By Maiden Manzanal-Frank
It`s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The rush is set. While offices are struggling to close their programs and implement Christmas-themed services, eyes are on for next year. In an inter-agency meeting I attended, people from different service organizations shared their wishes for New Year. Most responses are about money- maybe a new or renewed funding, more donations, more collaboration or partnerships, higher client intake, better office space, so on and so forth.
It is obvious that it is easy to say that they would like more money for their agencies. Yes money is important. It helps the organization create more, better quality programming with adequate staffing to look after community needs. But this is more of the same. For most organizations, the default is status quo.
For a lot of non-profits, for profits and governments, a new year besets a closer look at their operational plans. Is it time for another strategic planning? What happened to the last one? While hoping that more money will come, what exactly does more money mean for the organization? As executives, it is important that to see the big picture-the forest from the trees. A strategic planning may prove to be useful in determining if the agency is just surviving or thriving, should be doing more with less or doing less with more. The difference lies in the detail.
We all know the benefits of the exercise-it is both a process and an outcome-a real written plan. From my experience being involved in a number of strategic planning and thinking, most of these plans do not survive contact with reality. But yes, planning is everything.
Tired of becoming just another rote exercise, here are some tips to see the three decades old process in a new light. Aha moments do not have to come from an expensive retreat environment.
First, Strategic Planning process is a stock-taking process. It is an opportunity to stop and take stock of what has been achieved in the direction that has been chosen in light of rapidly changing environment. The world has changed for the past five year that a plan to engage in social media is not an innovation, it is a standard practice. Revisiting the reasons why certain choices prevailed over others reveal so much about the realities, options and considerations at that time. Harvesting the experiences of what worked, not worked, and all the unintended, unexpected, negative results including failures can be very effective if done right.
Second, Strategic Planning is a visioning process. To envision a future is not necessarily to look at the past. Once upon a time this was the norm. In a disruptive economy, the achievements of the past are no longer the best predictors of success. The challenge for today’s organizations is to understand that there is no real blueprint out there. It is through adaptive capacity that organizations can have a reasonable handle on a set of givens in light of the volatility and unpredictability of the external environment.
Third, the Strategic Plan can be a powerful strategic communication tool. Good intentions plus good stories do not cut it. Donors, funders, and stakeholders would like a clear, simple yet compelling explanation as to the direction the organization is taking and that the organization has given a fair amount of thinking looking at capabilities, resources, tactics, and culture that are required to move the plan from paper to implementation. The challenge is not to come up with a flawless plan but that it is a just right guide for the organization in turbulent times.
Money can buy an office space or get new programs going but a good solid strategic plan will take the organization farther than its initial investment.
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