The first thing I ask clients when asked to facilitate their Strategic Plan is “How is your current plan serving you?” The answers range from “well” to “not at all” to even “I don’t know.” After a little research into how it was designed and how they implemented it, I have discovered a few common themes in nearly every organization that isn’t achieving at the level they intended.
Lack of Understanding of Role
It’s no wonder board members have difficulty developing and implementing a strategic plan when they haven’t been properly trained on what their role is. It isn’t fair to ask a board to help design a plan if they aren’t even quite sure of the organization’s mission or their responsibilities. Thorough onboarding of board members is essential to provide prior to any strategic planning processes. Their contributions are significantly more valuable after they fully understand where they fit into the big picture.
Too Many Goals
When an organization tries to tackle too many goals, it’s easy to get lost in the vastness of it all. Strategic plans that have 3-7 goals prove to be the most successful. Why is that? It is a manageable number to focus on. We can all keep our eyes on 3-7 moving objects, but any more than that becomes a strain on our attention. More than 7 pulls us in too many directions, regardless of the size of staff or budget.
Failing to Celebrate Successes
Running an organization means wearing many different hats and being pulled in many different directions. It’s easy to check a box on a piece of paper and move onto the next item because you’re pressed for time. However, when accomplishments occur, it is advantageous to take a moment to celebrate that win. Staff, board and other stakeholders need to savor successes along the path to achievement. There is also a bonding that occurs by celebrating together.
Every goal needs a way to be measured. Whether you call them objectives, metrics, or key performance indicators, they are critical to tangible success. Too many organizations spend time developing goals, strategies, and tactics, but then fail to attach a mechanism to measure them. You need to be able to look at each goal in your plan and identify if you are one third of the way there or three quarters of the way there. Metrics can be numbers (increase membership by 50 new members,) or percentages (decrease drop rates by 30%,) or binary/yes-no (create a new leadership development program module.) You can’t win what you don’t measure.
Lack of Follow-Through
Why go through the motions of developing a strategic plan if you’re not going to work it? A strategic plan is designed to be a living document. It is meant to be used at every board meeting and periodically updated. As you near the end, it should be dirty, with red ink marks, coffee stains, and notes in the margins. Don’t just dust it off at the board retreat each year; use it regularly and you’ll notice your plans get more accurate each time.
Make efforts to avoid each of these 5 items and you will be on your way to a strategic plan that works.