Strategic planning is even more important now!

I’m a firm believer in strategic planning, and having a solid business plan moving forward has become even more important in times of crisis.

What remains the same?

  • Thoughtful and inclusive planning for a successful future is wise for any organization
  • Strategic plans reflect your most important priorities
  • When they aren’t gathering dust, strategic plans lead to more successful outcomes for organizations
  • Employees are empowered – and people feel more comfortable – when they have a say in their future
  • Strategic plans are a road map, not a rule book! They help guide us through opportunities.
  • Developing a cohesive vision, goals, and strategies to achieve them is best practice
  • Revisiting the mission, vision, values, and strategic direction is necessary any time the leadership or landscape changes

What has changed?

  • Everything is uncertain now – the reminder of “road map, not rulebook” is more salient
  • Even more flexibility and adaptability are required
  • Aim for shorter timelines – we recommend 12 to 24-month plans, with 90 to 120-day tactical action plans, rather than the typical 3 to 5-year strategic plans common before the pandemic
  • Framing plans in 2-3 phases can be helpful: during social distancing, partial re-opening, and after social distancing (relatively normal operations when the pandemic is well-managed)
  • Higher-level engagement is needed from boards of directors, many of whom will take on additional (and perhaps different) duties to support their organizations and executive directors well.

A few notes on inclusive practices

  1. Here’s a free resource on interviewing key stakeholders, including community partners.
  2. Why include business partners’ feedback? Quite simply the best strategic plans are the result of asking the people served to be involved in identifying needs and crafting solutions to address them through programs and services.
  3. Clients, participants, and/or customers should be asked early and often how the org. can do better, and what they need from us.
  4. Ideally, the board initiates strategic planning and takes a lead role in setting the strategic direction. Leadership staff are closely involved, too, coordinating many of the activities related the process.
  5. Staff offer necessary perspective on implementation (what’s realistic given capacity and resources, what’s needed to achieve planned goals, available partners, etc.)

Guidelines on implementation

  1. The board should revisit the plan 2-4 times a year, asking staff for progress updates.
  2. A key board role is to identify and secure resources necessary to support the plan’s implementation.
  3. Gaining buy-in from staff, board, and volunteers for a strategic direction is vital for plans to be effective!
  4. Sometimes it’s important to say “no, thanks.” It can help us stay focused on the mission and deliver quality services and programs. In fact, it’s better to say no to some opportunities and let more experienced or well-positioned partners pursue them.

At the 2019 Oregon Nonprofit Leaders Conference, I gained the following valuable insight from Paul Nicholson, former Executive Director of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, who was the keynote speaker.

  • There is no right way to do strategic planning.
  • Planning is about change, but it’s not all additive!
  • You need a champion to move the plan forward.

I’d like to thank the policy council, board and staff at Klamath Family Head Start, and the board and staff of Eugene Opera. Following the COVID-19 restrictions and emergent community needs, these inquisitive, thoughtful folks supported me in adapting our company’s community assessment and strategic planning processes to be more nimble, flexible, and inclusive.

Here are a few words on strategic planning from a workshop I delivered in Eugene last spring on the topic:

Thanks for reading! Please share your experiences and tips with others.

With kindness,