Friday, April 22, 2016

New Thoughts on Strategic Planning

This excerpt is from my regular column, Culture & Kibbitz on April 21, 2016 at The Clyde Fitch Report. You can read the entire post, which more fully discusses long-term planning's importance, here.

Planning Signposts
On a panel of accomplished arts executives where I recently appeared, someone asked about the importance of strategic planning and succession. Being opinionated on this topic (and having taught it to artists), it was easy to weigh in.
When properly and adequately done, strategic planning — or business planning, which is just another aspect of strategic planning — can provide a framework for daily operations and a vehicle for maintaining direction and focus over the long-term. While important in and of itself, it can also help nonprofit leaders structure their focus in order to shift their gaze from the near-term to the future.

The Value of a Strategic Plan
When properly conceived and executed, a strategic plan gives an organization several values. At its core, it provides a link between the organization’s mission (it’s “Why”) and the operational decisions the organization makes in such a way that there is a clear framework for decision-making. If this link is coupled with a logic model, there is a very clear matrix for making decisions. It provides leadership with a framework to evaluate expected outcomes and the success of the operations that flow from their choices.
Kellogg Foundation Logic Model

So What Is “Strategy”?
First and foremost, strategy answers a question. Without a question, there is only an idea or a stance. It is strategy to propose a path from point A to point B in solving a problem; it is not strategy to say “We will be the greatest.” For most organizations, strategy answers the question of how to achieve a goal (for a nonprofit, often the mission) with the givens at hand (resources and situation). Different people describe strategy in different ways. Richard P. Rumelt of the UCLA Anderson School of Management, for example, describes it as the “craft of figuring out which purposes are both worth pursuing and capable of being accomplished” — focusing on the connection to mission (what is worth pursuing) and realistic resources (what is capable of being accomplished). Rumelt notes that good strategy is rooted in decision-making — it does not avoid it. Bad strategy skips over pesky details, dedicating resources to “unconnected targets,” and failing to face relevant challenges.

Good strategic planning is invaluable for a nonprofit organization — or even for artists looking to build a career. If the process is effective and productive, one is forced to consider mission, to ask why one would invest resources in an effort, to examine the paths to fulfill the mission with available resources, to imagine what success would look like. When done properly, the result is a guide to decision-making that can be turned to time and time again. On a practical level, planning answers the critical questions every business must constantly ask itself and answer in order to run its business: What do I want to accomplish? How much (or what resources) do I need? When do I need them? How will I get them? If one can keep these questions in view, if one can measure the relevance of the answers, the responses needed to address short-term issues become much easier to handle.

Read the entire fully developed post in Culture & Kibbitz at The Clyde Fitch Report here.

Technology, Artists, Money

This excerpt is from my regular column, Culture & Kibbitz on March 23, 2016 at The Clyde Fitch Report. You can read the entire post, which more fully discusses long-term planning's importance, here.

The Crossroads of Technology and Arts
I was in Providence recently to attend the first annual Conference for Research on Choreographic Interfaces (CRCI), where I was lucky to meet with young artists who were discussing their practice and relevant issues in the most optimistic and excited tones. This fascinating meeting explored the intersection between technology and choreography — loosely defined in this case as anything involving gesture in the service of artistic communication.

The main takeaway from the conference is that technology continues to advance and insinuate itself pervasively into our daily lives, including in artistic practice. Thinking back on my interactions at the conference, I had the sense that these young practitioners view the world differently in at least three ways from those of my generation, born in the mid-20th century, and it is interesting to consider whether, with such a small sampling, there is anything representative to be learned about general trends from this group.

One shift that is noted and discussed at length elsewhere is that ours is a “gig” economy, in which mobility and transience will be hallmarks of one’s career. What was striking, however, is how comfortable the participants in the conference seemed to be with this shift. In my encounters with young technologists, both at the conference and elsewhere, I find people working simultaneously in multiple areas, seemingly transitioning back and forth fluidly and seamlessly, piecing together a living. The ease with which they shift extends beyond how they support themselves financially; it seems they have found ways to feed multiple parts of themselves and their needs, almost as if they have adopted multitasking as a basis for the structure of their lives.

Along with the fluidity of building a career in this way, or perhaps related to it, this group does not carry the negative assumptions about money and its connection to artistic practice that often pervades the traditional nonprofit world. These young artists feel strongly about their work and the “purity” of it, but have no antipathy to the involvement of money in their practice. Perhaps these artists are engaging in a sector that, like film or architecture, is really an industrial manufacturing process — one untroubled by reliance on capital and marketplace; they accept such forces at work, and in their work, very naturally.

Finally, for some in this group, research seemed to be the sine qua non — the very essence of what they were doing — rather than a vehicle to explore areas of interest. Their own curiosity was the “audience” for the work, not the outside viewer. In this sense, the work of these practitioners was akin to high-level mathematics or academic research, where posing and answering questions is the totality of the experience.
Looking ahead to next year’s conference, I know the organizers are already considering focusing more on the aesthetic and perhaps even the intellectual property issues raised in this year’s conference. It should be as rewarding and stimulating as this year’s conference and I intend to be there.

Read the entire fully developed post in Culture & Kibbitz at The Clyde Fitch Report here.

Long-term Planning is Like Driving

This excerpt is from my regular column, Culture & Kibbitz on February 25, 2016 at The Clyde Fitch Report. You can read the entire post, which more fully discusses long-term planning's importance, here.

Perhaps the greatest challenge a leader in the nonprofit arts sector faces is how to maintain focus and engagement with long-term planning. The daily vicissitudes of putting out fires and meeting immediate needs tends to consume all their time, energy and often resources. While it's easy to understand why this happens, it's essential to carve out part of every day to consider long-term issues. Not to do so is a fundamental mistake that weakens an organization (or an artist’s practice) and can lead to failure because thinking that quotidian crises are the only ones that matter in the moment. Such action, however, conceals the fact that organizations fail over the long-term and not in the immediate, as was the case with the Oakland Symphony or New York City Opera.

Simon Sinek
An important advantage of persistently considering the long-term is that it can keep the focus on an organization’s “Why” and how the organization meets that "Why." According to Simon Sinek, all too often, organizations focus on or get trapped by their “How” and their “What,” losing the core essence of their value. Those that remain focused on their "Why" are stronger and last longer than those that do not maintain such a hierarchy of priorities.

One of the greatest challenges in undertaking long-term planning is how our own experience can color how we consider our issues. The balance between dealing with daily challenges in such a way that decision-making is aligned with long-term priorities is even more difficult to maintain if the person is looking through the lens of the past -- that is to say, if they are not fully situated in the present. In spite of this difficulty, I believe there is a practical and easy way to model how to address this conundrum -- to find that necessary balance.

Just as we are able to seamlessly shift our focus from the near to the far when driving a car, we can apply the same shifting focus to our management and analysis at work. I'd argue that focusing solely on the daily issues of an organization is like driving a car with a fixed gaze at the hood. For us to expect that the vehicle will not crash sooner or later is wishful thinking -- and dangerous -- at best. But if it's so easy to drive a car, if it's so easy to flow back and forth through shifting viewpoints, why should it be so difficult to do this in our management and planning at work? All we need do is carve out time each day to consider the short-term in the context of the long-term and utilize shifting focus when considering issues we face.

Read the entire fully developed post in Culture & Kibbitz at The Clyde Fitch Report here.