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Don’t Develop a SPOT

Make your strategic plan count.

Most of us have had the fortune – or misfortune – of participating in a strategic planning session at some point or another. We all go into these with high hopes that we’ll exit with clear direction and new impetus for our organization. And we all know what usually happens. Nothing.

I suspect we’re all sick of retreats that result in a report that no one reads or even acts upon. Participants arrive back at the office and just stick the retreat binder on a shelf where it gathers dust. They continue with their daily activities without changing anything. 

SPOTS (strategic plans on the shelf) gather dust and do not advance the mission of an organization. Why does this happen? Very often it’s simply because a strategic plan was completed to meet a funder or board requirement. Little time or thought is given to the process. Afterwards, the strategic plan just sits, never to be revisited, revised, or updated. Or implemented. Life goes on. And the organization stagnates.

So, what good is a strategic plan? In my opinion, it’s critical to an organization’s success. Strategy is a coordinated set of actions aimed at creating and sustaining your competitive advantage in carrying out your mission and realizing your desired future. What makes your organization stand out?  What part of your fabric is different? What do you hope to accomplish and where do you want to be in one year, or five?  It takes time and thought to determine the answers to these questions. This is a fundamental step in becoming a winning organization. 

Strategic plans need to address the why, how, and what.  The first phase often involves revisiting missions, conducting both an internal and market analysis, and solidifying your strategic advantage.  After the why becomes clear, organizations can then dive into the how by designing vision elements, honestly discussing blocks and barriers, and determining strategic actions that will be crucial moving forward. And, lastly, the what occurs. This phase, which is the most often overlooked portion, actually lays out how the plan will be implemented with names, activities and success metrics assigned to each strategy. This is not possible to accomplish in a day, even for the most gifted facilitator.

If you have all three components, you will avoid producing a SPOT and instead produce a living document that is updated at least semi-annually and may change and expand based on the changing environment. Then the outcomes you discussed and dreamed about will become reality. Let’s embrace the strategic plan and commit to all the phases. Hold yourself and your team accountable for actions that will take place.