Thursday, April 9, 2015

Strategic Planning: A Process for Success

Strategic Planning: A Process for Success
The benefits of strategic planning for a non-profit organization are manifold.  A strategic plan is paramount if an organization wants to avoid failure, stanch financial loss and retain its stakeholders.  A plan is strategic when organizational decision making is aligned with the realities of its external and internal environments.  It comprises six elements: a vision evaluation, a SWOT analysis, a current and future issues breakdown, plan development, plan implementation, and last an evaluation design.
            First, a vision should encompass what success will look like for an organization.  From it flows a mission that states what an organization is committed to in order to achieve its vision.  A mission statement should clarify its public value and serve as a framework for its distinct identity and unique purpose.  It requires consensus not only within the organization but by stakeholders who critically influence its sustainability.   Without organizational loyalty to its tenets, missions are subject to competing objectives externally and to disagreement on direction and emphasis internally.  If mission revision is necessary, organizational restructuring that adheres to the mission is the first strategic step.
            Second, a SWOT analysis of an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats examines the external and internal environmental trends that impact its relevance and continuity.  External trends involve the networks, relationships and political surroundings that define an organization’s context.  An organization must identify and respond to external threats such as competition, as well as detect and take advantage of opportunities such as considering partnerships.
            Third, a statement of strategic issues should include a succinct description of each issue and a list of factors that explain why each is consequential.  A statement should follow that outlines the gravity of underestimating untoward future developments.   Two group participation methods can be used to galvanize organizational issues examination: the Implication Wheel and the Nominal Group Technique.  Both methods start with a center; one on the implications of not planning, the other on the benefits of planning.  Both techniques are used to engage and encourage staff and management to articulate problems that stem outward from the center.  
            Fourth and fifth, after recognizing stakeholder expectations and external market opportunities and challenges, the process of strategy formation and implementation follow. In the planning stages, interviews, focus groups and conversations about purpose guide the creation of goals to move an organization forward.  In his essay on the challenges of strategic management, Tregoe tells us that having a strategy is not enough, that separation between the role of planning to set strategy and the role of management to implement strategy must be understood.[1]  That is, strategic planning analyzes environmental conditions and develops goals accordingly.  Conversely, strategic management ensures cohesiveness by aligning inputs (resources), processes (present strategy) and outputs (performance) with internal and external environments.[2]   Kaplan and Norton caution about awareness of moving targets for gauging progress, because external conditions and targets for success keep changing. [3]  Planning and implementation, therefore, call for preparation for continual improvements in operating efficiencies to produce desired outcomes.  For example, strategy formation and implementation should include fail safe communication channels that cycle throughout an organization enabling timely responsiveness between staff, field offices/field workers and clients, staff to management, management to stakeholders, and management to board members. 
Sixth is evaluation, the desired outcomes and how to measure them.  In developing performance measures and timelines, room should be left for innovation in order to adapt, if necessary, to changing environments.  In their discussion of the balanced scorecard, Kaplan and Norton advise that organizations “articulate goals for time, quality, performance and service and then translate these goals into specific measures.”[4]  Articulate is the operative word here.  What is it that we are measuring?  Will these measures be valid representations of goal attainment?  They stress the importance of gauging accomplishment through the eyes of the customer/client.  I would add stakeholders as well.
In tracking progress, it is crucial to distinguish between process objectives, i.e., inputs, outcome objectives, and the measurable differences before and after an intervention or service provision.  Therefore, strategy should include midcourse evaluations and corrective procedures to allow necessary adjustments.  In this way, organizational learning is enhanced and strengthened.

[1] Tregoe, B., “The Challenges of Strategic Management,” Ch. 6, p. 106.
[2] Bryson, J.M., “Strategic Planning and the Strategy Change Cycle,” The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management, Third Edition, p. 240.
[3] Kaplan, R. S., and Norton, D. P., “The Balanced Scorecard - Measures that Drive Performance,” The Harvard Business Review, January-February 1992, p. 75.
[4] Ibid.