by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D.
Hey, I dearly love my Grampa, who I lost right after 9-11, but I don’t use his strategic planning approach! Planning needs to be more adaptable now than in the past, and the days of having a retreat just to bond may be over. Don’t members of a leadership team bond best when they are doing great work together anyway?!
In the last post, I addressed some of the ways strategic planning goes wrong and I argued that most groups would benefit from allocating ENOUGH TIME to the process and securing a FACILITATOR who is an effective leader. Now, I will go more into the process of conducting a powerfully beneficial strategic planning process.
What is enough time?
You may have participated in strategic planning processes in the past and felt they were more or less a waste of time. Maybe you felt like the difficult challenges were being skirted.
And how often do big, world-changing decisions get made during retreats?
One more question:
Would you rather spend one day on an activity that produces zero real change or spend twice that much time and create something transformational?
I know what my answer is!
If you want to have a strategic planning process that leads to real organizational focus and momentum, it helps to think of the important phases of the planning process. Instead of viewing the process as a one-day event, think of it as a process with the following stages:
- Internal Assessment and Planning. Identify the purpose and goal for the planning process. Conduct an internal assessment to identify strengths and target areas for improvement. Leaders will work harder to develop and implement a plan that is solving a problem they care about.
- Initial Retreat. Keep a focus on your mission and desired impact. Allow in-depth discussion on key topics, but maintain focus on the big goals. By the end of this retreat, leaders ought to have achieved agreement on big organizational purpose/ goals and identification of opportunities and identify key questions that need to be answered before key decisions can be made.
- Between Retreats – Information-Gathering. Explore opportunities for advancing the organization’s mission, get answers to questions, conduct an environmental scan of community needs, potential partners, etc. Seek answers to key questions that must be answered to complete a plan for change, growth, or advancement of the organization.
- Second Retreat—Decision Time! Complete the strategic plan for advancing your mission. Resolve decisions that needed answers or further consideration. Do as much as you can to complete an implementable plan, with assigned responsibilities, timelines, and indicators of success.
- Document and Communicate the Plan. The Logic Model format can work very well to support being very thoughtful about your Theory of Change and it results in a one-page graphic description of the organization’s direction and theory of change. This enhances communication about direction, and supports implementation.
- Implement, Evaluate, and Adjust as Needed. Evaluate regularly so that you can determine whether course corrections is needed or when an area needs additional resources and supports.
Strategic planning processes can be a waste of time, especially if you don’t give them enough time, if you skip key parts of the process, or you fail to obtain a facilitator with the leadership skills to guide your leadership team through the tough spots, where there is often a wealth of opportunity.
Bottom line: If you’re going to invest a lot of organizational resources* in strategic planning, why not give the process the best chance to make a real positive difference? * If you take 10 leaders off-site for a full-day retreat, that’s 70+ hours of leadership time and that’s a LOT of organizational resources.
Have you ever been part of a really world-changing strategic planning process?
What made it so powerful?