As you begin to draft a new strategic plan, there are two questions you must answer early in the process: Who will you involve in the planning process and when?
It is obvious to most leading the planning process that those at the top of the organization—those directing the most critical areas of the enterprise—should be included in building the strategic plan from the beginning stages to its eventual release and implementation.
Less obvious may be when to include those from across the organization and why.
Staff at other levels of the organization are often only included in the later stages of the process when the plan is all but complete. At that point, they are typically asked to affirm the plan, embrace it, and begin to apply it to their team’s work plans or their individual responsibilities. Leaders who only bring in the broader cross section of their staff at this point are missing an opportunity to learn more about their organization and understand the experiences of staff at all levels. They also miss an important opportunity to develop a better strategic plan that is more likely to be embraced and implemented across the organization.
Individual contributors and line managers have invaluable insights into your operation—where your bottlenecks are, why you keep running into the same challenges, what drives your organization’s culture, and much more. And while their insights into those issues may be constrained by their perspective, it is also informed by it. We sometimes have a tendency to listen to the experiences and perspectives of our peers but to dismiss the experiences of others as uninformed or less important, particularly those lower in the organizational chart. Because strategic planning is initiated by leadership, it tends to reflect their understanding of the organization and its strengths and weaknesses. Only by making room for everyone around the table through a deliberate and sustained effort to solicit and incorporate the insights of staff at all levels can we overcome this tendency.
When organizations make the effort to adopt a more holistic approach to strategic planning and engage their staff throughout the process, the final result is infinitely better. The likelihood of the team embracing the organization’s new strategic priorities and aspirations will be much stronger.
So, how can you include those voices in the strategic planning process?
- Talk about the planning process early and often. Commit to transparency about the process by leveraging existing communication channels to provide updates on the plan’s development. This is a simple and effective way to signal that you value your staff and their role in the development and execution of the strategic plan.
- Provide avenues for people to participate. Consider organizing workshops and focus groups to facilitate discussions and idea generation. These collaborative sessions can help foster a sense of shared ownership and encourage participants to contribute their unique insights.
- Ask them to be a part of an organization-wide survey. Utilize surveys to gather diverse perspectives. Surveys are an effective and manageable way to invite all of your staff and stakeholders into the strategic planning process.
- Use your leaders and managers to provide more ways to participate. Provide your leadership and managers with information and talking points that they can use to keep their teams engaged and informed. Ask them to invite their team’s feedback and insights and provide a channel for them to share it with the planning group.
- Tell them when and where their feedback made a difference. Assure staff that their participation will be valued and heard. As the plan comes together, take note of those elements of the plan that were particularly shaped by the contributions of those not at the leadership level. Recognize the importance of everyone’s voice in the process when you release the final plan.
Involving a diverse range of stakeholders in the strategic planning process can greatly enhance the effectiveness and impact of your nonprofit’s strategic plan. Writing the plan should be a collaborative and inclusive effort, harnessing the collective wisdom and insights of all those involved in helping you accomplish your ambitious vision for your organization. When everyone has a seat at the table, you and your nonprofit can more effectively chart a course that leads to long-term success for yourself and your community.
At BWF, we stand ready to assist you with strategic planning. Please reach out to Associate Vice President of Nonprofit Enterprise Strategic Planning Tracey Storey at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s a privilege to help.