A good nonprofit strategic planning process includes three components. If your organization skips or poorly executes one of these components, it is unlikely to get results from its strategic plan.

There are huge costs associated with an incomplete planning process:

  • Erosion of leadership in the community and a sense of falling behind;

  • Failure to achieve desired financial and operational results;

  • Frustration throughout the organization and the perception that strategic planning is a waste of time; and

  • Loss of credibility of the leadership team.

A sound strategic planning process includes the following three elements. If your organization does a poor or incomplete job on any of these areas, your strategic planning process is incomplete and won’t get the results you expect:

One: Perspective

Answer the big strategic questions–but without jargon or overburdening your board of directors.

The big questions include:

  1. What do we do best and how can we build on that edge?

  2. What should we stop doing to make time and energy for being the best?

  3. How do we diversify our income sources so we control our destiny?

  4. How can we prepare the organization to defend against threats and seize opportunities?

  5. How do we grow our capacity so this gets easier?

Unfortunately, many organizations debate these issues with academic discussions and confusing jargon. They are like philosophers trying to decide how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. At the same time, some organizations come up with brilliant answers to these questions, but can’t quite take them to the point of clear initiatives that get done.

The big strategic planning questions are worthless if they don’t result in a few clear, compelling strategic initiatives to strengthen the organization.

Two: Initiatives

Set a few clear priorities and an overall strategic theme.

The most important outcome of the first part of the strategic planning process is to identify the most important initiatives for the organization. Starting with a long list of potential initiatives, the organization discusses the relative value of each, and hones in on only a few key initiatives. This discussion can also lead to greater clarity about the big strategic planning questions, especially about what the organization should do best.

Once a list of no more than three to five initiatives is agreed upon, the organization can come up with a strategic theme. This is a one-line statement that conveys the overall strategic push for the organization.

Examples could include:

  • Meet all the pent-up demand in our current service area before expanding.

  • Become the kind of organization others would want to partner or merge with.

  • Excel in three interrelated businesses: Homebuyer education, community building, and neighborhood revitalization.

During this phase, many organizations settle for a long list of initiatives. This has the benefit that nobody feels excluded or insulted. However, it makes it highly unlikely that the organization will get anything done completely.

Three: Execution

The biggest complaint we hear about strategy is that it never seems to get executed. There are a few reasons why:

  • Neglecting to commit essential resources to the strategy, including budget, training, technology, and people.

  • Failing to take things off the plate of busy employees, and instead just stacking more work on them.

  • Having lack of will to stop old initiatives that compete with the new.

  • Not setting clear roles, responsibilities, accountability, and rewards systems.

  • Giving up after a few setbacks or initial resistance.

A sound strategy spends as much time on execution planning as it does on the more glamorous work of answering the key strategic questions and setting priorities.

Make Useful Strategic Planning Easy as PIE

Yep, the three-part Perspective-Initiatives-Execution model is as easy to remember as my favorite dessert: PIE. But while the model’s easy to remember, getting it right’s not so easy.

Which of the above areas is weakest in your organization? Some organizations are strong at asking the big picture questions, but fail to follow up. Some set too many initiatives, and can’t say “no” to good ideas, despite limited resources. Others are strong at executing, but lack the vision to develop compelling strategic initiatives.

Want to improve strategic planning in your organization? An easy next step is downloading my free Strategic Planning Assessment, then using it to spark a discussion at your next leadership meeting. Good luck, and if you need help, contact me here.

Credit: The above article is inspired by one of my executive coaching mentors, Andrew Neitlich. If you’re an executive coach or aspiring coach, it would behoove you to check out his Center for Executive Coaching.