not the plan is helping the organization reach its fullest potential. If it is not, the planning team must modify the plan to address any shortcomings.

Brody, R. (2005). Strategic planning (Ch. 2), in Effectively Managing Human Service Organizations, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 20-38.

Bryson, J. M. (2010). Strategic planning and the strategy change cycle (Ch. 9), in The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 204-230.

Strategic Planning Process: United Way of Dane County (n.d.)