Strategic Planning: Why Commit?
June 15, 2009
With special thanks to Sally Kane at KVNF Public Radio
firstname.lastname@example.org wrote: Hi, Illene. I hope this finds you well. I'm holing up at home to get some thinking and writing done, as I watch the metal roofing flap around on the various sheds we have around here, wondering if they'll hold!
I was asked to present at this year's National Federation of Community Broadcasters' conference. They'd like me to speak, as a manager, on the importance of strategic planning. I am wondering what comes to your mind regarding why strategic planning is such an important thing to do. It's true that you can't know you've arrived if you don't know where you are going, but so many organizations are buffaloed by how to determine that and just get caught up in the minutia. If you were me, what would you say to them to get them to commit to strategic planning? - Best, Sally
email@example.com wrote: Hi Sally, and thanks for the note! I just went running, and it's pretty windy here, as well. Write from Oz if that's where you land :)
I have a couple of thoughts on your question (a subject matter I LOVE, by the way!). I hope this will prompt more ideas for you, too...and please send them back to me - I get all my best material this way!
1. It is the planning PROCESS that is very beneficial, not the plan document. Getting people together to discuss the sorts of things for which there is no time at regular meetings is invaluable...not to mention the camaraderie built, opportunity for reflection and introspection, etc. I'll never forget your board retreat last summer when we asked the board members the simple question of why they serve on the board of KVNF. They gave us quite the series of pat and politically-correct answers. But after everyone had warmed up to the process a bit, Jim got very emotional and choked up about what the station means to him on a very heartfelt, personal level. That sort of thing doesn't typically happen in an organizational business meeting, but it cuts to the core of why people show up and why they pour their resources and energy into your organization.
It important to not take that for granted - not only because those personal motivators are powerful, but they reflect who we are as individuals, what each brings to the organization and how that can best be put to service.
2. A strategic plan is probably the best fundraising tool you can have these days, particularly with major donor types. Foundations today reward organizational excellence - NOT solely mission or population served. With a contracting economy and increased competition for a limited pool of dollars, this reality will only become more pronounced. As you know, the new Colorado Common Grant format now asks very directly for evidence of planning efforts and board financial giving; these were NOT the emphasis when the common application concept was first developed just a few years back.
Hope this helps - Illene
firstname.lastname@example.org wrote: Your point about fundraising is so very true. When considering raising significant dollars, the plan isn't just a tool - I think it's an imperative.
When we needed a new facility and new equipment, and had to raise $950,000 to pull it off, KVNF's planning practices were brought into question and we became motivated to address the shortfalls...
The station had a spotty history of planning efforts:
- We had a recurring pattern of no follow-through. We tended to make a laundry list, call it good and forget to revisit it.
- There was no ongoing evaluation. We didn't know how to establish reasonable benchmarks, and didn't integrate tactics into job descriptions or work plans.
- We had no documentation of the rationale for strategies. As a result, successors had no understanding of what they were inheriting, why it mattered, and in what context they could continue meaningful work.
In this type of planning climate, we had a hard time pinning down who was responsible and for what, thus creating accountability issues. Voltaire said, "No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible." His words speak to the problem when there is no assigned responsibility nor accountability; as such, we put ourselves in a position of low probability of success for carrying out a plan.
The KVNF "Turn Your Radio On" Capital Campaign ended up becoming a galvanizing force for planning...or a crucible, depending on how you look at it! Simply put, our campaign combined the tangible with the philosophical. We began walking a different road with regard to planning.
As I look back on the past four years - raising the $950K and renovating a 6,000-square-foot building into a state-of-the-art "green" radio station - I must honestly say that we still don't have what I would confidently call a good strategic plan. What I CAN say is that we now know what is wrong with our process and we are engaged in improving it because we believe its best for our organization. THIS is the fundamental change. Our final document may not be what I'd like it to be, but our organizational attitude about the value of the planning process, and the inherent benefits of committing to such a process, have moved us forward, and for the better.
- Still in Paonia (not Oz), Sally
email@example.com wrote: Sally - Exactly! I really do think that strategic planning is, effectively, a "way" of doing business. In an ever-changing environment of limited resources, competition, niche marketing and massive technological revolution, a strong organization must be strategic in order to avoid the sort of "business as usual" that will quickly leave one standing at the station with the train already miles down the track.
Your list of KVNF's historically dodgy planning practices made me think of this quote I heard last week at a training conference for VISTA Volunteers. Do you know Richard Fox at Trees Water and People (out of Ft. Collins)? He says, "If it isn't written down with a timeline and a deadline, it is a fantasy." I can definitely take that one on the road...to Oz or wherever.
firstname.lastname@example.org wrote: Richard Fox, the Fire Juggler Richard?!?! Yes, he's an unbelievable community organizer!
The quote made me think of one more thing: I do believe that strategic planning offers at least as much to managers, EDs, CEOs as to anyone. Here's why: Planning is a way to avoid the trap of trying to be a superhero, and also of becoming a target. It allows the head staffer to "manage the morphing" of the organization. It helps in knowing - as the leader - when to bend and when to stand tall, when to lead and when to follow, why to stay with the organization and - when it's time to go - how to leave a legacy and not a minefield in the wake.
I think we make a mistake in viewing strategic planning as a necessary evil. When we recognize the basic yet essential value of planning, it is time to prioritize it as part of the organizational culture. It should be embraced for what it is - a transformational experience! When the process is completed (which, of course, it never fully is), the manager can thank him/herself and the organization will benefit greatly.
I'm starting to get excited about facilitating this discussion at the conference - thanks so much for your thoughts! Sally
email@example.com wrote: One more thing that may help you with your presentation, Sally. I think this is a really interesting commentary on our lives, and certainly promotes the machinations and benefits of the planning process...
Not too long ago, there was some research conducted with people older than 90 years of age, asking what they would do differently if they could live their lives over. The top three answers? 1 - Take more risks, 2 - Do more significant things and 3 - Reflect more.
WOW! I am certain the same applies to organizations. As we consider the life of the organization, and look back at our efforts, I suspect that most of us would come up with a similar list of regrets. A good strategic planning (and implementation) process accommodates all three of these desires! Why, then, does organizational culture tend to fear and avoid risk, continuing to do what it has always done (even when we no longer know why!)? Why do we rarely make time to talk about what has happened and why it matters?
I appreciate the mental challenge and philosophical stretch on this subject, Sally!!! I am thinking that our exchange could make for a great article. You'll do a fantastic job with your presentation - Illene