In my last blog, I talked about action plans and broke down the different team elements you would need to get your goals met. I related the idea of an action plan to the television show, The A-Team, to get everyone thinking in a more fun way about how to put their team together to meet their goals. This blog is focused on the more long-term goals through a strategic planning exercise, even though they can seem daunting and scary.
Focusing on the Strategy
It’s easy to get scared and frustrated and that can cause people to step back and hide from the work they need to do if they are going to hit their goals and be a success in their own mind. A lot of people see strategic planning as sitting around and talking about the next year and the goals to accomplish. To me, I see this as an action plan, things you will be making a priority over the next year as discussed in the previous blog. A strategic plan can have elements of this, but a strategic plan needs to focus out at least three to five years (but not more than ten) and give outcomes that can be measured over that time towards success. Our strategy will be all about the future and recognizing our successes/failures along the way. However, the outcomes will make up the major part of the plan. We can break it down into its component parts: PLANS.
P L A N S
This might sound redundant since the point of a strategic plan is to be prepared. However, it is also a mindset and an institutional practice. Everyone should be doing a major strategic planning process every three to five years. (Cities tend to go to ten, but most businesses and non-profits are better off with the lower numbers). This means that you have to get into the habit of doing it.
Schedule a session to do the planning and try to keep it the same each year. I recommend one 8-hour session or the same amount of time over several meetings. But make sure that first year is involved and gives you plenty of time. The following years can be a shorter session, such as a two hour recap to see where things have gone and if any changes need to be made. Just make sure that you are preparing this into your schedule each year.
Additionally, preparing means that you have to think in advance about where you want to go. You can’t just show up and listen. Every person needs to be an active participant, both listening and offering suggestions. If someone is just going through the motions of being there, then they are hurting rather than helping. So be prepared to uninvited people that might not be serious to the end game.
Once you do show up, everyone needs to be willing to learn from each other. All ideas are not genius, but every idea should be considered on their merits, both to keep the proposer engaged, but also to see how members understand the mission and vision of the organization. Not only can you learn a lot about the goals you want to accomplish, you can learn a lot about the people who will help the organization get there. And that can be just as, if not more, important.
I always recommend that people try a number of different concepts. Too often people fall into the trap of a “traditional” planning process where they focus on the mission and vision statements of the organization, often at the expense of the operations, which are necessary to complete any of the goals. These elements are definitely important, but don’t let them define your strategic planning process. By looking at things from different perspectives from different people over time, you get a broad range of input.
After you prepare and learn about all of the ideas, you work on setting up goals that can be achieved. You focus on a timeframe, who is responsible, a budget, and ways to measure whether or not you succeeded in reaching your goals. These actions form the basis of your strategic plan because this is where the most attention will be focused for the next several years. Most people see this as the last step. They put in the time and effort to make items that can be acted upon, so they are done. While this step is important, it’s not the last step to make a truly successful strategic plan.
After seeing the goals, timeline, and other information, there is a next step that is not always done with strategic plans. What do we NEED to accomplish this? Do we NEED this project/goal/etc.? Many times, groups will form and they will throw out ideas that they have heard in the community, pet projects that they want to get done, or just go along with the group. These items are usually formed into the action steps above. However, if your group is not taking the time to ask the italicized questions, then you are selling yourself short and possibly dooming your plan to failure. This might seem like a second guessing of what you have already completed, but this is a NECESSARY step to make sure that you are thinking about it from other perspectives.
The final step is one that I think a lot of people overlook. I call it the Sincerity Step because this is the time for the group to take that internal look and see if they are committed. While some people are tasked with certain steps or goals, it’s important that EVERYONE is held accountable. And before the group disbands and starts to work on these tasks, it’s important for everyone to be sincere about their motivations to see this happen and help. It is their reputation on the line too, regardless of which task they might or not might be responsible for accomplishing. If anyone in your group is not willing to step up and take part to make all of the action steps a reality, this can hinder the ability to accomplish any. So make sure that this conversation is part of the exercise and that group members are willing to sincerely help with the endeavors listed above.
Watch for My Next Blog!
My next blog will be focusing on the essential nature of volunteers. Volunteers are generally seen as only helping non-profits, but my next blog will showcase ways they can be used across the spectrum: Non-profits, cities, and businesses.