Use Intelligent Planning to Support Leadership Alignment


by Dr. Ginny Trierweiler, the Mission-Based Leader’s Coach

Every mission-based leader knows the importance of having their leaders working toward aligned goals and objectives. We often re-discover this important leadership lesson when something goes wrong, such as leaders functioning in conflict or a leadership team unable to make critical decisions in a timely way. This may present an opportunity for your organization, but you may need to disrupt things to realize the benefits of it.

One way to disrupt things so you can capitalize on an opportunity is to engage in a planning process. As we addressed in the past, however, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all planning process. When your leadership team engages in an intelligent planning process, you can address exactly what your team needs to address.

How to Use a Planning Process. to achieve great alignment and vitality on your leadership team:

Plan to implement organizational change efforts. Maybe you are phasing out a program that no longer is viable or you are starting a new program. In a nonprofit or not-for-profit organization, major changes may suddenly become necessary due to funding changes. It can be important for the leadership team, and sometimes front-line staff closer to the problem, to come together to plan how to achieve the changes in the best way to protect the clients and the organization.

Surface and problem-solve misunderstandings and key obstacles to progress. As CEO, I sometimes felt frustrated with senior leaders’ conflicts with each other, especially since I tended to interpret them as interpersonal conflicts. However, when I listened more thoughtfully, I realized that many of these conflicts reflected real organizational challenges. For example, the Accounting office was repeatedly complaining about difficulty with receivables from a county agency, which I viewed as purposely making it as difficult as possible to collect receivables.

However, after we took the time to analyze every step in the process, we realized that certain staff held onto an outdated understanding of the requirements associated with this billing, resulting in a failure to get paid for many of our earned revenues. Once we realized that there was truly a problem inside our system that was significantly impacting our revenues, the leadership team was able to solve it. This made a major impact on our financial bottom line and, as a nonprofit organization, that meant our mission and ability to help our clients was strengthened.

Leaders are often impressively capable at working around systems malfunctions and obstacles. In fact, these obstacles may become invisible to leadership, while front-line staff continue to try to cope with them. In this environment, front-line staff can easily feel that senior leaders are unhelpful or, even, a financial drain on the organization. Maybe it’s time to tackle one of those ongoing glitches and get it fixed! Leaders can work through steps to solving an ongoing roadblock and unleash tremendous organizational energy. In the process, they will develop greater capacity as a leadership team to solve problems.

Mine differences of opinion to discover opportunities for excellence. I worked with a school board of directors who wanted a facilitator for their board meetings. Some people felt meetings had become too contentious. Several directors had left over the past year because they felt the organization was going in a direction they didn’t like, or didn’t understand. Pretty soon, it became clear what fundamental differences of opinion existed about the organization’s focus. Once the group dove into these differences of opinion and discussed them at length, they were able to achieve agreement about the organization’s mission and, once again, were working effectively together to govern the organization.

Clear up role confusion. I have observed this to be a very common cause of organizational dysfunction. I have seen front-line staff and middle-managers given conflicting direction from different organizational leaders, resulting in chaos and poor results. This kind of confusion is generally not cleared up by a quick conversation in which one leader tells another “that’s my responsibility, stay out of it.” Often, a more thorough discussion is needed to wade through the complexity of different leaders’ responsibilities and authorities.   This kind of planning conversation can often be most effectively achieved with use of a facilitator from outside the organization.

When you use planning to implement organizational change, surface and resolve misunderstandings and obstacles, mine differences of opinion or clear up role confusion, your leadership team becomes empowered and can function in a more aligned way. You can achieve a point of departure for your organization, power up your communication to staff, board, donors, customers/ clients, and pick up great forward momentum.

 Have you used planning to strengthen leadership team functioning?

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