Before you begin
Getting a bird’s eye view of the strategic planning process will give you a general overview of what’s involved and answer the questions: “What will we do first?” and “What will we do next?” The other key questions, “Why would we do this?” and “How do we do this?” are fully explored in later sections accompanied by step-by-step directions.
As you get started in strategic planning, here are some of the initial decisions you will need to make:
1. What is our overall purpose in engaging in strategic planning?
Everyone seems interested in strategic planning these days, but it is not an undertaking you want to consider without having a clear purpose in mind. In order to help generate a clear purpose, have a group of stakeholders (staff, learners, board members, volunteers and others) in your agency brainstorm why you should undertake strategic planning.
To get you started, here is a list of a few good reasons that some literacy practitioners have already given for initiating a strategic planning process with their agency:
- I want to establish a clear path to follow that will carry us through a time of transition as we become more involved with Employment Ontario.
- Our agency needs to meet a new demand that has occurred because of a significant shift in our local labour market.
- We are aware of an important opportunity opening up in our community and we want to be well-placed to take advantage of it.
- We need to engage in succession planning to leave the agency in a position of strength with a clear vision, sense of purpose and action plan that can carry new staff through a time of transition.
- Our agency is currently in a very healthy position; we want to take advantage of our strengths and take the agency to the next level.
- We need to “shore up” and improve our agency’s operations because we are aware of some challenges our agency faces. This means we need to refocus our energies and use our resources to the best possible advantage.
- We need new energy. I sense the agency is in danger of becoming too comfortable and complacent in its work and services. I want to see our agency wake up and step forward into new challenges and, in the process, become revitalized.
2. What are our overall outcomes?
It is valuable to be able to articulate what you expect to get out of a strategic planning process. First, determine your overall goals for the process (or why your agency should engage in strategic planning). Next determine the specific outcomes for your agency that could be associated with each of your goals. Remember, in stating a desired outcome, you will want to identify what will be new or different as a result of this endeavor and how you will know that you have achieved the outcomes.
3. Who will be involved in the process?
How do you envision the strategic planning process unfolding? Who are the key stakeholders for your organization and which ones do you think should be involved?
Note: A stakeholder is any person, group or organization that can place a claim on the organization’s resources, attention, or output, or is affected by its output.
Here are a few thoughts related to involving others in strategic planning.
- Strategic planning will be time-and energy-consuming. How much time and energy can you realistically give to the process and how much could be shared by others? (By whom? Make a list of names.)
- Strategic planning is setting direction and determining action for the future. Since future action usually requires the cooperation and participation of others, it is important that they have a part in the direction-setting and decision-making process.
- Research confirms that the greater the involvement, the greater the buy-in from others.
- Is there anyone who, if not included at the beginning, could block implementation of the final strategic plan? That person is a key stakeholder.
4. What do we expected of those involved in the process planning?
Involving stakeholders in a strategic planning process may not be easy. Staff are often busy and may not have extra time for this. Learners, board members and other volunteers can be keen, but their time to participate will have limitations. There may be other kinds of barriers to overcome as well such as geographic distance that makes working face-to-face difficult, conflicts in scheduling that affect availability, varying levels of interest or resistance on behalf of key stakeholders, and disagreement on the need for and/or timing of such an exercise.
5. What resources do we need?
A key question to consider is what resources are on hand and what resources do you need in order to carry out strategic planning. Resources can be scarce so here are some issues and solutions to consider:
- Do you need to create a small budget for this task or can you work within your existing budget?
- Could you apply to a local business or service club for a small amount of funding to undertake strategic planning?
- How could you engage in strategic planning without disrupting current agency operations?
- Can you access community resources to help you?
- Are there college or university coop programs where students from a business program could be assigned to help you as part of their studies?
- What about engaging a summer student (through a government sponsored program) to help out with the process?
- Could you hold a board/staff retreat?
- Instead of doing it all in a shorter time period, could you chunk out and tackle various key steps in the strategic planning process during a meeting held each month?
- Could you set up a strategic planning committee to report back to the board?
- Could you borrow a boardroom belonging to a community partner to hold a strategic planning workday?
6. What are our timelines?
You need to consider when is the best time to introduce strategic planning in your agency. Could strategic planning be divided and spread over several months, or would you prefer to work on it over several days? Would September be a good time or are you too busy with program start-up? What are the pros and cons of choosing December, January or May?
7. How big a task do you want to make it?
Strategic planning can come in different sizes. While you do require a certain amount of information to have confidence in the viability of your strategic plan, you don’t have to amass huge amounts of data on everything in order to create a workable plan. Don’t feel guilty about not doing it all.
More Online Resources
Click here to read an interesting article called “Who Should be Involved in Strategic Planning?”:https://charityvillage.com/community/groups/group-details/asg/163/pg/2.aspx.
Many of us work for a board of directors. For more information on how to effectively involve this key group of stakeholders, be sure to read “The Role of the Executive Director and Board in the Strategic Planning Process” at: https://charityvillage.com/community/groups/group-details/asg/163/pg/2.aspx.
The Alliance for Non Profit Management has some valuable information called “What do I need to know before I start the planning process?” at: www.allianceonline.org/content/index.php?pid=172.
Questions and Activities for Reflection
- In your agency, who are the critical stakeholders who should be involved in strategic planning? How will you involve them and at what points in the process?
- Does your agency have adequate resources to participate in strategic planning? If not, how could you locate the needed resources to support this process?
- In your agency, what would be the best time to begin the strategic planning process?
- How in-depth a process do you need to follow? Do you have many critical opportunities and threats facing you that would require a more in-depth strategic planning process? Or, is everything fairly shipshape in your agency and a minor tune-up would suffice?