Sunday, September 13, 2009

What Gets You to Plan?

I KNOW WHEN MY BRAIN IS ON OVERLOAD to the point that I can't focus on anything, that's the time I start list-making. I just dump the reeling brain onto a piece of paper and start to sort it out. In doing so, I start to focus -- first on making the list, but then on prioritizing and tasking. This exercise is often overwhelming, but it's also calming, because it brings me clarity and gives me a starting point I simply lacked when all of it was stuffed in my head, zooming around in there.

It's the same with many organizations. They come to planning after months or years of unfocused activity, often so overwhelming that they are unable to see the future for the forest of the now. "Energy depleting", "chasing our tails", "in seeming crisis-mode all the time" -- these are some of the ways board and staff leaders have described the long-term effects of life without a plan.

Other manifestations can include: difficulty in attracting solid board and staff leaders and really good board members, failure to successfully compete for funding, haphazard approaches to meeting standards and getting them to stick, declining attendance or public enthusiasm for your work, and diminished capacity to effectively communicate with donors/members and the public. Does any of this sound familiar?

Certainly, the really tough funding environment we find ourselves in has been an impetus for many organizations to get their acts together by planning. In fact, it's a great time to plan for the day when funding might be more readily available.

Planning does not imply that an organization must empire-build. A plan that focuses on strengthening foundational issues is just as important -- and often more needed and relevant -- as one that reaches for the stars, especially now. In fact, organizations that have been through empire-building stages often need to turn their attentions back to the basics (which can easily get lost in the glow of capital projects and new programmatic directions).

Here's your assignment: put your hands on your organization's most recent plan and read it. What's been accomplished? What hasn't? Is it still relevant or does it need to be made relevant?

Can't find your plan or just don't have one? Maybe it's time to dump your organizational brain onto paper.

Photo: making plans from guckstdu

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