The right kind of planning can help your organization thrive, even during a pandemic
When the world feels upside down and many assumptions have changed – about
budgeting, staffing, volunteers, events, even how we utilize space and time – it may seem pointless to plan for the future. Yes, planning during a global pandemic is challenging, but it’s not impossible. We can benefit from the new perspective that the crisis gives us. Covid has forced us to think more creatively, utilize technology in new ways, collaborate with new partners, and even say “Sorry, I can’t do that.” In short, this new crisis has given us the motivation to do things differently.
Step One: Plan from Your Guiding Principles Thought leaders have been saying for years that strategic planning is dead, that constant change requires organizations to be too nimble for plans to be useful. So, is it wrong to have a plan? Of course not. You need to have the right kind of plan – one that has a clear vision and allows for flexibility in achieving that vision. The right plan will serve your needs despite the challenges and changes you will inevitably encounter. A strategic plan that is grounded in your guiding principles – your mission, vision and values – will always serve you well, in good times and bad. Your mission is the reason your organization exists, your vision is the change you wish to make in the world, and your values are the ethical principles that guide you in every action and decision. Every plan must start with these guiding principles and your people must share an understanding of and commitment to them.
Our plan has been a blueprint for reminding me of my priorities and a framework for defining and talking about those priorities.
–Town Wellness Director
Step Two: Plan from Your Strategic Goals
Guiding principles are crucial, but they must also be placed in the context of a clear understanding of your organization and its position in the marketplace. How has the pandemic impacted your traditional assumptions and methods of operation? What do your clients and other stakeholders need from you most right now? Given this information, what are the high-level adjustments you will need to make? Gather your multidisciplinary team together and develop a candid SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). An unflinching and broad perspective will identify areas of your operation that need to be improved, and challenges that need to be addressed. Utilize data, including demographic changes and emergent needs in your service area, to inform your decisions. Once you have your guiding principles and SWOT analysis, your organization is ready to decide WHAT you must do to fulfill your mission.
Your strategic goals are your big ideas, the pillars of your plan. We recommend 3 to 5 key goals, and no more. They should be compelling, comprehensive, and clear. They should concern both the external, or client facing, and the internal, or operational, aspects of your organization. Keep in mind that your goals should always be consistent with your guiding principles. Just because you are grappling with a “new normal” doesn’t mean you can lose sight of your mission, vision and values.
Step Three: Create the Strategies to Meet Your Goals
Once you have identified your goals, your strategies explain HOW you will achieve them. As you identify your key strategies, ask yourself:
What products/services is my organization uniquely qualified to provide?
What are the most important products/services we need to provide now?
What challenges are keeping us from growing our key products/services in the future?
What information and supports are needed to help my team do their best work?
To which partnerships, alliances, donors and volunteers can I turn for assistance?
If you can answer these questions, your strategies will become quite clear, even amidst uncertainty.
The plan’s five big goals serve as guideposts for our work. When faced with almost constant decisions about the next step it is and has been important to have major reminders of what we are trying to achieve long term. Our strategy for this year is to emphasize forward looking, not just survival. –Museum CEO
Step Four: Keep Your Goals. Change Your Strategies as Needed
Your goals should be fairly consistent; your strategies can change due to time or circumstances. This year, just about everyone has found that the old way of working has had to shift somehow. We may need to reorder our priorities or shift our strategies for delivering our services, but our goals should remain the same: to meet our clients’ needs with the highest quality service possible. In fact, our clients who had developed a pre-Covid strategic plan with well thought-out goals – goals grounded in their vision and values – have not changed their goals at all.
We are working to figure out how to fund new positions…and act quickly due to the extraordinary mental health needs presented by Covid-19. We are using the plan to keep pace…and have structure…so that we feel less like buckshot… (going in all directions) and more streamlined/focused on targets. –Mental Health and Substance Abuse Prevention Director
Step Five: Assess Your Progress Along the Way
Every plan should include some evaluation component, so that you can answer the questions, “How are we doing?” and “Are we doing the right things?” Identify measures of success tied to quantitative metrics that you collect periodically. Start at the beginning with baseline metrics and go from there. Don’t collect too much information – keep it simple and feasible. You may already collect data that you can use for this purpose or you may need to come up with some new measurements.
To keep your strategies relevant, schedule a progress review at the midpoint in your plan’s timeline. This is a designated time for your team to have a frank discussion of how you’re doing in meeting your goals. You can inform the conversation by gathering feedback in advance from key outside stakeholders: principal allies and donors, as well as long-term clients. (A few phone interviews or a short email with guided questions will do the trick.) At the progress review, you should review your metrics, but it’s more important to discuss the challenges you have faced and how to overcome them. Because this step is built into the process in advance, it reduces defensiveness and procrastination. You will have a better chance of achieving your desired results if you correct your course at a time when adjustments can still be made.
A carefully designed strategic plan can be a powerful and responsive tool; it focuses your efforts, provides momentum for meeting new challenges boldly, and gives you a decision framework for choosing only the opportunities that meet your priorities. In these turbulent times, clarity of purpose and coordinated effort are essential survival skills.
Ann Budner, of ABudner Strategy Consulting, brings over 35 years of experience to strategic planning, board development, and outcomes measurement. Contact her at https://budnerstrategy.com