Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Setting the Stage for an Effective Strategic Plan

A strategic plan is a process of identifying where an organization is headed, how it will get there, and how to evaluate what the organization achieves at the end of the process. Strategic plans take time, money, and buy in from your staff, board, and other stakeholders. This process, however, is worth it according to Mathew Siegel at Forbes who explains a strategic plan will “keep things on track with clearly articulated objectives and performance metrics.” Without a strategic plan your organization has no road map to get to where it hopes to be in 1, 5, or 10 years. When strategic plans are done right they lay out manageable steps for the success you plan to achieve and ways to measure that success.

Although the strategic planning process looks differently for each organization that undertakes it there are overarching ideas all organizations should explore. An example of strategic planning processes and details on each step can be found in the Jossey-Bass Handbook.

Often organizations dive into a strategic plan several steps in, immediately examining issues they hope to tackle without doing the background work of the strategic plan. This setup stage is crucial and this blog will focus on the importance of the first three steps to strategic planning.

Step one: Examine your mission. How does your mission inform your strategic planning process? Your strategic planning process should be a tool to further (or if needed evaluate) your organization’s mission. According to Greg Satell on Forbes “great businesses [and nonprofits] are built by passion. Strategies come and go, but the mission of enterprise is fundamental to directing action.” Without a strong mission and understanding of this mission your strategic plan will have no guiding principle.

Step two: Once you understand your organization’s mission and how it will inform your strategic plan you should examine your internal environment. This can include looking at the strengths and weaknesses of your organization. You can assess aspects like the financial, human, and structural side of your organization.

Step three: In addition to understanding your internal environment you need to understand your external environment.  According to Josey-Bass it is crucial to emphasize external trends and forces (230).  Without this understanding your planning process may be derailed by political and environmental forces you did not consider. This is commonly referred to as an exercise in understanding the opportunities and threats that exist for your organization.

Once you have laid the groundwork for your strategic plan or as Jossey-Bass describes “a clear statement that focuses solely on identifying and linking the existing or needed competencies and distinctive competencies to the nonprofit organization’s mission and goals” (240) you can dive into the core of your strategic plan and begin to tackle issues, strategies, and plans. When you dive in you’ll be prepared knowing what your strengths are and what potential obstacles you may face.