There is only one reason not to engage in strategic planning and that is when the conditions for successful planning are not in place. So what does that mean? What are those conditions? Strategic planning is always a resource-intensive process. Here’s a list of five conditions every organization will want to make sure it has in place before it engages in its planning:
- Organizational capacity and motivation to monitor and implement the plan, and to hold itself accountable for the outcomes. There’s no sense in spending the time and effort to create a plan only to have it sit on a shelf. If that’s what has happened in past, ask yourselves how this year is going to be different. Why this year must be different? The executive director is surely accountable to the board for the plan’s outcomes; however, the board must never forget that it is, in the final analysis, accountable to its organization’s donors and constitutents.
- Willingness to take on the organization’s “sacred cows.” The best strategic planning process challenges everyone to think about how the organization can use its resources (time, talent, money) most effectively to impact and advance the mission; for this process to soar, its participants must be invited to respectfully challenge every aspect of the organization.
- Demonstrable commitment by the board of directors and management to the planning process. By “demonstrable commitment,” I mean to suggest a willingness to be intellectually and emotionally involved in and to otherwise support the process from beginning to end.
- Absence of significant organizational conflict or transition at either the board or board/staff level. In order for the board to engage in stategic planning, it will need to be able talk and work together for hours at a time. It will also need to be able to reach consensus about the organization’s priorities. If, for whatever reason, sufficient tension exists at either the board or the board/staff level to make this task impossible or extremely difficult, I recommend the planning be postponed until after the underlying issues can be addressed and resolved.
- Willingness and ability to commit sufficient resources (and in this case I’m referring to the money) to the planning process. Facilitating your own strategic planning process to save a few dollars is generally inadvisable. When a member of the staff or board is the facilitator, s/he steps out of the role of participant in order to play the role of facilitator and her/his voice is lost from the process. A professional facilitator is both neutral to the outcome and has no allegiances to particular individuals; her job is to professionally guide the group to the outcome of a well-conceived plan aligned with the mission and grounded in the organization’s resources. A strategic planning process that is effectively done will pay for itself over and over again for years to come.