On the Shelf
“Where do strategic plans land?” asked a colleague of mine recently. I knew full well what she was saying before I answered “On the shelf, collecting dust.”
Strategic planning has been lauded as one of the most important activities of any not-for-profit organization. This can be true; but the outcomes related to strategic planning sometimes fall short of our expectations.
Here are some reasons why:
1) We build plans that cannot be realistically executed.
Too often, our plans are so “lofty”, lacking the necessary resources to match activity, that we just end up spreading ourselves thinner and potentially failing at more than implementing our plan. If we are going to “do more”, then we need to find the resources to “do more.” While we might be able to prioritize, even eliminate activities in favour of new ones, the real challenge for not-for-profits is to keep the horse in front of the cart. Pushed by the dominant culture of “don’t have high administrative costs”, we choose to try to “do more with less” and end up failing at everything.
2) We build plans without indicators of success.
Too often our strategic plans are not robust enough to include measurable goals. How do we even know if we are going to achieve our planned outcomes? If the plan is sitting on the shelf, one reason is because we didn’t have measurable outcomes that we are keeping in front of us to see if we have succeeded.
3) We build plans without the buy-in of staff or key volunteers.
Boards and senior staff members need to remember that a plan, no matter how good, will not be easily executed if key stakeholders aren’t invested in it. Process is important. We must involve everyone who should be involved and ensure that there is more than lip service support. Those that implement must have ownership in the strategy and find joy in the successful implementation.
4) We fail to let strategic planning be a tool for the cohesion of our teams.
Strategic planning gets a bad rap because of the “on the shelf” concept. However, if you do it well, strategic planning can be an exercise in team building, and inspiration for your organizations’ mission. Don’t get overly excited about finishing the plan – enjoy the journey, let your team challenge you and refine the plan – its better when everyone contributes.
5) Boards often get too involved in operational planning.
Boards meddle in day-to-day activities while planning because they can’t stay in a world that is higher level. For some it’s hard to plan at a “5000 foot” level. But we must discipline ourselves this way. One way to better delineate is to have the board own “Strategic Directions” (higher level, broad stroke goals that may take up to 10 years to implement) while staff own “Operational Plans” (day-to-day and year-to-year goals).
Here’s hoping you won’t give up on strategic planning! When the process is valued, the stakeholders invested, and the measurable, resourced outcomes reflect a proper delineation between board and staff. I believe success can be found and your plan will no longer be stuck on a shelf.