We kicked off a strategic planning effort with a new client recently. A staff member, curious about why he was in the room and on the strategic planning team, asked a familiar question: “Why are we doing strategic planning?” Behind the question was the tension of an overcommitted worker wondering what this big new chunk of extra work would actually do for his organization.
Nonprofit organizations undertake strategic plans for many reasons, positive and negative. We see new leaders come through our door eager to change their organizations for the better…and leaders who have lost funding and need to retrench strategically. Calls come from board chairs who want faster results, or top staff who feel their effort is becoming less relevant in the changing world around them. The genesis for every strategic planning effort has some level of both pain and opportunity wrapped into it.
No matter what the genesis for the process, there is a universal answer to that “why?”: If you don’t drive, someone or something else will do so. If you don’t set a course — imperfect though it may be — you will not get to where you want to be. As all-consuming as an organization’s day-to-day activities may be, leadership must make the effort to periodically look over the horizon. I won’t get too sailorly, but that look over the horizon helps an organization see what change is happening in their operating environment (the good and the bad), where they are in reaching their organizational goals, and how they might want to adjust course to get there more efficiently or effectively.
As to the “how” of approaching strategic planning? At the end of that meeting, the same person pointed out an excellent approach to any strategic planning process: “We should have courage, you know, courage to say yes and to say no. And we should take some risks.”