According to Hamel and Prahalad (1989),“..strategic intent is more than simply unfettered ambition.” Strategic intent is slightly different than, yet related to, strategic planning, which can be defined by the Balanced Scorecard Institute as, “an organizational management activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, ensure that employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals, establish agreement around intended outcomes/results, and assess and adjust the organization's direction in response to a changing environment.” With all of those tasks to focus on, strategic planning clearly takes a lot of work!
Strategic intent “also encompasses an active management process that includes: focusing the organization’s attention on the essence of winning; motivating people by communicating the value of the target; leaving room for individual and team contributions; sustaining enthusiasm by providing new operational definitions as circumstances change; and using intent consistently to guide resource allocations” (1989). In short, it’s about winning. Anyone who knows anything about team sports knows that most are all about hard work and strategy. Regardless of how big, fast, or strong you are, if there is not a central goal all members are willing to work together to achieve, the team will not win.
When I set out to build my student organization I was not focused on the sustainability of the chapter. I knew I would be at my university for four years and would do what I could in that time to be the best president I could be in order to help as many people as possible. My goals were short term. I didn’t listen when our advisor asked us about succession planning. We were doing fine! It occurred to me, finally, only after older executive board members began talking about graduation, that we had some serious thinking to do. I panicked. Who would replace them? How do we train new members? What happens when I and my co-founder leave?
Our response was to begin strategic planning. With our advisor’s help, we started having intentional, structured conversations about the growth of our organization. We had to address the following:
What was our specific reason for existence? Why were we unique compared to chapters at other colleges? What was our basic philosophy? What would serve as our reference point for years to come?
We needed to develop a vision statement and draft out what the long range vision for our organization in the context of our university was. We discussed where we wanted to go, combined our shared values, and then set the direction for our movement.
Define strategic issues
Personality/work type conflicts and competing pictures of what our organization could become began to arise. As our numbers grew, the number of ideas grew. We had begun to develop relationships with departments on campus and we needed to nurture those stakeholders and analyze the benefits of each.
Obviously, a student organization is not a large nonprofit agency, but it is a great example of the importance of strategic planning. One can watch student organizations flourish and experience crisis in such a short amount of time. My suggestions would be for the current leadership to pay greater attention to assessing the needs of the community, the factors of its external environment, and the workings of the internal organization, especially person to person. I would recommend they take part in a SWOT analysis to map out their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to better understand how to go about planning for the future. I hope for the continued success of what we planted four years ago and, in whatever we set out to do, I hope we win.
Harvard Business Review (Hamel & Prahalad, 1989)
United Way of Dane County, Strategic Planning Process