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  • Writer's pictureRich Haglund

Strategic planning got you down? Take some of these ideas with a glass of water.

Here are some of my ideas and favorite resources related to supporting organizations through strategic planning. (I have no stake in the resources I recommend. And the rants are all mine!)

Strategic planning ideas

For overall organizational health, I really like the six questions that everyone in a healthy organization should be able to answer with clarity (these are captured well in the book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Businesss).

  1. Why do we exist?

  2. How do we behave? (How do we, in the organization, treat each other?)

  3. What do we do?

  4. How will we succeed? (What are our strategic levers?)

  5. What is most important, right now? (A thematic goal, helping us make choices, allocate resources, and reduce politics, while still measuring ongoing indicators like service delivery, net income etc.)

  6. Who must do what—to succeed right now?

With that last question in mind, I’m a fan of action over words on paper, and shorter rather than longer time frames (see this blog post I wrote about The Table Group concept of a rallying cry).

Also, check out Richard Rumelt’s book, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. I was impressed with his explanation that strategy making involves diagnosis, guiding principles, and coherent actions.

Mission, Vision, and Values

I hate strongly dislike strategic plans without defined terms. I get a little sick to my stomach when I read a "vision" that sounds like a list of projects, a "mission" that doesn’t explain what the organization does, and “values” that sound like platitudes from fortune cookies.

I think "vision" is the ultimate impact an organization hopes to have (and that is not wholly within its control). The organization’s "mission," in my mind, is what it does (see question 3 above). And "values" should be a few (really, no more than three) behaviors that every person in the organization is expected to have upon arrival or learn shortly thereafter, exemplify consistently, or be shown the door. For more detail on values, see Patrick Lencioni’s explanation of “core values” compared to “aspirational values” and “permission to play values.” Check out this HBR article or the exercise to determine core values in The Advantage.

As you engage in strategic planning, you can use the terms as you see fit, of course. But they should be defined at the beginning and used consistently throughout the process and the plan.

Measuring success

Matt Chalmers wrote this week about choosing the right metrics.


If mission driven organizations really want to make a difference ("to change the field"), they need to, IMHO,

  1. Know the landscape in which they operate and who is doing what (well or poorly) in that space.

  2. Have clearly answered the six questions above from The Table Group to decide what they’re going to do—and what they are wise to let others do.

  3. Know the real cost of effectively doing what they do: paying people a competitive wage, training and expecting managers to manage well so staff turnover doesn’t destroy the budget, and buying excellent professional services as needed/decided. Choosing to buy services instead of expecting existing employees to do everything may be needed to ensure the provision of quality services and to reduce staff burnout. I.e., just because she could, don't ask the data architect to take on conference planning this year since the conference director just quit!

  4. Be ready to recognize when merging or some other form of collaboration will better serve their intended beneficiaries. Instead of continuing to dilute resources because 10 organizations are all doing early childhood reading intervention in the community in essentially the same way and asking the same three funders for money, of which they have to spend 30% on operations!

Check out this article, The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle, from the Stanford Social Innovation Review and my blog asking whether nonprofits unwittingly collude to fail.

More resources

Also see the article, Nonprofit Mergers and Acquisitions: Not Just an Escape Plan and the resources posted:

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