Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Extensive List of Articles on Strategic Planning

The CEO Refresher ( has compiled an excellent list of strategic planning articles and resources. Some that stand out are Business Planning and Strategic Planning Revisited by Herb Rubenstein, The Art of Strategic Conversation by Skip Corsini, Wishes for Strategic Collaboration, by Helene Mazur (all of her articles are very good!), Building Support for the Strategic Plan: Aligning Employees with Strategy by Robert W. Bradford, and Running a Strategic Planning Session by Estelle Métayer, just to mention a few. For the full list with links to each article, go to:

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Strategic Learning

In previous posts, I’ve talked about the important link between strategic planning and organizational learning. An article that sheds light on the connection is Strategic Learning: A Leadership Process for Creating and Implementing Breakthrough Strategies by William G. Petersen. There is a book by the same title. After twenty years as a CEO of multinational businesses, Dr. Pietersen is now a Professor of the Practice of Management at the Columbia Business School in New York. He identifies the need to change as the central challenge facing leaders today. He goes onto say that three approaches have held out the greatest promise of enhancing an organization’s ability to adapt to change: the concept of the learning organization, the “resurgence” of strategic planning and complexity theory. He observes that none of these work on their own. He then identifies five “killer” competencies that organizations must master in order to become an “adaptive enterprise”: Insight, focus, alignment, execution, and renewal. The Strategic Learning model is then presented as a practical leadership process for mobilizing these five competencies. The process has four linked action steps: learn, focus, align and executive which are described in more detail in the article showing the potential for developing “breakthrough strategies”.

At the end of the article, the same four step process is described in terms of the individual learning and leadership development that can occur. The quality of emotional intelligence is also integrated into his model. Petersen’s synthesis of strategic planning, organizational and individual learning and leadership development offers insights that can help us build in new opportunities for learning in our strategic planning and thinking efforts. For a copy of the article, go to:

Sunday, October 23, 2005

New Tools For Strategic Planning

I’ve come across a number of resources on strategic thinking and planning that are worth a look. I’ll be talking about some of them in coming posts. Here’s the first one: an article that appeared in the August 2005 issue of MIT’s Technology Review. (Go to: It’s entitled Social Machines and provides one of the best – and most exciting – summaries of how the Web is becomes more interactive. In the words of author Wade Roush, “Web 1.0 consisted largely of text files jazzed up with browser-readable HTML instructions on how to display the text and where to find related files. Web 2.0 is more like a collection of programs that talk to one another.”

The article is an introduction to this “collection of programs”. You know what a Blog is – you’re reading one. Do you know what RSS, wikis, and podcasts are? Maybe like you, I had heard of them but not really understood what they represent and what they are pointing to. Have you heard of web-based services like Flickr, Delicious, Socialtext, and Plazes? Me neither. We’ve all seen the Web as this powerful new way to work, communicate and collaborate. But really we haven’t seen anything yet! What does this have to do with Strategic Thinking and Planning? Lots. RSS feeds, wikis and podcasts are some of the new ways people and organizations engaged in strategic planning will do research, gather and share information, create new knowledge – some of the activities that are critical to strategic thinking. Will these new tools and services replace good old-fashioned face to face? Maybe some day. In the meantime, they are powerful tools that will dramatically increase the impact of face to face meetings and contribute to more effective strategic planning and thinking efforts.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Temporary Detour

I’m in the habit of saying that strategic planning is not a conflict resolution process and that if there are internal conflicts in an organization, depending on the nature of the conflict, it may not be the right time to launch a strategic planning process. An example: if the Board of Directors is so weak and dysfunctional that it would be impossible for the board to engage in strategic planning in meaningful ways, first you need to put effort into board development.

But sometimes, the internal issues come to the surface after the strategic planning process has begun. In fact, given the comprehensive nature of strategic planning, a good process is going to surface some of those issues during the early information gathering and analysis phase. Some of these issues will eventually lead to goals, strategies and action plans.

But sometimes, there are issues that arise that simply can’t wait for implementation of the strategic plan at some future point. Some issues have to be addressed now – not later. In situations where an internal issue will make it difficult if not impossible to finish the planning process, it may be necessary to stop, deal with the issue at hand, and then resume the planning process. Recently, in one strategic planning project, it became very clear that tensions between the executive director and board leadership were getting in the way. After discussion with the executive director and board leaders, we agreed to hold a special working session to tackle a number of board/staff role questions and related communication problems. The session provided the needed opportunity to deal with the issues at hand and the planning process has resumed. As a result the executive director and the board leaders are even more enthusiastic about the future of the organization.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Aligning Boards and Management on Strategy

A recent article appearing in the Leader to Leader Institute quarterly journal entitled Aligning Boards and Management on Strategy by Ram Charan provides good advice on how to engage board and management in an in-depth discussion of strategy. According to the author, “Boards need to understand strategy, but it's not their job to create it. …The board's real value comes by helping management test whether the strategy is grounded in reality. They do that by insisting that management answer fundamental questions. …The value is in raising strategic issues, especially those that are uncomfortable. Then boards can dig even deeper.” Charan recommends a “strategy immersion session” as a way to achieve deeper board understanding and support of strategy. He also recommends that the strategy immersion session should be designed so that it is “more like a workshop than a stage show … to ensure that ample time is reserved for open discussion and informal interactions”.

The session be designed as a 1 day retreat event or as a 1-2 hour session within a regularly scheduled board meeting. The article includes suggestion on how to design such a session as well as facilitation notes. Go to:

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Board as Strategic Thinkers

Terrie Temkin, a consultant to nonprofit organizations, has written a series of excellent articles highlighting the role of the board as strategic thinkers. Some of them are listed here:
Adjusting Your Bylaws to Promote a Strategic Thinking Board – Recruiting Strategic Thinkers - Orienting Board Members to their Responsibilities as Strategic Thinkers – Structuring Board Meetings to Maximize Strategic Thinking Boards – Strategic Plans Aren’t the Answer –

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Trend Data You Can Use

Identifying and analyzing trends is a critical part of the environmental scanning described in a previusly post. For links to trend data you can use in your strategic planning efforts, go to our website: Here's a good example of what's available: Gary Hubbell, author of Forces of Change: The Coming Challenges in Hospital Philanthropy, has analyzed the prospective peak giving years by generational cohorts. The peak giving years are ages 55-75:

Silent Generation - Birth Years: 1925-1942. Years of Peak Giving 1980 - 2017

Boom Generation - Birth Years: 1943-1960. Years of Peak Giving: 1998-2035

Generation X- Birth Years: 1961-1981. Years of Peak Giving: 2016-2056

Millennial Generation - Birth Years: 1982-2003(?).Years of Peak Giving: 2037-2078

His conclusions which will be useful for planning by nonprofits in general include the following:
· As we enter the 2010 decade, the last cohort of the silent generation will be reaching the end of their peak giving years.
· Early Boomer cohorts have already entered their peak which will continue for the next twenty years.
· Generation X donors will just begin to enter their peak giving in the middle of the next decade, continuing to the middle of this century.
· At least 30 years from now, Millennials will enter their prime giving years.
· Futurists anticipate longer life spans for each successive generation so peak giving years may represent spans that start later in life and/or last longer than what is known today.

Friday, May 27, 2005

A Good Resource for Environmental Scanning

An important activity in strategic planning is gathering and analyzing information. This activity typically consists of three components: an external assessment, a market or constituent assessment and an internal assessment.

The purpose of the external assessment is to identify and assess changes and trends in the world around the nonprofit likely to have a significant impact on it over the next 5-10 years. We'll look at political, economic, technological, social, lifestyle, demographic, competitive, regulatory and broad philanthropic trends. We then determine which changes are opportunities for us (for example, opportunities to grow) and which could be threats to us in some way (trends that can keep us from being successful). Finally we identify implications for selected changes and trends -- ways the nonprofit might respond to the opportunities and threats we identify. At this early stage of the planning process, saying that something is an implication does not require the nonprofit to adopt that course of action. The external assessment is sometimes referred to as the “environmental scan.”

I recently came across a good resource for environmental scanning. It’s entitled “Scanning the Landscape: Finding Out What’s Going on in Your Field”. It’s published by GrantCraft, a program of the Ford Foundation. While this guide is written for the grantmaking community, the general guidance and the description of approaches for gathering and analyzing information are excellent and applicable to most strategic planning and thinking efforts. Go to:

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Two Strategic Planning Resources

Much has been published on the subject of strategic planning. Here are two of the best resources: Strategic Planning Workbook for Nonprofit Organizations, Revised and Updated by Bryan Barry. There are a number of good publications on strategic planning in nonprofit organizations. If I had to pick just one to recommend, it would have to be Strategic Planning Workbook for Nonprofit Organizations by Bryan Barry. First published in 1997 by the Amherst Wilder Foundation, the workbook combines a clear and thorough explanation of the strategic planning process, with examples and detailed worksheets for each step of the process. Highlights include guidance on preparing to plan, benefits and limitations of planning, strategic planning with multiple organizations and communities, a bibliography of other resources and publications, and more.

Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations, Second Edition by Michael Allison and Jude Kaye. This thoroughly revised, updated, and expanded edition provides expert knowledge and tools needed to develop and implement strategic plans. It including worksheets, checklists, and tables—in print and on the companion CD-ROM—along with a book-length case study that lets you observe strategic planning in action. Topics covered include: developing a clear mission, vision, and set of values, conducting SWOT analyses and program evaluations, assessing client needs and determine stakeholder concerns, setting priorities and develop core strategies, goals, and objectives, etc.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Strategic Thinking and Planning: A Team Sport

In her book The Nimble Collaboration, author Karen Ray identifies a number of emerging best practices. One of them is” modify partner agencies’ mission statements”. She describes the practice: “Chapter 1 (in The Nimble Collaboration) spoke of the collaboration’s mission statement as a placeholder, making room for each partner agency’s mission statement. But at the large end of the collaboration scale, partner agencies are turning this practice on its head: they are changing their individual mission statements to reflect the mission of the collaboration. Such changes show the depth of the partner agencies’ commitment to the goal of collaboration. They also ensure that the work of the collaboration is continued beyond the tenure of the agency representative, and even beyond the membership of the organization in the collaboration, because the agency itself has changed. For example, a variety of organizations in Ramsey County, Minnesota have decided that violence is a key barrier to their goals. Domestic abuse shelters, teen clubs, and law enforcement agencies have all added a phrase to their individual mission and philosophy statements that emphasizes their commitment to reduce violence as part of their mission."

This practice reflects an exciting trend: numbers of organizations engaging in joint strategic planning efforts. Sometimes the planning focuses on a common issue, for example, developing a collaborative strategic plan to reducing teen pragnancy in Milwaukee. Other times, the common denominator may be geographic proximity of a number of organizations that begin to plan a coordinated regional response to a range of interrelated issues. By the way, The Nimble Collaboration, another fine publication from the Amherst Wilder Foundation, can be purchased at

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Using the Organizational Dashboard to Monitor the Plan

In the previous post, I mentioned that the strategic planning process presents an opportunity for the organization to develop an important tool for ongoing monitoring of the strategic plan. It’s called the organizational dashboard (sometimes referred to as “scorecard”). Using the metaphor of the dashboard in a car, this tool is based on selection of key performance indicators that need to be tracked on a regular basis by the Board of Directors.

Authors Chait, Holland and Taylor describe this tool in Improving the Performance of Governing Boards. The dashboard incorporates key success indicators of the organization – the most essential areas of performance. “ These are the variables that most determine whether the organization will succeed or fail. Once the critical success indicators have been identified, the board and the executive director (and other key staff) can then propose and consider strategic performance indicators – the qualitative and quantitative data that most accurately measure and convey the critical areas of performance.” These critical success indicators should be linked to the organization’s strategic plan. By focusing on these indicators, the board can position itself to place its focus on the priority areas of governance. Here is a process for developing a dashboard.

Step 1: Begin the strategic planning process. Development of the organizational dashboard begins in the strategic planning process. As part of the strategic planning process, the organization initiates discussion of how strategic plan progress will be measured. This can begin during the formulation of goals and strategies. One approach is to generate an initial list of meaningful ways to measure progress for each goal and associated strategies. We refer to this initial list as success or performance indicators. For example, for a revenue goal such as "expand and diversify the revenue base to support anticipated growth", success indicators would include "expansion of revenue base”,"diversification of revenue base", etc. Under this sample goal, one strategy might read "generate more revenue from program fees". Performance indicators for such a strategy might be "dollar amount of program fees generated "or "percentage increase in dollar amount of program fees generated annually". Another strategy might be "reduce reliance on public funding". The performance indicator for this strategy might be "percentage reduction in public funding". The key performance indicators for goals and associated strategies constitutes the strategic planning evaluation framework.

Step 2: Action planning. The process continues as the goals and strategies are translated into the annual plan of action or annual objectives. For the sample strategy "generate more revenue from program fees", an objective might read "The program services department will generate at least $450,000 from program fees by December 31, 2005". For the sample strategy "reduce reliance on public funding", an objective might read "during the life of the strategic plan the percentage of public funding will decrease from the current seventy percent of budget to no more than forty percent of the total budget".

Step 3: Development of Dashboard. The evaluation framework (key performance indicators for each goal and associated strategies) is reviewed by the Board of Directors. The board can also review other key performance measures that have been used in the past. The board then narrows down the list to include those indicators that best reflect the most essential areas of performance for the organization. These key performance indicators become the basis for the dashboard. The board reviews and approves the dashboard.

Step 4: Implementation of Action Plans. Implementation of the action plan then begins. The dashboard is regularly reviewed by the board to measure progress in achieving key outcomes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Stumbling Blocks to Implementation

There are several reasons why implementation of strategic plans fails. I’ve listed 4 here. In each case the problem is addressed by designing and facilitating the planning process in such a way that the issue doesn’t arise during the implementation phase.

1. Lack of board, staff, volunteer, member, partner and stakeholder commitment to the strategic plan. One of the hallmarks of a successful strategic planning process is high levels of understanding, enthusiasm and support of the resulting plan among the aforementioned constituents. The most effective way to achieve this is to build into the process a variety of engagement opportunities: participation on the strategic planning committee, involvement in information and data gathering and analysis, service on other planning committees and workgroups, focus groups, community partner dialogs, and others. Sometimes, involvement of many in the planning process is avoided for fear that large numbers are unmanageable. If clear roles and responsibilities are communicated and if meetings and tasks are carefully structured, large numbers of involved and engaged people contribute to a successful process. For one thing, it ensures a broad range of perspectives on critical issues, absolutely essential to innovative thinking. As a practical matter, we want and need large numbers of people at all levels of the organization and community who are committed to achieving the vision and strategic goals outlined in the plan. In designing the planning process, the strategic planning committee needs to assess the most effective ways to involve all internal and external stakeholders.

2. Lack of alignment between governance structures (especially committee and workgroup structure) and the strategic plan. In nonprofit organizations, implementation depends on the support and involvement of professional staff, board leadership, other volunteers, members, and community supporters. Organizational structures that align with the strategic plan ensure that all of these individuals can be effectively organized to carry out their work and that they will be moving in the direction of the strategic vision. To the degree that the resulting strategic plan represents a new direction -- in some cases, a radical departure from old ways of doing business -- organizations will discover that many former governance structures constitute unintended barriers to implementation. New structures need to be created if implementation is to succeed. Current board committee and workgroup structures will need to be reviewed in light of requirements of the strategic plan.

3. The design and format of the earlier strategic planning process does not easily translate to action planning and implementation. One of the greatest frustrations in strategic planning is the failure to complete the transition from the “visionary blueprint” (mission, vision, goals, and strategies) to the concrete plans of action (objectives: who accomplishes what, by when, at what cost, to be measured by what indicators). In order to avoid this disconnect, I have found it useful to do the following: From the beginning, it’s important to describe the strategic planning model in sufficient detail that it is clear to all how and when the transition to concrete plans of action occurs. Begin the conversation about performance indicators earlier in the strategic planning process. The identification of key performance indicators sets the stage for developing objectives that are concrete, measurable and tied in directly to the mission, vision and strategic priorities.

4. Related to the third hurdle is lack of an effective framework for ongoing monitoring of implementation. The strategic planning process presents an opportunity for the organization to develop an important tool for ongoing monitoring of the strategic plan implementation. It’s called the organizational dashboard (also referred to as a scorecard). Using the metaphor of the dashboard in a car, this tool is based on selection of key performance indicators that need to be tracked on a regular basis by the Board of Directors. In a future post, I will outline a process for developing a dashboard. Using this process will link the dashboard monitoring tool directly to the strategic plan, thus providing important support for implementation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Scenarios and Theory of Change

Sometimes you can stimulate strategic thinking by combining use of various tools and techniques. Here’s an example: using scenario planning in tandem with theory of change.

Let’s start by defining each one. And then we can talk about how the two tools can work together. First scenario planning. According to What If? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits (July 2004), published by the Global Business Network, “scenario thinking is a tool for motivating people to challenge the status quo, or get better at doing so, by asking "What if?" Asking "What if?" in a disciplined way allows you to rehearse the possibilities of tomorrow, and then to take action today empowered by those provocations and insights. What if we are about to experience a revolutionary change that will bring new challenges for nonprofits? Or enter a risk-averse world of few gains, yet few losses? What if we experience a renaissance of social innovation? And, importantly, what if the future brings new and unforeseen opportunities or challenges for your organization? Will you be ready to act?" (For a downloadable copy of What If? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits, go to:

Now for theory of change. For our definition we go to the website of Theory of Change. This site is a joint-effort of ActKnowledge and the Aspen Institute. The site defines a theory of change as: “an innovative tool to design and evaluate social change initiatives. By creating a blueprint of the building blocks required to achieve a social change initiative’s long-term goal, such as improving a neighborhood’s literacy levels or academic achievement, a theory of change offers a clear roadmap to achieve your results, identifying the preconditions, pathways, and interventions necessary for an initiative’s success.”

Now let’s talk about how the two can work together. We can start by posing the following questions: “Does your organization base its work on a coherent theory of change? What is it?” Use scenario planning to develop alternative pictures of how the future will play out for your organization, your customers, your issue or field of work – your “part of the world”. Then pose the question “How does our theory of change fit in each of those alternative futures? Will the theory of change work? How do the alternative scenarios challenge assumptions on which you base your theory of change? How does that theory of change stand up to the future? Do you need to modify your theory of change to fit with emerging realities?”

For more information about theory of change, go to: The site introduces a process for developing a theory of change, gives examples of this process, and tackles several interesting advanced topics on putting the process into practice.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Further thoughts on fads and trends

David Zach the futurist quoted in the previous post had this further comment on fads: "I do want to point out that fads are not all bad. Some fads you shouldn't necessarily resist. Why? Because they're often a fun and necessary part of life. As one friend of mine explained in the way of a question, "Do you have enough fads in your life such that you're not boring?" Too many fads, such as can be ascribed to American culture, can pull an organization (or individual or nation) down. Not enough fads and I think the Soviet Union or the likes of the Taliban are equally doomed. You can resist fads and I mention any fad can be safely ignored. Resist or ignore too many of them and you're probably just dull. Embrace too many of them and you're irrelevant." More about the future at

Friday, February 25, 2005

So what's the diference between a fad and a trend?

I just came across a keynote given by David Zach, a futurist based in Milwaukee. He was speaking at the 2003 International Public Works Congress and Exposition. Although Zach starts by admitting that it is impossible to predict the future, he passed on a methodology that can be used as a guide in making certain assumptions, in the form of his personal mantra: “Play with fads, work with trends, live by principles” He went on to say "A fad is something that you can safely ignore," he said. "Fads tend to be pushed-they tend to be top-down, a spice, a flavor. But think about your work. Can you follow fads? You have to resist them. "Trends can be from the ground up," he continued. "They tend to be based upon needs, not wants. And a trend is not something which you can safely ignore. You may not agree with it, you may want to fight against it; you may support it, you may want to work for it; but you have to think about it, you have to respond to it." Continuing with the final element of his mantra, Zach then stressed that a principle is "something that doesn't change-'We hold these truths to be self-evident' kind of a thing. The stuff you can stand on. Because in an age of constant change where everything is uncertain, decisions become easy when you know your values. You have to know what you believe, you have to know what doesn't change. You have to have a place to stand, because that's what the future is all about."

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Strategic Planning? ... Again?

Ellen Shapiro, author of Fad Surfing in the Boardroom: Managing in the Age of Instant Answers, has compiled a fad surfer’s dictionary. Here is her definition of “strategic plan” – 1. a set of analyses, packaged in accordance with corporate requirements, that is undertaken in order to justify a campaign already underway or a budget about to be submitted; 2. A set of analyses, packaged in accordance with corporate requirements, that nonetheless bears little or no resemblance to the real strategy being followed (but that, once printed and bound, can, in a pinch, be used as a doorstop or a book end).

Most people have all had experiences with strategic planning—good, bad or indifferent. It’s understandable that there will be some resistance when “it’s time to do strategic planning again” because of past disappointments and frustration with the process. In order to be successful, future planning efforts must somehow provide reasonable assurances that the time and energy people invest in the process result in changes and improvements that are implemented and supported by leadership. And then we have to deliver on the promise!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Is there a difference between strategic thinking and strategic planning?

Is there a difference between strategic thinking and strategic planning? And if there is, what is the difference? I found an article that does an excellent job of exploring the question. The article is entitled “Strategic Thinking: A Discussion Paper” by Eton Lawrence of the Public Service Commission of Canada. The answer to the question – there is a difference and at the same time, the two processes are closely connected. You have to read this article because it is so good! It brings into this discussion of strategic thinking and planning, related themes of systems thinking, organizational learning and strategy development. According to the article, the purpose of strategic thinking is to discover novel, imaginative strategies which can rewrite the rules of the competitive game and to envision potential futures significantly different from the present. The purpose of strategic planning is to operationalize the strategies developed through strategic thinking and to support the strategic planning process. Strategic thinking and planning are then two sides of the strategic management coin.

The article also challenges some of the traditional notions of strategic planning. For example, organizations are usually counseled to find a fit between their mission, external opportunities and their core competencies. This advice makes usually makes great sense. However, there is a danger: we can run the risk of doing strategic planning that is not really "strategic". The traditional advice can result in the organization missing or passing up innovative courses of action. This appraoch can result in the decision to essentially remain the same organization doing a few new things or doing the same things a little differently. The article suggests that strategic thinking can sometimes (and should) disrupt alignment, leading to a vision or preferred future that is not a match for the organization’s current core competencies and yet it’s the compelling vision that the organization will choose to pursue. Strategic planning can then recreate a new alignment by helping the organization figure out how to build the required new core competencies or finding new partners that already possess them. Quoting from Hamel and Prahalad, Lawrence States “whereas the traditional view of strategy focuses on the degree of fit between existing resources and current opportunities, strategic intent (strategic thinking) creates an extreme misfit between resources and ambitions.” The article also provides important insights about why it is vital to involve lots of people in the strategic thinking and planning process. Finally, the article challenges organizations to understand their work as occurring within larger systems. For example a nonprofit working on job creation for residents of a low income urban neighborhood would need to consider ways to link their efforts to regional economic development efforts.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Link Between Board Development and Strategic Planning

The link between board development and strategic planning; it's a theme that I will return to again and again. Effective strategic planning requires the engagement and leadership of the board of directors; involvement of the board in strategic planning is one of the most effective ways - probably the most effective way - to strengthen the board. Today, I came across an excellent resource for understaning this connection between board development and strategic planning: The Dynamic Board: Lessons from High-Performing Nonprofits from McKinsey & Company. The report summarizes the best practices identified through McKinsey’s interviews with the directors or board chairs of 32 highly-regarded nonprofits. Included with the report is a self-assessment tool for nonprofit boards. This is one of the best board assessment tools available and comes in 5, 15 and 30 minute completion time versions. You'll need to register to access the report and the three assessment versions. Go to: The report and the assessment make constant links between strategic thinking and planning and board effectiveness. Very well done!

Friday, February 04, 2005

Boards that think, plan and act strategically

So how do we nurture board leadership that will think, plan and act strategically? By creating a long-range plan for the development of such board leaders. In contrast to the typical short-term recruitment process that focuses narrowly on filling anticipated nonprofit board vacancies for the current year only, boards need a long-range plan for developing future-focused leadership. Such a long-term leadership development plan centers on the following questions: Who will be serving on and leading the board over the next three years? What is our plan to scout board leadership talent for the future? How will we go about fostering and developing future board leadership? Key elements of this approach include:
· Replace the nominations committee with a board development committee. This committee will use the key questions listed above to devise an ongoing process that includes prospecting, recruiting, selecting, orienting and training, and performance assessment of board directors.
· Link board development to your strategic plan. Identify the new skills, knowledge, personal contacts, and other attributes future board directors will need to possess in order for the board to do its part in advancing the strategic plan. Based on this analysis, develop targeted board recruiting priorities.
· Develop a written board director job description that reflects the future needs and expectations of the board.
· Direct the executive committee to design board meeting agendas that focus attention on the ultimate ends of the organization and monitoring progress in implementing the strategic plan.
· Conduct an annual evaluation of the board that focuses, in part, on how well the board is maintaining a strategic focus.
· Develop a just-in-time board orientation program to speed up the learning curve for new board directors so that they can hit the ground running in their first meeting. Again, it is important to link this advance program of orientation and training to the strategic plan.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Who's going to implement the plan?

An article from the McKinsey Quarterly, January 2005, “Leadership As The Starting Point Of Strategy” reminds us of the importance of leadership in strategic planning. Here’s the abstract: “Companies that overlook the role of leadership in the early phases of strategic planning often find themselves scrambling when it's time to execute. No matter how thorough the plan, without the right leaders it is unlikely to succeed. … Executives must consider their leadership pool as they shape strategy and align their leadership-development programs with long-term aspirations.” And in nonprofits, this includes board leadership as well.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Finding your way in the information maze

Gathering and analyzing information is a critical ingredient in strategic thinking and planning. The Web is a powerful information gathering tool. But it’s good news/bad news. The good news: the wealth of information available; The bad news: too much information! Every once in a while I come across a site that does an amazing job of bringing order out of the chaos. I found one such website today. It’s called Emerald Management Reviews. It provides access to electronic management journals, databases, discussion forums and other online resources. Everything is rated on a five-star scale. Check it out:

Friday, January 28, 2005

What I believe about strategic planning …

I believe that the primary purpose of strategic planning is to provide leaders with the opportunity to collectively determine the future direction of their organization and then develop plans to immediately and rapidly begin to move in that direction. To be successful, the process of planning must be made to work for people in the organization -- not the other way around. While I believe that there are some basic principles of strategic planning that must be followed, I also know that there must be flexibility in designing the actual planning timetable so that the organization in question achieves its hoped-for outcomes.

I am also convinced that many strategic planning efforts falter for at least three reasons: First, the failure to involve enough people in the process with the consequence that commitment to the strategic plan is weak. It is critical that representatives of all key constituencies be involved in the planning process in a meaningful way. "Real commitment" to a shared vision for the future only results from "real participation."

The second problem is the failure to translate the strategic plan into concrete action plans on an annual basis. Mention the words "strategic planning" in a large room and you can be sure that you'll hear a groan from some people. All too often, countless meetings, during which people invest considerable time and energy in the development of missions, visions, goals and strategies, never lead to development of concrete, measurable plans of action with clear accountability for results. Is it any wonder that people lack enthusiasm for strategic planning?

Related to this is the third reason for failure: resistance to the planning process because of past disappointments with similar efforts. In order to be successful, future planning efforts must somehow provide reasonable assurances that the time and energy people invest in the process result in changes and improvements that are implemented and supported by leadership.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The difference between strategic planning and business planning

So what’s the difference between strategic planning and business planning? There seems to be some confusion and/or disagreement about the answer. I see the two processes as related but very distinct. Here are three articles that shed some light on the subject. The first article is “Business Planning and Strategic Planning Revisited” by Herb Rubenstein of Growth Strategies, Inc., a leadership and management consulting firm. Go to:!hrrrevisited.html. The second article is “Strategic Planning: Some Lessons Learned about What Does and Doesn't Work” by Paul Connolly of the TCC Group (formerly The Conservation Company). Go to: The third article is “Business Planning for Nonprofits: Why, When — and How It Compares to Strategic Planning” by Brigette Rouson of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management. Go to:

What do you think? How do you approach this question?

The launch

I've been thinking about launching this blog for awhile. So here's the inaugural post. I see the Strategic Thinking and Planning Blog as an opportunity to share what I've learned about strategic planning. I've been assisting nonprofit organizations in this critical process for a number of years. I see strategic planning as closely linked to a number of other important activities: board development, building learning organizations, and forging alliances and collaborations in particular. I also see this blog as an opportunity to learn from others like yourself. Let's give it a go.