Friday, March 6, 2015

If You Fail To Plan, You Plan To Fail: A Roadmap For Organizational Success

     Non-profit organizations must address challenges, opportunities, and trends in order to be effective and remain relevant in today’s social and structural landscape. Having a plan is one of the best ways that a non-profit can be prepared to take on the trials and possibilities that come with change. As the classic saying goes, if you fail to plan then you plan to fail. Strategic planning is a highly versatile and beneficial means of initiating and implementing response to change. Non-profits who take advantage of strategic planning models benefit by having direction, structure, and process in place that allows them to be adaptable and avoid failure.

     The strategic planning process is an approach that provides a roadmap for non-profits who wish to capitalize on strengths and opportunities and at the same time be prepared to address weaknesses and threats (SWOTs). A non-profit that chooses to use strategic planning is poised to benefit through a deepened understanding of the internal and external elements that can help the agency maintain identity and acclimatize to structural and social changes. This process is structured, but at the same time it is flexible and iterative (Renz, 2010).

     There are ten steps in the strategic planning process, but no order is implied for the steps and there is room for interpretation (Renz, 2010). These steps, broadly defined are as follows:

o   Initiating and agreeing on a strategic planning process
o   Identifying organizational mandates
o   Clarifying organizational missions and values
o   Assessing external and internal environments
o   Identifying strategic issues
o   Formulating issue management strategies and plans
o   Reviewing and adopting the strategies and plan
o   Establishing an effective organizational vision
o   Developing an effective implementation process
o   Reassessment of strategies and plan

These steps help an organization cultivate the six essential elements of a plan: organizational vision, SWOT awareness, issue recognition, strategy development, implementation plans and goals, and evaluation. An organization may start the process anywhere that leads to designing all six elements of the plan.

     What is crucial about the process is not following the roadmap exactly, but instead recognizing where you want to end up. Planning to arrive at the end destination is important for goal setting and process design, but given the nature of change it may not always be possible to follow a route exactly as it was laid out at the start. Sometimes you just have to turn off the freeway to see the world’s largest ball of twine…

     Another crucial part of the strategic process is that it requires organizational communication and information sharing. Stakeholder participation in the development of a plan is key to success. Strategic planning allows for information collection and idea exchange at many levels. The formal establishment of plan elements helps all stakeholders to be engaged in, and aware of, where the organization is heading.


     Non-profits that utilize the roadmap of strategic planning are poised to benefit from increased self-awareness and external developments. They are actively engaged in preparation to avoid failure. Understanding that structure is and should be flexible and that communication is vital will allow organizations to apply strategic planning in meaningful ways.

Renz, David O, ed. 2010. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.

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