Three Ways To Avoid Strategic Planning Missteps

By Jonathan Bennett, C.Dir.

Laridae has led the development of strategic plans for more than 50 organizations across a variety of non-profit and public sectors, including health, social services, economic development, the environment, arts and culture, education, and more.

We understand that every organization faces its own challenges. In fact, we customize our planning process to fit the circumstances, capacity, and needs of each non-profit.

At the same time, our experience developing strategic plans has reinforced that there are a few components that are key to a successful outcome. Here are three ways to avoid making missteps in your strategic planning process.

1. Don’t Delegate Planning to a Sub-Committee

Strategic planning is among the most important activities a board undertakes. Only coming around every 3 – 5 years, the task is too important to delegate to a sub-committee.

With a sub-committee doing the bulk of the planning work “off stage”, those board members will be deeply invested in the emerging new directions, while the others will hear it all for the first time when it’s all but complete. When they do, we often find they push back, and want to re-do the process. As such, sub-committee delegation can be a recipe for conflict. And, worse still, don’t look to management to do all the heavy lifting either.

Strategic planning is essential board-level work in non-profits. In our experience, the best plans emerge from full engagement with the whole board, right from the very beginning. Go all in, all the way. It’s a shared board and management journey and good engagement starts right at the board itself.

2. Discuss Change Early and Often

Boards need to reflect at the beginning of a planning cycle on the extent of changes they are looking for from their new plan. And, then ask, “why”?

Of course, sometimes, after the engagement and planning work is done, there will be even more change to do than was anticipated. But it’s easier to navigate and take on more than was first thought, if the initial appetite for change is a known quantity.

Board and senior management engagement around a “change mandate” is essential—and remember, it’s not static, change moves constantly, so keep engaging with it directly and openly.

3. Make Deepening Trust the Legacy of your Planning

If there are naysayers, difficult personalities, opposition groups or anyone that will pose a barrier to your plan being implemented, invite them right into the planning process from the beginning. As the old saying goes, “if they plan the battle, they won’t battle the plan.”

Often what is lacking for naysayers is access to decision makers, understanding, and information. “Opponents” need to know that they will not be making decisions but, rather, that they are being given a fair chance say their piece, and be really heard. If you do this, as often as not, you will convert “opponents” into partners. This approach makes for more inclusive strategic plans, and as such, one of the most lasting legacies of your planning cycle will be a deepening of trust.

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