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.

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