When my kids were little, my wife and I always prided ourselves on pushing off the savings until later and taking the kids on lots of vacations. We looked at this as an investment in their childhood, our family, and a mutual love of traveling. We felt very lucky to have taken these family trips to places like Mexico, Hawaii, Disneyland, Arizona – you get the picture! We also did our share of road trips to visit my parents in Florida, and those were fun as well.
Now the “kids” are 28 and 31, and it came as a shock to my wife and I to find out that we could have actually stuck to the road trips and saved the big budget stuff for our retirement. The vacations our children treasured the most and still talk about with great endearment were the driving trips – Motel 6, Denny’s, watching VHS movies in the back seat of the van (yes, I did say VHS), and an occasional night in a tent somewhere, complete with bears knocking over trash cans in the middle of the night. It wasn’t about the destination, it was about the journey.
The same thing is true with strategic planning. As an association CEO for over 30 years, I certainly spent my share of time creating, facilitating, writing, and shelving volumes of strategic planning documents, most of which ended up in a drawer somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love plans, and they certainly need to be documented.
Now that I am semi-retired and facilitating planning workshops for other associations, I have discovered that the true value of a plan lies not in the final report, but in the journey itself. My best strategic planning workshops, of late, are focused on inviting the right people, getting the board and other stakeholders engaged in the process, keeping the list of strategic goals short and to the point, and discussing ways in which the board can truly align the plan to their program of work. Active participation is mandatory and the final document is often no longer than one or two pages. Because most nonprofit boards have terms of three years or less, the recommended plan is also kept to three years with annual “tune-ups.”
So, the next time your board is ready for a new strategic plan, try plugging in the VCR, recording the session, engaging them with their organization, and make the final document cliff notes rather than a novel. It’s a lot more fun!