Saturday, April 21, 2012

Authentic Strategic Planning

DESPITE TONS OF READILY AVAILABLE ADVICE ABOUT THE WHYS AND HOWS OF STRATEGIC PLANNING, many organizations still engage in planning because someone else told them to do it.  That someone could be a funder, a consultant, a staff leader, a program partner, a board member -- anyone, really, who has the audacity or ignorance to say "money/audience/visibility will come if you have a plan".   
Fact is, many of these folks don't particularly care if the plan functions or not, just so long as there's a piece of paper or swell looking PowerPoint to show for it. 

The bottom line is if planning doesn't well up from some deep, shared core organizational values, it will be a hollow effort that will ultimately be tossed aside for someone else's shiny, new imperative.  (Did you just hear the thud of the last plan hit the bottom of the trash can?  Or, as the illustration above suggests, it miraculously tumbles like a house of cards, never to be seen again.)

The lack of authenticity underpinning a planning process driven by fear will be palpable:  it's developed by one person or one small team, it will be devoid of broad and thoughtful input (and thus not be particularly critical), resulting in a lack of real strategy or insight.  These are fake plans.  They're meant to placate those wanting to see some organizational direction (any direction); some sense of control; some tidy package that exclaims "we know where we're going and how to get there!"

Fake plans last about a nanosecond.  Like fireworks, they burn brightly, but quickly fade.  They make little or no lasting impression, except for the bad taste they leave behind.  Even more concerning, an inauthentic planning process could actually take an organization way off course, squandering resources and alienating supporters.

So, before embarking on plan creation, spend some time examining the motives for doing it.  If the motives aren't coming from an authentic, internal, and shared desire to advance the mission in benefit for others then take a few steps back from the edge.

Here's a quick list, drawn from a variety of sources, that may help start an authentic conversation within your organization about planning.  Will a planning process and resulting plan allow your organization:

  • to recommit to an existing mission?
  • to enhance performance?
  • to impress funders?
  • to help save a sinking ship?
  • to redirect a basically healthy organization?  


Articulate your organizational needs and wants first.  And don't fake it.

Image:  house_of_cards from ZowieZ

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