Perfect Planning Prevents Poor Performance
We recently conducted a workshop at the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives in Savannah GA. There were approximately 120 chamber leaders, from across the nation, and the question was asked, how many have a formal strategic planning process? There was an overwhelmingly positive show of hands. The response from these participants reflects our experience with all nonprofits, that most have a strategic planning process. It may vary in timing or method, but it is essential to the success of the group. Without it, there can be a loss of faith from those who invest their time, trust and resources to an organization.
How and When Do You Conduct the Planning Process?
The first consideration is the time scope of the plan. Historically, organizations developed long-term plans. Some were as long as ten years. Over time, it was found that the longer-term plans became irrelevant because of the nature of our changing environment. We tend to have our feet planted on shifting sands. Organizations began to reduce their planning horizon to five years and eventually to three. Today, most organizations plan for the next two to three years.
Most nonprofit planning occurs at an off-site annual meeting, which includes the board members and key members of the staff. Although the length of that meeting can vary, it is impractical to think that all of the planning work will occur at that meeting. If one considers a plan that has already been written and approved, only a review is necessary of the Mission and Values. These two elements of a plan, if well written, rarely change. A review of the situation analysis may be required to note any changes in either the external or internal environment. Goals, plans and the execution of those plans need to be reviewed on a regular basis and should also be on the agenda of an annual meeting.
It has been our experience that the construction of a complete strategic plan requires more time than can be allocated at an annual meeting. Preparation before the meeting is critical. Send participants subjects to consider before the meeting or have discussions on better understanding the current situation. Although the goals should be approved at the meeting, the planning is best left to committees afterwards. We have found that it is best to spend a few hours drafting the plan and a follow-up meeting where that draft is reviewed. There always needs to be rewording and changes that occur as a result of further consideration.
How Do You Communicate the Plan?
Let’s start by considering the three audiences for the plan. We see those as being the public, the board, and staff.
By the public, please consider those who know you through your website, printed literature and regulatory agencies. These constituents know you through you Vision, Stated Values and Mission. Websites are easy to change. Literature may be more extensive and costly to change. One may wish to work the inventory of these items down before a rewrite. Many regulatory agencies review and give approval to organizational plans and need to be communicated with during their periodic audit and approval.
The board needs to be part of the plan development and approval. They should also insist upon and receive regular updates on progress. Since many boards rotate members on a regular basis, the new members should be provided with a review as part of an on-boarding process.
We strongly encourage organizations to involve key staff members in the development of the plan, but not all may be included. It needs to be the responsibility of the organization’s leadership to communicate the plan to all involved, assign responsibilities for the execution of tasks within the action plans, and report on progress. It is also an excellent idea for the Executive Director or CEO to communicate parts to all those involved including staff, employees and even volunteers.
Develop, Execute and Adjust
In the book Execution, The Discipline of Getting Things Done, the authors, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, observe that the hardest part of the planning process is not the development of the plan but the execution. Many an hour has been spent writing a plan and many a plan was never been carried through. Execution is the primary role of the organization’s leaders. They must assign responsibility and follow-up to assure each Action Step is completed. Sharing in this responsibility is the board, who must oversee progress.
Sports fans will tell you that the best of plans come undone when the situation during the game changes. Good coaches are those who can modify plans to adjust to the reality of the situation. Think of the reality of the quarterback who is knocked out in the first quarter. Good coaches and effective teams can adapt and on occasional win the game. Business plans may need to adapt to changes in the environment or false assumptions made at the beginning. The plan needs to be flexible. Don’t give up on planning, be in the moment.