Strategic Planning Now Is the Time

What is strategic planning? And what do you need to know about the process to determine how a strategic plan would benefit your organization? How detailed do we need to be with the budgeting?

Strategic planning is a systematic process where you identify why your organization exists, its vision for serving customers, employees, and local citizens, what you want to achieve, and how you’re going to do so. At each stage of the process, you will involve various people and groups, as this is where the power of strategic planning comes into play.

Does strategic planning sound like a long, drawn-out process? Well, it can take a while to do it right. What’s the old saying? “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.”

Benefits of developing a strategic plan:
  • Engages a wide group of stakeholders
  • Creates a plan that keeps all stakeholders in mind
  • Focuses on broad issues
  • Identifies clear impacts and decisions
  • Helps maintain a focus
  • Is proactive vs. reactive (not crisis management)
  • Assesses resources, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Makes it easier to measure success
  • Adds to the stability of the organization
  • Gives us specific goals and a sense of achievement when we reach them

The Starting Point
There are many approaches to strategic planning; however, there are a few common threads among most plans. The predominant starting point is a solid understanding of the organization. There are a variety of ways to understand the pressures and dynamics affecting an organization and its future.

Still answering the “Who are we?” question, most strategic plans include a SWOT analysis to explore the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of the organization. With the Technology of Participation (ToP)®* Strategic Planning method, we also look at the benefits and dangers of success (potential outcomes to plan for). See Addendum on the ToP Strategic Planning methods.

The Nitty Gritty
Once the planning team has a good handle on the organizational identity and environment, the next couple of steps have to do with setting goals, objectives, and strategic directions and developing action plans to accomplish them.

We’re not suggesting that strategic planning is an easy process. It requires a strong commitment from your executive level and governing board plus the allocation of resources such as staff time, hiring a professional facilitator, technology, meeting expenses, and a facility with adequate space.

A Couple of Important Keys
Timing is important. The end of the year or the beginning of a new one is great times to take a forward look. Now is the time. However, if you’re in a crisis’s mode, strategic planning is not appropriate. Take care of the crises first then consider creating a plan for the future.

It is important to know who makes the decisions at each stage of the process and when you need to build consensus. Making sure you’ve included all stakeholders will help you create a plan that has wide support.

The Downside
People tend to shy away from a long-term planning process because the world is changing so rapidly and it’s difficult to know what’s coming down the pike. A good plan will include a few contingencies and a back-up plan if the original goals get thwarted.

Another reason people think strategic planning is so difficult is because it is challenging to forecast revenue and expenses. It is not the function of a strategic plan to have detailed financial projections. Those come afterwards when the finance people can look at the goals outlined in the plan and apply financial reasoning and planning to them. Sometimes the finance department can put a wet blanket on the enthusiasm of the planning team, but with honest dialogue and understanding on both sides, the objectives and financial projections can come together.

The End Product
The final plan will include specific goals and objectives, and clearly defined action steps that identify who is responsible for each action item, what resources are needed, when each action item is due, and how you will monitor progress and measure success.

Utilizing the services of a professional facilitator can help you navigate through the strategic planning process.

Strategic Thinking, Strategic Planning, and Implementation

Strategic thinking helps you:
  • Anticipate future events and issues
  • Create alternative scenarios by listening to everyone’s input
  • Understand your options and what you’re most enthusiastic about
  • Articulate your overall objectives
  • Determine the primary direction you want to take to achieve those objectives

Strategic planning is a series of steps to:
  • Determine what you specifically want to accomplish
  • Assign roles and responsibilities
  • Develop strategies to achieve your goals
  • Identify certain actions that need to be taken within certain time frames
  • Observe and measure your performance

Implementation is where you act until the strategic plan is achieved, including:
  • Ongoing buy-in as individuals commit to making their contributions
  • Everyone being motivated to achieve the collective goals
  • Removing barriers as you share the ups and the downs with each other along the way
  • Having a support system to identify breakdowns and collaboratively plan around them
  • Celebrating wins and breakthroughs along the way

*Technology of Participation (ToP)® is a registered trademark of the Institute of Cultural Affairs. ToP Facilitation Methods and Strategic Planning Methods are offered worldwide by ToP trainers.


Technology of Participation (ToP)® Strategic Planning Methods

Key Outcomes of the ToP Participatory Strategic Planning Process:
  1. Engage participants in the whole process which provides greater buy-in and support for successful implementation.
  2. Design an environmental scan of the organization or the industry.
  3. Build consensus around the organization’s practical vision and preferred future.
  4. Identify blocks and barriers to attaining the vision.
  5. Develop broad strategic directions designed to overcome the blocks and move toward achieving the practical vision.
  6. Identify first-year accomplishments for each strategic direction and create 90-day implementation plans which identify roles, responsibilities, and timeframes, and gets the plan into action. (To be accomplished with staff coaching)
Step 1:  Work with assigned representatives of the organization and conduct key informant interviews to discuss needs and expectations.  Draft a process design plan to be presented for approval or adjusted as necessary.  This is completed prior to the planning event.
Step 2: Conduct an environmental scan or trends analysis to launch the strategic planning process.  This provides a way for the group to become familiar with the background of the organization or historical and current trends very quickly.
Step 3: Establish a practical vision of how the organization’s mission will be achieved over the next three to five years. It provides structure for what the planning participants want to see in place in the coming future.
Step 4: Identify blocks or barriers, i.e., underlying root causes that could prevent the organization from achieving its vision. This step helps ensure the blocks or barriers are addressed for the practical vision to be implemented.
Step 5: Make informed choices about what to do, referred to as strategic directions.  These choices are in broad areas and will help prioritize what are the most important, effective, cost efficient, and expedient ways to accomplish the 3- to 5-year vision.
Step 6: Identify first year accomplishments for each strategic direction and prepare 90-day implementation plans by getting down to the details of who, what, and when the elements of the strategic directions will be achieved.  These 90-day plans will be reviewed regularly by those implementing them and new plans will be created each quarter.
Step 7: Monitor and evaluate the progress and impact of the strategic plan.  Progress is reviewed and monitored monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually.  Each year new accomplishments are identified for each strategic direction.

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