How to Design Your Strategic Planning Process

We have gotten a number of new inquiries for strategic planning lately. There seems to be a pattern emerging, which prompted us to write this piece on the different forms strategic planning can take in an organizational context. Overall the process shares similar elements, no matter which form you use:

  • Discovery: Helping us quickly get up to speed on your organization’s business model and your capacity for risk and innovation

  • Determining Focus Areas: Picking some focus areas that particularly interest the organization. Typically these are based on either pain points (we need to be better known, or we need to be more sustainable) or on opportunities (we want to launch a new initiative)

  • Data Gathering: Soliciting input and researching best practices in these focus areas. How much or how little data gathering you do can affect the budget and timeline of the project.

  • Strategy Development: Bringing key internal stakeholders together to use the information gathered to create strategy that addresses the focus areas.

So while every strategic planning process includes each of these phases, how much or how little of each creates processes that look somewhat different. Some organizations need or want extensive data gathering, which will elongate the timeline and cost a bit more. Other organizations want average data gathering but want to focus the strategy development portion into a single retreat (one or two days). Here are some questions to ask yourself to help guide you in identifying the type of planning that would be ideal for where your organization is today:

  1. Does your organization need to address sustainability (i.e. are you having cash-flow issues or fiscal issues that require you to build a more sustainable business model)? If so, you may be best served by a business plan, or some version of a strategic plan with a strong focus on your business model (and therefore less extensive data gathering). Either way, you probably don’t need or want to spend a lot of time and money on extensive data gathering - make sure it is targeted to meet your needs and stay within your budget.

  2. Does your organization serve a particular community whose needs are changing? If so, you will want a more extensive data gathering process to help you understand how and why your community’s needs are shifting and where they are heading so you can be best positioned to address them.

  3. Is your organization poised for major change? Do you have a new Executive Director or have you recently merged? If so, you will want a fairly robust planning process - one that is transformational and makes a clear case for your new directions (as well as contemplates the inner adjustments you’ll need to make to get there). You will also want financial projections to map out what this change will require financially.

  4. Does your organization have reserves that the board is willing to invest in new initiatives? If so you are perfectly poised to take on something bold and new, and will want more extensive data gathering and a longer strategy development phase.

  5. Do you need a process to align your busy internal stakeholders? If so, you may find that some well framed data gathering and a two day retreat would be the best style of strategic planning to meet your needs.

Pose these questions to your board or strategic planning committee so you understand what kind of process will best meet your needs given your current state. We’d be happy to talk to you about any of these!