Thursday, March 12, 2015

Strategic Planning: Why & How

Strategic planning can be touted as an important process1, but what’s the real benefit of strategic planning and what are the most important aspects of strategic planning? In our course we identified some reasons why strategic planning is important (most of which can be supported by the Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management1,2) and in re-examining these reasons the benefits of strategic planning can be grouped into three overarching themes: a well-informed and unified sense of direction; a thorough evaluation of opportunities and threats; and avoidance of confusion, wasted resources, and failed initiatives.
A well-informed and unified sense of direction results from strategic planning as it brings together representatives of the organization and key stakeholders. Diverse perspectives can help to establish, clarify, or redefine the mission, and those involved then have investment in the direction the organization plans on taking and a clear sense of what they need to do to achieve the goals of the organization. Those involved in the process also facilitate a thorough evaluation of opportunities and threats. The organization can identify and take advantage of opportunities both internally and externally that will leave them better equipped to fulfill their mission and can also identify threats to the successful fulfillment of their mission and determine ways to circumvent or overcome those threats. Finally, strategic planning can help the organization avoid confusion, wasted resources, and failed initiatives by preventing financial and other inefficiencies that may result from duplication of efforts, general disorganization, and/or uncertainty around how to accomplish the goals of the organization or a specific project.  
            Given these benefits, how does one actually go about developing a strategic plan? The attached figure3 provides a basic outline that can help us walk through some key steps involved in strategic planning4.

The organization needs to define and/or clarify its mission to provide direction to the strategic planning process.  It needs to conduct an external environmental analysis, examining the social, economic, political, and technological trends currently at play in the community/ies the organization serves. The organization also needs to conduct an internal organizational analysis to assess its own capacities related to staffing and volunteers, financial capital, technological assets, organizational structure, and information availability. These three processes can then be used to establish a longer range vision for the organization. As the organization establishes its direction through its mission and vision it can conduct a SWOT analysis to analyze its internal strengths and weakness and the external opportunities and threats that will impact its ability to achieve its goals. From the SWOT analysis strategic issues can be defined which in turn can be analyzed in terms of their probability of occurrence and the impact they will have on the organization. As strategic issues are defined and prioritized based on probability and potential impact the organization can develop its strategy, defining what it is going to do to address the strategic issues and achieve its goals. From there plans need to be made to address how the organization is going to do what it needs to do. Throughout this process and the eventual implementation of the strategic plan evaluation is imperative to understand the effectiveness of the process and to determine any need to readjust decisions made.
            That’s a very basic introduction to the integral aspects of strategic planning but it’s also important to note that the perfect plan will fail if it’s not implemented properly, so another integral aspect of strategic planning is strategic management1 which you can learn more about from reference 1, below.


1. Brown, William A. "Strategic Management." Robert D. Herman & Associates. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management 3. Ed. David Renz. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 206-229. Print.

2. Bryson, John M. "Strategic planning and the strategy change cycle." Robert D. Herman & Associates. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management 3. Ed. David Renz. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 230-261. Print.

3. Howard, Leslie A. (2015) Personal Communication.

4. United Way of Dane County. “Strategic Planning Process” n.d.