Leaders' Edge Advisor

Vol. 4, No. 3 - by Gary De Carolis, President

“How many ideas have there been in history that were unthinkable ten years before they appeared?”

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Strategic Planning: Tools and Tips

Strategic planning is perhaps one of the most important leadership activities to undertake, whether for an organization, business or community system. In its most basic sense it is the process of gathering information internally and externally, formulating a vision based on stakeholder groups’ hopes, dreams and ideas for what could be and then laying out a game plan to turn the information into a vision with an action plan for realizing the vision. It is the antidote for the phrase, “If you don’t know where you’re going you will probably end up somewhere else.” Strategic plans create the path that will lead us to our desired outcomes.

The first thing to consider when you begin thinking about strategic planning is that effective planning takes a commitment of time and money. Fortunately, the importance of strategic planning is now being recognized more than ever, and many businesses, agencies, organizations and a growing number of communities are making funds available to do the necessary strategic planning work.

Once you initiate the process, the tough part begins. This is the challenge of pulling together all the resources, ideas, hopes and dreams of each stakeholder group into a vision of what can be realized in your organization or community if you all work together. The more people that are touched by this process, the stronger your strategic plan will be and the more people will be invested in ensuring that it comes to fruition. The opposite is also true. The fewer the people that touch your strategic planning efforts the more likely the plan will remain just a plan. The number of strategic plans collecting dust on shelves is legendary. Some of those plans are well written but were designed and written by one or a few people. They were written for people rather than with people.

Later in the article I suggest some tools for you to consider that will help maximize the involvement of all those interested in the outcome.

Further, I encourage you to see strategic planning as a “planning to implement” process. If history holds true, you will meet many people who will tell you that planning is a waste of time. “Give us that planning money and we could buy a new service,” or “we could add a staff person to lesson our waiting list.” History also tells us that in systems that are not functioning well, a new staff person or new service in and of itself will not solve the problem. Five years from now that same person who wanted the planning funds to be spent on a new position will still be complaining of a lack of money to do the job right.

I suggest that if your plan addresses all the concerns of key people in the system, including the ultimate consumer of those plans, you will then be able to carry out a system change effort that will lead to a more efficient and effective organization or system that more often than not will address the needs of your clients in ways that truly make a difference for them. You will also create a system that will do justice to the dedicated staff that must make that system work on a day to day basis.  

Some recommended tools:  

  • Conduct a Service Needs Assessment – surveying customer and stakeholder groups. This is a critical early effort that serves to pull together information to use in mapping out your approach for developing the strategic plan. It also announces to the organization or community that you are beginning to plan for a new way of doing business.
  • Conduct a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) This internal/external review will help identify areas that need to be addressed so that the ultimate vision that is created can be realized. Also, the strengths of the organization need to be identified so they can be supported and used to help overcome some of the barriers that might exist.
  • Set up interviews, focus groups, public forums to gather further information on what various stakeholder groups want for the mission and vision for their organization or community. Questions could include:

- What do you like about the current system?

- What do you dislike?

- If you could make changes what would they be?

- What would the ideal organization or system look like?

- How would you like to be involved in designing and building the system?

  • Create anadvisory board that includes all stakeholders of your system or organizational change effort. In this group you want every segment of your organization or community that will be touched by the strategic plan. The group could be as large as 25-30 people. Take the advisory board on the road to hold public forums so they can hear firsthand what the citizens want for their system. Public forums are also a great way to identify people who you may want to include on the advisory board or in other areas of planning and implementation, as they speak to the issues you are grappling with. Announce the meetings in your local newspapers or, for an organization, be sure to post the time and place for the public forums, both actually and electronically.
  • Publish a newsletter (which could be on paper, in electronic format, or both, depending on the intended audience) to communicate developments as you begin to implement your strategic plan. It is a great vehicle to inform stakeholders of what is happening in other communities, progress made on implementing your strategic plan, addressing difficult issues and recognizing the achievements of people in your community who have done an outstanding job in their work.
  • Hold aconference and use that venue to launch the strategic planning effort. Use the meeting to solicit ideas from participants on what the organization or system could look like; perhaps ask for volunteers for the advisory committee. Use the meeting as a team building venture. Have representatives for the various stakeholder groups speak to how they will work together in the planning and implementation phases of the strategic plan work.

Strategic planning is a process that lowers your risk of missing what your customers want and what approaches will work in addressing their needs. At the same time, it greatly increases the likelihood that what you design will be just what the customers and stakeholders of your venture want and need. A proverbial win-win!

Center for Community Leadership · P.O. Box 3069, Burlington, VT 05408-3069
ph: 802-863-9132 fax: 802-863-6586 · info@centerforcommunityleadership.com

Copyright 2005 Gary De Carolis. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

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