A strategic plan is the guiding document for an organization, describing the approaches and actions the organization will take over a certain time period to achieve a set of agreed-upon goals and objectives. It provides a framework for staff to focus their annual and shorter-term work, and for the Board and leadership to measure the organization’s progress and success.
Every organization has a strategic plan, but is that plan actually strategic?
Being strategic means acting with a specific end in mind. It means take steps towards a clear destination. It means being intentional, so that every action serves a purpose.
Many of the strategic plans I’ve seen are a laundry list of activities to be done. Activities that are all thoughtful, all important or valuable, and all mission-aligned. But it isn’t clear how those activities were selected, or how they will collectively move the organization towards a specific outcome. There doesn’t seem to be any intent behind the actions, as if someone thought of things to do without thinking of why to do them.
Good strategic plans are grounded in strategy – thoughtful approaches to achieving a desired aim. What this means in practice is first deciding what you need to do in the time frame of the strategic plan to achieve your mission, before deciding on goals, objectives, and tactics. That way, every action you take is clear, focused, and purposeful.
When I work with clients on strategic planning, I usually pose the following questions:
- What audiences do you need to reach first?
- What geographies are your top priority? Why?
- What is the best approach to growing or expanding your work to reach more people?
- What barriers do you need to overcome in order to succeed?
- What can you reasonably achieve in the next five years (or timeframe of the plan)?
There are many possible ways to approach the work, but an organization must decide what path it wants to walk. This is why strategic planning usually begins with a SWOT analysis – to first consider the organization’s competencies and the opportunities and challenges it will face.
When investing in a strategic planning process, make sure that your plan is actually strategic. It will help your organization to act with a clear understanding of the intent and thus bring greater focus to your staff and Board.