Strategic planning for boards: Key steps in the process
Strategic planning is crucial for organizations looking to step back from day-to-day challenges and reflect on and resolve larger issues within the organization and in their operating environment.
At its best, the strategic planning process harnesses the wisdom, insights, experiences, and creative energies of the individuals responsible for delivering the organization’s mission and ensures the organization is:
- Creative in challenging the status quo, testing assumptions, and exploring alternative ways of working.
- Proactive by anticipating opportunities and threats while actively managing change.
- Decisive by making hard choices among many alternatives and understanding the implications of those choices.
- Focused on a uniform vision and purpose that is shared among all members of the organization and involves all staff in the strategic direction.
Steps in the strategic planning process
Strategic planning starts with a vision of the future that does not presuppose that what is being done now will continue. It’s a creative process that stretches thinking and challenges assumptions. As you begin, consider the key steps in any strategic planning process:
1. Define the purpose. Clarify why the organization is doing a strategic plan. Plans can fail if participants have differing ideas of what is to be achieved. Answering questions such as “what do we hope to accomplish by having a strategic plan?” and “how will it be used and who will use it?” will help guide your process.
2. Set the ground rules. Develop ground rules that will help the participants in the planning process to achieve the desired outcomes. Rules help create the right environment for strategic planning.
Examples of rules include:
- be open to new ways of thinking
- challenge assumptions and the status quo
- think long-term
- stimulate creativity and innovation
- make evidence-based decisions
3. Identify who should participate and how. It’s essential to consider who should participate in the planning process. The participants involved in decisions about strategic planning should include individuals who will be held accountable for the results and/or are responsible for implementing the plan. Ideally, all stakeholders including board members, staff, clients, key funders/donors, senior volunteers, and community partners will have the opportunity to participate.
4. Identify resources and leadership. Consider what resources (e.g. funds, people, technology) are available to do the strategic plan and how they will be allocated. For example: are there funds to bring people together face-to-face? Are there funds to hire a facilitator or research expert? The process will require commitment and leadership from the board and executive director.
5. Prepare the work plan. Make decisions about how the strategic plan will be developed. The planning horizon is the first thing to be considered. Is the plan aimed at the next three or five years? Keep in mind that while there is a set horizon, the plan will be continually reviewed and, when necessary, revised so it is responsive to new developments and challenges.
6. Determine the communication strategy. Communicate regularly and broadly so key stakeholders such as staff feel included in the process and keep careful records of what took place and which decisions were made so there is no need for backtracking. Communication goes a long way to creating a transparent process which, in turn, generates a high degree of trust.
7. Develop strategies for overcoming resistance. It’s important to listen for and respond to resistance. Getting people to talk about their concerns before the planning process begins, then taking action to address them can help prevent and/or address any resistance that might crop up.
Learn more about the strategic planning process and how to implement it with ONPHA’s new Strategic planning toolkit , part of our brand-new suite of Governance essentials resources and Strategic planning suite, designed to guide you through best practices and provide you with the tools and resources you need to make sure your current and future boards are set up for success.
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