Many organizations have strategic plans—some even have more than one—but all too often people forget about their plan, rendering it irrelevant to the institution’s day in and day out decision making.
Too often the plans exist only in a nicely bound book or carefully curated web page but have little connection to even annual planning and resource decisions that an organization’s leadership and staff must make.
So how do you make sure that your strategic plan does more than sit on a shelf and gather dust? How do you know when your organization is ready to write its first strategic plan or update its existing plan?
Below are a few questions you should ask yourself as you consider undertaking a strategic planning process:
Is the timing right?
It might be time to revisit your strategic plan if there has been a recent change in leadership or if the previous plan is approaching its end date. It might also be a good idea to think about revisiting the plan if there has been a significant change in the environment affecting your organization’s operations or programs, if it is experiencing a significant change to its financial resources, or if it is entering into a new comprehensive campaign. Any significant change to an organization’s leadership, operations, or resources is an appropriate time to take a collective moment and reflect on who you aspire to be and chart your path to getting there with the new leadership, environmental factors, and resources taken into account.
Are you ready to listen?
If it seems like the right time to write or rewrite a strategic plan, the leadership team must consider whether it is ready to listen. It’s critical that important constituencies from across the organization be invited to share their expertise and perspectives. Different people will have different opinions about what is working well and what isn’t, and why. They will help surface insights about the organization that the leadership simply can’t because their view of the organization is different. Listening to a wide variety of opinions is important and useful, even when they conflict. It will help you gain a better and more nuanced understanding of your organization, its challenges, and its potential. Being ready to listen to all your constituents and influencers will help ensure that the final plan is relevant and actionable.
Are you ready to get real?
Finally, at its core strategic planning is about prioritizing your work or programs in order to move the organization closer to its desired state. Sometimes organizations, particularly those in the nonprofit sector, are so focused on serving their students, physicians, patrons, members, etc. that they are reluctant to stop doing things that those community members value. But if you are going to create an actionable, realistic plan, you owe it to your community and staff to get serious about prioritizing those aspects of the organization that will expand your capacity, deepen your impact, and help you serve your community better. Only when you prioritize your work can you draft a strategic plan that will prove helpful in realizing your long-term goals and then create the annual work plans and performance indicators that will guide your day-to-day activities.
Strategic plans are incredibly valuable tools, particularly for nonprofit organizations that are always trying to balance meeting the needs of those they serve with often increasingly fewer resources. Strategic planning is a critically important way to align the deployment of those scarce resources with your organization’s mission and vision. Writing one that reflects the real challenges and opportunities you and your team face, and that serves as a meaningful touchstone for all staff, is worth the extra effort and hard work of really listening to your constituents and being bold enough to say no to some things so you can say yes to those that will truly serve your community and grow your organization.