Thursday, March 12, 2015

Strategic Planning: WHY you must and HOW to go about doing it

People often advocate for non-profits to do strategic planning until it has almost become a cliché. You might be aware of "it" and know basically that it is good to do, but you may not know what it can offer to organizations and how best to go about the process.  Below I will explain some key reasons why you must do strategic planning and how to go through this cyclical process.

WHY you must:
First, why go through strategic planning?  Why should you integrate in as a process within your organization?  In addition to the references identified at the end of the post that I use throughout the post, Wilkinson (2011) in "Why You Need a Plan: 5 Good Reasons" offers some key reasons:

  • To understand your core mission
What is the reason for the organization's existence?  What makes the organization unique?
  • To identify your vision to carry out the mission
Where is the organization going?  In the long-term?  In the short-term?  How does it connect to the mission?
  • To get everyone in the know and on board with the mission and vision
Does the board, leadership, staff, clients, and community know what the organization wants to accomplish?  Does the goals align with all stakeholders needs?  Can the organization communicate a unified message about who the organization is and what it does?
  • To identify what stands in the organization's way of achieving the mission and vision
What internal weaknesses and external threats issues pose barriers to achieving the organization's goals?
  • To identify what will help the organization achieve the mission and vision
What internal strengths and external opportunities can the organization utilize to move the organization's goals forward?
  • To create a plan for action moving forward to carry out the mission and vision
What steps need to be taken?  Who needs to be involved?  What is needed to move forward?
  • To determine how to know if the organization is fulfilling its mission and vision
How does the organization measure its progress in its goals?  How does the organization evaluate its success?

HOW to go about doing it:

To summarize, strategic planning allows your organization to conceptualize:

  • Your mission 
  • Your long-range vision 
  • Your internal and external environment via identifying your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (aka SWOTs)
  • Your strategies for these issues 
  • Your plans to address these 
  • Your means to evaluate how your actions fit with what your organization identified  
The process includes doing different methods to generate ideas about each step and come to a consensus about each before going on to the next item. Moreover, this process that I just laid out should be thought of as a cycle.  The process should continue over time (as your organization and the environment around it changes), and the previous process should help build to the next cycle. 

I seen to be making bold claims about what strategic planning can do for your organization, but I want to add a caveat.  How you conduct and integrate the strategic planning process and make it into a cycle will greatly affect the process's effectiveness.

Some keys to making this process work:

  • Engage all key stakeholders in the process.
Who is present matters a lot for strategic planning.  If only internal stakeholders are included, your organization will miss a key opportunity to create a dialogue with external stakeholders, such as clients and the community.  Not only would you miss an opportunity to engage, your process might become miss key opportunities and threats to your organization
  • Create buy-in at all levels in the process
Not only should leadership be invested in the process but staff and other stakeholders as well. Everyone should take part, be invested, be LISTENED to.
  • Allow enough time to go through the process 
This process takes TIME.  Allow your organization the time and space to carry it out.  Prioritize it as a process worth investing time and resources in.
  • Integrate this process and its into the other activities of the organization.  Continue to go through the strategic planning process periodically.
The resulting strategic plan needs to be integrated with the organization.  Organizations and their contexts change and so, organizations need to treat strategic planning as cyclical - a process to continue to go through and re-integrate.  

In sum, strategic planning takes time and energy, but the process is vital for nonprofit organizations to works towards achieving their dreams.

Some good resources on strategic planning (that were also used throughout this post):

  • United Way of Dane County. No date. “Strategic Planning Process.”
  • Renz, David O, ed. 2010. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 
  • (Especially: Bryson, John M. 2010. "Strategic planning and the strategy change cycle." The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Ed. David Renz. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 230-261.)