I know it has been about a month since I posted anything. Since posting the downloadable PowerPoint presentation on strategic planning, I have been busy writing an e-book which describes the process I am advocating in much more detail. It is yours at no charge. Absolutely free.
Why? I was told by one of my business mentors that in spite of a PhD and 42 years of executive experience, the knowledge I possess about strategic planning has a street value of $0.00. Anybody with a computer or a smart phone can Google the topics I have been talking about and find the same information.
What does have value in what I have written? What value do I bring to the table? First, understanding how processes work, I know how to facilitate the use of knowledge to achieve desired outcomes. I know how to make this stuff work for the benefit of the client.
Second, I am really good at synthesizing complex concepts and organizing them in coherent patterns to achieve optimum outcomes.
Third, I know how to manage projects such as strategic planning. Let’s be honest. I know that if you wanted to learn calculus, you could buy a calculus text book and teach yourself, right? Would you do it, however? Not very likely! It’s not that you aren’t smart enough. It’s not that you don’t have the prerequisites like algebra and trigonometry, which I assume you do. It’s that it is hard work requiring time, commitment and self-discipline. Who is going to hold you accountable if you skip an assignment or turn in your homework late? No, if you want to learn calculus, you sign up for a course at your local college or university.
Finally, I bring trustworthiness to the table. After a 42 year career in executive leadership, I have absolutely no desire to run anything. Instead, I have a burning passion to help nonprofit organizations achieve their preferred futures, to become much more effective in carrying out their missions, and to help nonprofit leaders become the most outstanding, visionary champions of their cause possible.
So, here is my offering to you. A downloadable e-book which is yours to use as you see fit. Share it with other CEOs. Share it with your board and staff. Spread it around. Hopefully, it will find its way into the hands of someone who truly wants to achieve his/her preferred future.
I promised that I would share the schematic of how this approach to strategic planning works. In trying to answer the ten critical questions for coherent strategic planning,I have developed a number of charts and diagrams to help my clients understand the process and the intended outcomes of each particular planning activity. What I have concluded is that compiling all of this into a single schematic or diagram is very difficult and confusing. So, instead, I am offering a free download of a PowerPoint presentation, versions of which I have used with various clients. You will find the link to the downloadable file below.
I have also added additional commentary and explanation to each slide. I saved the document in the “notes” format, so when you open it, you should be able to view the slides and their associated commentary immediately below each slide. If you have any difficulty, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please feel free to share this file with others.
If you’d like to hear from clients I’ve worked with using this process, please contact me and I would be happy to put you in touch with them.
As always, feel free to leave comments below, or contact me directly with any questions at email@example.com.
The strategic plan you have just completed tells a story. It provides a setting with historical background, location, conflict, challenges and exciting opportunities. There is definitely a plot line with plenty of foreshadowing and suspense. There are characters who play critical roles in the story. Most of all, your story can evoke strong feelings of loyalty and support. Those who encounter your story should be moved emotionally, should connect with the characters and their cause, and should be inspired enough to share the story with others.
If you think I am exaggerating with this attempt to analogize between a strategic plan and a story, I would suggest that you are ignoring the power of narrative in influencing the affective psyches of the people who are connected to your organization. Believe me when I tell you that your strategic plan has the potential to influence the attitudes of funders, enhance employee loyalty, evoke satisfaction among your clients, inspire respect in the minds of competitors, and build support from your board of directors.
A good strategic plan sends a powerful message to constituents that you have a compelling mission, that you understand your environment, that you are visionary and forward thinking, that your organization has the capacity to change and move into the future, and that you know where you are going. Telling that story in the right way to the right audience for the right reason is the final step in this ten-part approach to coherent strategic planning.
You may ask, “How can a strategic plan, complete with charts and tables and lists and goals and all manner of other technical information, be told like a story?” The answer is that the form and substance of the story depends on the audience.
For the board of directors and the executive leadership team, the strategic plan as a whole is the story. It has to be assumed that individuals in these two leadership areas require the story in its entirety in order to properly execute their responsibilities. Therefore, printing the entire document (please, not in four-color glossy brochure format!) for use by leadership is necessary if you intend to use it on a regular basis to guide discussion, frame decisions, evaluate progress, and celebrate accomplishments. I would argue, in fact, that the strategic plan should be printed and included in each quarter’s board briefing book and that agenda items for board discussion be drawn from the strategic plan. To avoid having the plan die a dusty death on somebody’s shelf, it must become the operating manual that guides all activity.
Because typical strategic plans can get rather lengthy and detailed, how can the story be told to employees, donors, volunteers, clients and others in a way that accomplishes the purposes I’ve listed above? I’d like to offer a few suggestions for your consideration. Not all of these may be appropriate for your organization, but I hope you will be able to gain some ideas on how to tell your story. Just keep uppermost in your mind the needs of the audience you are seeking to communicate with and the form of the story will take its own shape appropriately.
Print the organization’s mission, vision and core value statement in poster-sized format and post them throughout the facilities. A little money spent to have this done professionally will communicate to those who see them that the organization places a lot of value in these statements as guides for action and descriptors of the corporate ethos.
Print the Position and Goal statements in a similar poster-sized format and post them alongside the mission, vision and core values posters. It may be sufficient to just publish the position statements. However much detail is provided, they must be easily readable and must communicate the big picture direction the organization is taking.
Publish a “precis” of the strategic plan, i.e., a two or three pages executive summary that can be printed in small booklet form to use with donors, volunteers and others. In such an abbreviated form of the plan, marketing and communications staff will want to reframe the strategic plan into a readable narrative that engages the reader and leads to some type of conversion, be it a donation, greater commitment, volunteering, or other types of engagement.
Depending on the audience, such a brochures or marketing materials may or may not be supported by colored graphics and a professional layout. The question driving those decisions should be: “Will this document in this format significantly support the purpose for which it is intended with the intended audience?” Some would argue that slick four-color expensive brochures can turn off committed donors who might question spending money on an expensive marketing piece. Others will argue, however, that doing it right communicates serious commitment to the vision and is essential for attracting new donors.
My mentor once described the role of CEO as “chief story-teller.” If the organization has the capacity to post videos (e.g., through YouTube, vimeo, or other formats) to employees and others, the CEO might consider a short five-minute video in which he/she talks about the strategic plan and what it means.
In addition to mission, vision and core value statements, one organization I worked with posted each year’s initiatives, their tactical annual action plans, throughout the organization to help employees understand better why certain decisions were made and why actions were taking place.
Organizations which are centrally located and hold annual “town hall” meetings – either for staff or clients – should consider devoting one such meeting to the strategic plan and what it means for them. Such high-level presentations are great for soliciting feedback and for better understanding of issues that might impede progress.
The strategic plan should be prominently exhibited on the organization’s website. However, I would recommend against posting annual initiatives, key performance indicators, and other data that might be either too technical, confidential, or subject to interpretation. The organization’s media, marketing and communications staff should work with leadership to post a narrative version of the strategic plan that is user readable and attractive. The heart of the strategic plan is comprised of the position and goal statements and these should be most prominent in any online presentation. How much of the back story and analysis should be included is a judgment call, but in my view, should be kept to a minimum.
For tech-savvy organizations, many opportunities exist for mounting social media campaigns around the strategic plan, posting various positions and goals, and inviting comments and support. Those with active intranet systems, discussion boards using programs such as SharePoint can serve to further embed the strategic plan goals into the life of the organization. Similarly, board book platforms can promote discussion in and around board meetings, giving opportunities for directors to engage in generative discussions related to strategic issues.
Organizations which are dispersed could consider holding focus group sessions in remote locations to explain the plan and its implications for the company in its various locations. Ideally, such focus groups should be held before the final plan is rolled out to promote ownership of dispersed stakeholder groups. I used this tactic to great effect when I was facilitating a strategic plan process in the context of a merger. Stakeholders in the acquired company gained access to the CEO and became insiders and participants in the planning process, making sure that their regional concerns were heard.
Organizations engage in comprehensive strategic planning in order to identify and achieve their preferred future. The strategic plan, told as a story, is intended to generate support and commitment to that future. Whether that is in the form of money, time, ability, loyalty, or respect – the story is told with a deliverable in mind. Suffice it to say, the story of the strategic plan, artfully shared, can go a long way toward helping the organization achieve its preferred future.
I would love to hear about your experiences in how you communicated your strategic plan to your constituents. Feel free to leave comments and reactions.
If you would like to explore further ideas on how to tell your story, please call or email me. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss (with no obligation on your part) any aspect of this article or those that preceded it.
And of course, I am always available to discuss how I might be of service to you in achieving your preferred future.
If you have followed the approach I have outlined, you have created a comprehensive, coherent strategic plan that not only describes your preferred future in high level position statements, operationalizes it through measurable goals, but also has in place a set of strategy tools to deal with unanticipated events. It all looks great on paper, but the question now is how to embed the strategic plan into the regular thinking of executive leadership and the board? Since the primary audience for these articles consists of chief executive officers, we might ask it in a little different way: “How can CEOs make sure that their organization’s strategic plan is and remains a living and dynamic document which directs the actions of the organization forward toward its preferred future?” Let me offer up a few ideas.
First and foremost, the strategic plan has to guide the daily activities of senior leaders. In larger organizations, this might be accomplished by devoting one monthly executive staff meeting to evaluating progress toward achieving strategic goals. Such a meeting could include report-outs by those assigned to specific strategic goals or initiatives and should include metrics of progress. In smaller, less formal organizations, discussions by senior leaders should focus on the high-level priorities called out in the strategic plan, even if such discussions are around the water cooler. This focus should be modeled by the chief executive in both formal and informal conversations. There is, after all, nothing more important for executive leadership than execution of the strategic plan. So it would seem to make sense that its achievement would be the dominant topic of conversations. If it isn’t, then I would argue that the strategic plan is inadequate for its intended purpose.
Formalizing the various levels of the process into policies and procedures ensures that certain planning and review processes occur at appointed times each year. Included in the strategic planning document should be an articulation of the organization’s planning philosophy and a broad annual schedule of planning activities. I have included a diagram which integrates the key elements that I developed for an organization that has four board meetings each year.
Board engagement in supporting the plan can be achieved by structuring regular board meetings around the major themes of the strategic plan. Envision a board meeting in which the majority of time is spent evaluating the progress of the organization toward achieving its goals. Gone are boring operations reports. Financial reports are related to the plan, complete with scenarios and forecasts. I used this approach to good effect, not to keep the board unware of other operational matters (we published a board briefing book between board meetings which shared such information), but to help them fulfill their primary strategic, legal and fiduciary responsibilities. Boards can help their CEOs remain focused on strategy by explicitly demanding more board meeting time on strategic trends and issues. I’d even go so far as to assert that the agenda for board meetings IS the strategic plan.
Explicit decision-making processes should be developed and utilized as an execution tool to actually drive forward the goals articulated in the strategic plan, while allowing for shifts in thinking that naturally come about in dynamic and changing environments. The CEO has to model this kind of continuous strategic decision-making and expect it of all other executives in his organization. The filters or screens for making value judgments about strategic issues that arise can flow directly from the environment scan, business model analysis, and capacity assessment that should be part of the strategic planning process.
Let me interject a word here about consultants. It should be an expected part of every consultant contract for strategic planning facilitation to include the development and implementation of decision-making processes that support execution, implementation, learning, and adaptation. It may be necessary to utilize additional periodic consulting to advise the board and the CEO on how well its plans are being executed and to offer additional coaching and guidance. No organization should be satisfied with a “one and done” approach from a consultant. The ideal deliverable is an embedded process of strategic thinking, planning and decision-making that extends way beyond the publication of a slick planning document.
A few articles back I wrote about the importance of data in order to measure progress toward achieving the preferred future. Whether these are called dashboard indicators, key performance indicators, operational metrics, strategic intelligence, goal statistics, or something else, they comprise what we now refer to as “business intelligence,” in other words, all the data which informs leadership about how well the organization is performing with respect to its strategic goals and objectives. For these to be of any value, however, they must be monitored regularly in order to preemptively detect any changes or developing trends. Having in place such monitoring and reporting systems ensures that leaders know if they are on track or not.
Developing strategies to move toward a preferred future is not an end in itself. Implementing the strategies, monitoring their execution, learning from their impact, and being able to develop additional or alternative strategies to address conclusions from such learning – these are the critical activities needed to make the strategic plan a living and dynamic document.
And finally, let the entire organization know where it is headed. Through newsletters, video messages to employees and stakeholders, posters and other media, the CEO is not just the visionary who sees the future, he/she must also be the story-teller-in-chief. Dreams are shared through story. The strategic plan is a dream, albeit one that may change over time, as do all dreams. But the dream will stay locked in the corner office if the story isn’t told. And, just like a television series, if you tell the story to people, they are going to want to see the next episode! If you tell the story, and it holds out an expectation, then you become accountable for making the story come true! I’ll write in more detail on this last subject in my article next week.
Regular review of the business model, evaluating the environment to support market awareness and competitive advantage, thinking about the values and criteria that are needed to make strategic decisions as issues emerge, developing additional or alternative strategies when data suggests the need for divergence from the plan, implementation and evaluation of strategies – these are the essential ingredients of active and dynamic strategic thinking, learning and acting. And in this, as in just about every other aspect of organizational effectiveness, it comes down to leadership as to whether they are successfully utilized to move the organization toward its preferred future.
Please contact me if you’d like to talk about this article or any other aspect of strategic planning.