Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail

These words, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, are often used to encourage organizations to engage in what has been called for decades “strategic planning.” Unfortunately, much of what has constituted so-called strategic planning has resulted in staff who are exhausted by the tedium of analysis, a plethora of data that serves little use in daily decision-making, and a document that is of little use in actually leading the organization toward its preferred future.

Through my decades of facilitating such strategic planning processes – in private higher education, community service organizations, and in non-profit social service organizations – I have come to learn that building an organization’s preferred future on the mistakes and limitations of the past, along with the creation of lofty sounding goals and objectives that provide little guidance in daily decision-making, is a recipe for irrelevance. Small wonder that most strategic plans end up gathering dust.

Strategic Planning Winding Path Through WoodsRecent studies of strategic planning methodologies by McLaughlin and LaPiana suggest that traditional models suffer from a number of flaws. For one, utilizing the traditional SWOT analysis to describe the organization’s current status creates a set of limiting factors that have the potential to paralyze creative thinking about the future. As McLaughlin questions, “Who wants to build their future on weaknesses or threats?” Besides, these aren’t strategic conditions at all, but are rather areas for management. Much better to build a future on the strengths and opportunities (i.e., market position). And LaPiana posits that strategic plans have value only if they can serve as an overarching framework for the most important work of leadership, and that is the development of nimble strategies to address emerging issues along with tactical plans for implementing those strategies.

This describes my approach to strategic planning. The processes I recommend and the templates I employ are grounded in the belief that every non-profit organization needs to have a clear vision of its preferred future based on a hard analysis of its mission, strengths, and market opportunities. This strategic vision must be supported by ongoing strategic thinking that allows the organization to respond immediately to emerging conditions and to develop strategies for action within the framework of the overarching vision.

If you would like to explore my thinking around strategic planning and how I might be of service to your organization as you seek to identify and plan for your preferred future, please contact me. I’d love to share my experience and expertise.

McLaughlin, Thomas. Nonprofit strategic positioning: decide where to be, plan what to do. (2006) John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, NJ.

LaPiana, David. The nonprofit strategy revolution: real-time strategic planning in a rapid-response world. (2008) Fieldstone Alliance, New York, NY.


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