Checking the Expiration Date

| by Shannon Williams

A couple of weeks ago I did something I haven’t done in years. I checked the expiration date on the milk in the fridge. 

As a mother of teenaged boys, my regular routine includes buying several gallons of milk each week without much thought about consumption. For years, the milk was purchased and consumed like clockwork. Expired milk wasn’t a consideration, but now with Devin now off at college some of our household norms have changed; milk is one of them. 

The simple exercise of checking an expiration date got me thinking about how often we perpetuate our own organizational norms without taking the time to examine them. It is easy to get comfortable, to fall into a routine, to repeat cycles out of habit, to overlook the simple act of checking an expiration date. 

I am currently working with three organizations on strategic planning. All three organizations are at different life stages—one is a toddler, one is an adolescent, and one is mature. Each one however recognizes that increasing community impact requires an honest evaluation of their current organizational conditions and a concrete road map to lead them toward their respective visions. 

These organizations recognized what I was slower to see, that their current realities have changed since they launched their missions. Changes in community needs, available funding, communications, leadership, and staffing all impact an organization’s ability to deliver its mission and realize its vision. Without taking time to stop and examine these things, it is easy to find yourself off course. The plans and actions that were your norm may no longer be effective. Without pausing you may find yourself perpetuating a practice that is no longer warranted—like buying 4 gallons of milk when you only need 2. 

Strategic planning may sound cumbersome or even painful, but it is a critical exercise. The highest performing organizations embrace the process and work hard to execute the plan it yields. It forces us to acknowledge changes that may seem obvious, but are easy to overlook. Without a regular planning process, you may be shocked one morning when you find the milk on your cereal unexpectedly expired.

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