Thursday, March 12, 2015

Strategic Planning: Don't Let Good Intentions Go To Waste

While improvising an organizational plan as you go along may seem an attractive and time-saving option, it ultimately will prevent an organization from reaching its full potential. Organizational leaders may feel that the organization's expertise and good intentions will allow them to navigate challenges as they arise. While employee & volunteer expertise and good intentions are invaluable assets to an organization, this is not the best way to put these abilities to use. To the contrary, it is the role of leaders to tap into the expertise and good intentions that exist within an organization and channel those into the organization's strategic development. Strategic management scholar, John M. Bryson, writes: "Think of strategic planning as organizing hope, as what makes hope reasonable" (Bryson 2010). Even the best of intentions can get lost if the organization is not operating strategically and intentionally. The strategic planning process is undoubtedly unique to each organization, but a few key steps should play a role.

1. Revisit the Mission
Put candidly, if you don't know what you're trying to do, you're probably not doing it. Make sure the mission reflects the organization's values and clarifies the organization's reason for existence. The mission should serve as a reference point for employees and stakeholders (United Way of Dane County).

2. Articulate a Vision
Similarly, if you don't know where you're going, you're probably not going to get there. An organization's vision should dictate what kind of future the organization seeks to create. The vision should help employees & volunteers understand the direction of the organization's work in the short or long term (United Way of Dane County).

3. SWOT Analysis
The Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats Analysis encourages organizations to look at their internal and external environments and move forward with a strategy that capitalizes on and addresses these categories, respectively. Looking at strengths and weaknesses requires reflecting on internal aspects while opportunities and threats are external and should be considered in a strategic planning process accordingly (Bryson 2010).

4. Define a Strategic Issue 
The identification of a strategic issue facing the organization is a helpful part of the strategic planning process. The United Way of Dane County identifies characteristics of a strategic issue: "An internal or external development that could impact the organization's performance to which the organization must respond in an orderly fashion and over which the organization may reasonably expect to exert some influence" (United Way of Dane County). The process of addressing strategic strategic issues should include significant dialogue with and expertise from stakeholders. 

5. Make the Plan a Reality
An intentional and well-developed implementation process provides the link between strategic planning to strategic action. The process should include a schedule for planned future actions/changes, designate roles and responsibilities, list specific action steps to take, detail resources required and establish a communication process (Bryson 2010).

After your strategic plan is successfully developed and implemented, it is critical to revisit the plan to reassess strategy and make changes as necessary. Certainly, strategic planning is not always such a clear process, but this framework will put your organization in the best place for a successful strategic planning process. 


1.United Way of Dane County. Strategic Planning Process.
2. Bryson, John M. 2010. Strategic Planning and the Strategy Planning Circle. In: Renz, David O. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.