Making the Vision Happen
It is a very rare association or non-profit who has not developed and written a Strategic Plan. If they have not, they should. It is also not unusual that, after a relatively short period of time, the work put into creating that plan is forgotten and results expected are not achieved. At the core of the Strategic Plan is the Vision for the organization. Let’s consider ways to move the organization towards that Vision and overcome some of the obstacles along the way.
First, let us recognize that there are three phases in the planning process; development, execution, and adjustment. The development is usually the most fun. The board and staff may come together for a meeting or retreat. There are a lot of great ideas exchanged and an opportunity to socialize. Some word crafting goes on and everyone is pleased with the final written document. Execution, the next step, often fails to materialize. In fact, this is where the plan becomes reality and the pressures of daily operations often push this into the background. If the execution stage seems to be going well, then the adjustment stage becomes another hurdle to overcome. Then the plan meets the reality of the execution, some of the assumption upon which the plan was built may prove faulty. Adjustments may be needed. Let’s examine the roles played by each of the constituents.
The Board of Directors
The role of the board is to develop the Strategic Plan and oversee its execution. Development or the writing of the plan is their primary responsibility, but it is strongly recommended that they involve staff in the process. It may be advisable to use an outsider with experience to facilitate the development process.. That person will provide objective guidance and not bring any prejudice to the conversation.
Charles Kettering is quoted as saying, “We should be concerned about the future of our business because we are going to spend the rest of our lives there.” Hence the need for a great Vision Statement. It defines our relations and how we wish to be perceived by our stakeholders including our clients, our employees and our community. The staff needs to embrace the statement and its core values as their motivational force. Don’t just settle for a mundane statement. Develop one which is powerful and motivating.
Once the written plan is completed, the board then moves into the role of overseer. It should require the staff reports on a regular basis on their action plans and status. Without this follow-up, progress will be slow and possibly stalled. The board should embrace this as a prime responsibility.
The Executive Director and Staff
Execution of the plan is the next critical step. This might be carried out by either the staff or selective board members. This depends on the size of the staff. Larger staffs may execute the entire plan. Organizations with smaller staffs may heavily rely on board members. Organizations with no staff may rely on volunteers. Regardless, the executive director needs to be responsible for directing and coordinating the execution. Action plans with completion dates and responsibilities need to be developed and progress monitored.
So often this critical step is neglected. Upon the completion of the plan, the tendency is to return to old routines and priorities. It is unrealistic to think that the new plan will completely change daily activity, but some portion of the day or week needs to be allocated in executing the plan. Both the staff and the executive director need to be measured on their performance in moving the plan forward.
Flexibility in the Strategic Plan
As the organization moves forward, it will face obstacles in executing the plan. These may occur as a result of invalid assumptions during the development process, or an unanticipated change in the environment. Assumptions are made based on the best available information at the time. That information may prove to be faulty and require modification of goals or plans. For example, a key member of the team may no longer be available because of illness or their decision to leave the organization. There also might be a change in the environment. Funding sources may decrease or government regulations may change.
As obstacles are encountered, one possible reaction is to give up on the plan or even give up on the process of planning itself. That becomes the easy way out. “Let’s just go back to what we were doing. Maybe if we work harder everything will work out”. This is a very tempting urge, but one that must be resisted.
One must understand that a strategic plan is a living document. It is not chiseled in granite. It can be modified to adapt to new knowledge or circumstances. As these situations occur, it is recommended that:
- Revisit the specific Goal that is in question.
- Revise or modify it as required.
- Seek board approval of the reconstructed Goal. Since the board was part of the development of the plan, they need to be part of approving the modification
- Develop a new and revised action plan.
Strategic Planning is the basis for the leadership of any association or non-profit organization. Too often consultants help with the development of the plan and leave the organization to do the execution. Our experience tells us that our continued involvement makes a decisive difference. To that end, we include follow-up sessions with either the board or executive director for one year after the finalization of the plan.