Strategic planning is a powerful process that bolsters collaboration and healthy responsiveness in an organization. When engaging in strategic planning, an organization’s decisions makers mindful identify potential internal and external threats, and highlight the organizations internal strengths and external opportunities. It helps create some consensus among stakeholders about the next steps the organizations should take, increasing buy-in for the conclusions of the strategic plan. A successful strategic plan incorporates the origin and that mission of the organization, and identifies areas for investment and improvement; when done correctly, the process produces a clear and communicable plan for the organization’s next steps (Bryson, 247-248). The following is United Way of Dane County’s process for strategic planning:
The first step of strategic planning is to gather a group of volunteers or staff to participate; the group should be no larger than eighteen participants to ensure that it is a workable size. This group should include key decision makers for the organization (Bryson, 245). Once the participants are gathered, their first task is to identify the mission of the organization. Participants brainstorm keywords that could be included, and then construct a statement from this list. The goals for the group is to communicate “what do we do for our constituency” in seventeen words or fewer (United Way, 1).
The next task for volunteers is to identify the long range vision statement for the organization that gives a sense of where the organization is going. This statement should covey that ideal future of the organization, and it should provide some timeline for action (United Way, 2). This mission and vision give the participants a sense of what is, and what is coming, and they create a metric so that assessments of the internal organization, external environment, and competition can be conducted.
These assessments help identify the SWOTs: the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing the organization. Strengths are the internal conditions that may facilitate, and weaknesses are the internal conditions that may thwart the organization delivering upon its mission and attaining its vision. Opportunities are external trends that may facilitate the mission and vision, and threats are external trends that may thwart the mission and vision of the organization (United Way, 3-4). Once the SWOTs are defined, participants independently rank the probability that the condition or trend will occur on a scale from zero (negligible) to ten (highly probable). Participants also rank the magnitude of impact the condition or trend would have on the organization. Next, these independent rankings for each SWOT are averaged, and the SWOTs are highly ranked by the participants are plotted on an impact probability chart (United Way, 4-6).
The top SWOTs are used to frame the strategic issues of the organization, identifying the next steps for the organization; the organization may highlight strengths that should receive further investment, or focus on threats that must be addressed for the health of the organization. Once strategies have been formulated, the team must proceed to implementation through an action plan. These plans should detail: the roles and responsibilities of task teams and oversight bodies, specific action steps and details, a schedule, and accountability and midcourse correction procedures (Bryson, 258-261). While strategic planning is presented as a linear process, it is important to note that it is an iterative process, and participants often rethink through the various steps while constructing the plan. In the end, all of the steps of the process should always return to the mission of the organization, helping decision makers to select next steps that will help the mission and vision be realized.
Bryson, J. “Strategic Planning and the Strategy Cycle.” The Jossey-Bass handbook of nonprofit leadership and management. John Wiley & Sons, 2016. Pg. 240-273.
United Way Dane Country “Strategic Planning Process.” Provided by Leslie Ann Howard. Pg. 1-7.