Thursday, March 9, 2017

Strategic planning helps organizations thrive


Organizations that want to thrive into the future - like the Seattle Youth Involvement Network (SIYN) - understand that only through the process of strategic planning can leadership effectively evaluate and address gaps or challenges.  After 10 years of serving the Seattle community, SIYN leaders determined there was a critical need to develop a responsive strategic plan due to:
  1. Instability and an identity crisis stemming from constant changes in scope and programming to meet the interest of staff, board members, and funders. 

2.     A confusing lack of organizational differentiation due to a changing community and rapidly growing number of organizations providing youth engagement services.

3.     Timeline-related need to revisit strategic development, as initial official strategic plan had limited four-year outlook.

At the outset, SIYN leaders ambitiously sought to give the organization a new vision, develop a framework for carrying out its mission, streamline programming, and improve fund raising and public relations” (Lovelady).
The first step was a situational analysis where board and staff came together to assess SYIN’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, what is commonly called a “SWOT” analysis. This analysis is essential as it makes it possible to match an organization’s strengths with market opportunities (Assignment).

Market research, then, is the second crucial element in the strategic planning process. Given SIYN’s concerns about changes in the community and increased competition, their research included a review of demographic information, research on best practices and a colleague-competitor scan.  The scan supported SYIN’s assumption that they were working in a very competitive market, a key threat.  However, the research also affirmed that SYIN was a good collaborator and had deep relationships with collegial organizations, an organizational strength.

Importantly, the combination of these two elements -  SWOTS analysis and external market data - serve to provide critical data to support strategy development. Without this information and insight, the organization’s strategies will not be in alignment with or effective in the marketplace (Assignment).  Stakeholder input, which is typically gathered through surveys, focus groups, and interviews, is also viewed as a critical initial step in strategy development.    

In formulating the strategic plan, results of the entire SIYN planning process were compiled and presented to board members, staff and volunteers in preparation for a strategic planning retreat. Retreat participants, working in small groups, used the compiled data “to discuss questions around the role of the organization, its primary purpose, and what region and population it should serve” (Lovelady).
The results of those discussions lead to a new mission to address what the organization deemed to be the largest gap in youth service: political involvement and expanded programming statewide. It read: “We educate, empower, and engage Washington youth in the democratic process to encourage youth voice and promoted a lifetime of participation in their communities” (Lovelady). The previous mission was much broader in purporting to strive for a society that respects youth leaders, develop an effective and confident youth voice, and create avenues for civic involvement, leadership training, and decision-making.

The planning group also identified five goals relating to volunteer engagement, partnerships with investors, brand recognition and public relations, quality programming, and staff capacity.  Either directly or indirectly, each of these goals relate back to weaknesses identified by the SWOT analysis.

With a new identity as 2V/ACT, the organization sought to implement the plan. However, the ambitious statewide effort was challenged by both insufficient funding and board and staff capacity, forcing further consideration of options about the future of the organization.  Whatever the decision now though, the executive director continued to focus on the process as most important – it needed to be intentional, transparent, and true to 2V/ACT’s mission. 

References

Lovelady, Beth. “2V/ACT: Planning for Change and Determining Relevance.” The Electronic Hallway, University of Washington: Seattle, WA.
Assignment Point website. “When should a strategic plan be developed,” 2017. http://www.assignmentpoint.com/business/strategic-management-business/when-should-a-strategic-plan-be-developed.html

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