Developing a Strategic Plan During a Leadership Transition

By Rachel Pott

At Laridae, we regularly talk about the importance of strategic planning. A focused strategic plan provides necessary guidance to your organization. However, is there a wrong time to develop a strategic plan?

Across the non-profit sector, we are seeing a significant amount of change—as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, sector-wide shifts, changing employment trends and “the Great Resignation.” These shifts impact all aspects of non-profits, and we are seeing them play out at the most senior level, among Executive Directors and CEOs.

We know that change is more manageable when you have a clear strategy—and that change often precipitates the need for deep reflection and a clear guidepost to support decision making.

What If Your Organization’s Leader – ED or CEO – Leaves?

But what happens if the leader of your organization moves on to a new opportunity or chapter amid this time of change? How does this impact an organization’s ability to think strategically? And how can you effectively ensure that the organization continues to progress forward, while understanding that a new leader might have a completely different vision?

Over the last two years, we have explored this exact conundrum with many of our clients. The big question they are asking us is, “When is it the right time to plan?”

When will planning be too tough or problematic? When is it OK to put off planning? And what should you consider if you simply can’t put off the strategic planning process?

There are pros and cons to consider with either option—regardless of which you choose, it is essential that you have an open, honest conversation with your planning team to consider your current state, alongside the potential risks and opportunities that go along with your choice.

Option #1: Postpone the Process Until a Later Date

In some cases, it may be best to postpone the process – and that is OK! There are some good reasons why developing a strategic plan during a leadership transition is challenging.

Resources are Spread Out

A leadership transition is a complex, time-intensive process for any organization, one that requires significant Board and staff resources. It may be challenging to balance this with a well-resourced strategic planning process.

ED/CEO Misses Opportunity for Involvement

Strategic planning is a Board responsibility; however, your ED/CEO offers significant insight and is the one who will operationalize the plan. In terms of change management, you want a plan that the ED/CEO will be on board with and supportive of—this includes their involvement in shaping the strategy.

Onboarding Takes Times

A new ED/CEO will be focused on onboarding and learning about the organization for at least the first six months to a year. It will take some time for them to develop a strong understanding of your organization at a strategic level.

Option #2: Push Ahead with Planning

However, for some organizations, the best decision may be to push ahead with strategic planning. We have supported many organizations in successfully navigating this environment and developing a successful strategic plan.

Often, we see organizations go forward if:

  • Substantially Underway: The project is already significantly underway when the leadership change occurs.
  • Current Lack of Direction: The previous strategic plan is out-of-date, and the staff and Board are looking for the direction that a strategic plan provides.

One option in this scenario is to shift the expectations for the planning process and put in place an interim plan for 18 to 24 months, to ensure progress and focus while the new leader onboards.

For those that do go ahead through the onboarding of a new ED/CEO, strategic planning can also be a very informative process (through engagement, strategic discussions, etc.) for the new leader as they are learning about the organization and its various dynamics.

A Long-Term Focus

At Laridae, we are focused on long-term relationship building—ensuring trust, supportive relationships backed by deep listening and customized approaches. We have supported clients to:

  • Pivot and develop an interim strategic plan after a mid-project shift in CEO
  • Move ahead with planning through a planned leadership transition
  • Revisit strategic planning over a year later once the new ED was feeling comfortable in their role.

Reach out to Laridae if you are wondering if now is the right time for strategic planning.