Thursday, June 25, 2009

Core Strategy #3 Engage in accelerated strategic thinking and planning

In a previous post, I listed 10 key strategies here that need consideration in the strategic plans of nonprofit organizations. The first strategy described in that post is “Embed capacity building into the fabric of your nonprofit". The second strategy discussed in my last post is to "build an exceptional board".

The third strategy is to engage in accelerated strategic thinking and planning.

Sometimes strategic planning gets a bad rap -- and deservedly so -- when the process goes on for so long that leaders forget what the purpose and intended outcome was supposed to be in the first place. In today's changing environment, it has become even more important for nonprofits to respond to new opportunities fast -- really fast! There's really no choice. And this has helped to create the interest in accelerated strategic planning.

If organizations are going to effectively engage in accelerated strategic planning they need to increase their capacity to do so. Nonprofit leaders are looking for methods, approaches and processes that will speed up their strategic planning efforts. We can learn by doing. At the same time, several books and models have emerged offering guidance on how to speed things up:

• The well regarded new book by David La Piana, The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution.
The One Page Business Plan for Nonprofit Organizations by Jim Horan
Question-Based Planning by Derrick Van Mell. Also see
• and many others

In a recent workshop presentation I included a couple of tools for that can be used to design accelerated strategic planning sessions. Go to the presentation handout and take a look at pages 8 and 9. While you’re at it, review the Strategic Planning Resource Bibliography on page 10.

A couple of additional thoughts including a caveat:

Collaborative strategic planning. Today it's becoming increasingly common and more important for nonprofits to engage in collaborative strategic planning efforts in which the focus is on a shared customer/constituent base or pressing community issue rather than development of a strategic plan for one organization alone. I talked about this in an earlier post.

For some of the same reasons, such collaborative strategic planning efforts need to be accelerated as well.

Create opportunities for ongoing strategic thinking. Look for ways to incorporate strategic thinking activities in board and staff meetings now. Here's how: in board and staff meetings, make references to your nonprofit’s vision of future intended impact and strategic priorities as defined in your strategic plan. Use the vision and strategic priorities as a framework for board and staff deliberation and decision-making. Share trend and market information in meetings to provoke discussion and dialogue.

And one caveat. Accelerated strategic planning is a way to develop strategies and action plans in response to rapidly changing conditions and promising new opportunities for your nonprofit. It's not a substitute for the sometimes longer and more difficult work of defining the mission or fundamental purpose of an organization or crafting a new compelling vision of intended impact. And doing this work in a way that leads to excitement and commitment among board and staff leadership.

In thinking about accelerated strategic planning, a few of the laws of systems thinking may apply. First “Faster is slower”. Accelerated strategic planning makes great sense when we are clear about mission and vision and we are faced with an opportunity that clearly aligns with these governing ideas. But if, within your nonprofit, there are fundamental disagreements about organizational purpose and future direction, then an accelerated planning and decision-making process may make us feel like "take-charge leader of the year" but we run the great risk of taking the organization in the wrong direction. And we’ll pay for this later. It'll be back to the drawing board. Faster is slower. This is especially true if, in our haste, we didn't include enough key leadership in the process.

And this reminds me of one of the other laws of systems thinking -- "Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions".