Bridging the Divide in Strategic Planning

When I use the term “strategic planning,” what is your immediate response?

You may be surprised to learn that these two simple words can be incredibly polarizing.

One camp gets excited at the mere mention of revisiting mission, vision, values, and goals. Add references to strategy and objectives and these same folks are salivating. They love the idea of looking into the future and charting a course for the next three, five, or ten years.

Another group looks upon strategic planning with angst. In a world that is constantly changing, some view planning as a potentially futile exercise. Some worry that goals – which are frequently established by those who are not responsible for the work – will be too ambitious and unrealistic. And others question how they can possibly consider doing anything other than current activities which have staff stretched to capacity.

Both groups have valid arguments for feeling the way they do. Like most things that have been polarized, the real solution for strategic planning lies somewhere in the middle.

  • Mission-driven organizations are inherently driven by (you guessed it!) a mission, so that mission must be clear and set in the context of an aspirational vision. AND that vision must be relatable and not demotivating because it seems unrealistic.
  • Strategic planning is about creating a roadmap for the future. AND the planning process must also consider an organization’s current state, evaluating factors that include program relevancy, internal capacity, and external forces.
  • Strategic planning results in setting goals and priorities that provide focus and direction to the staff and board. AND those same goals and priorities must take into account ongoing work and the resources needed to achieve the desired outcomes.  
  • A good strategic plan centers around the needs of clients and partners. AND a great strategic plan also looks inward to prepare and equip staff with the resources they need to be effective service providers.
  • A strategic plan can be developed in a finite set of meetings over a specified period of time. AND a strategic plan is a living document that should be referenced regularly in staff leadership and board meetings, revisited at least annually, and adjusted as needed to respond to resource and environmental changes.

Strategic planning is not an either/or proposition and it need not be divisive. The very best strategic planning processes take an ambitious yet achievable approach that considers an organization’s current state while moving it toward a desired future.

Staci Barfield is a Senior Advisor with Armstrong McGuire who specializes in organizational design, organizational assessment, organizational strategy, strategic planning, succession planning, leadership development, and executive recruitment. Learn more about Staci and check out her other musings in her bio.

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