You’ve seen them—the strategic plans that are long and detailed, a spreadsheet filled with pages and pages of objectives, strategies and tactics. And you know what? Those plans are great for people who thrive on highly-structured frameworks and know they will continually check back and update their progress.
This blog is for the rest of us.
Your time is limited. Your budget is limited. Your board has limited availability to think this through. But a strategy that could really inspire, drive action and keep you focused—is that even possible? And would it make a difference?
Yes, and yes.
If you don’t have a plan, or if you have one that more or less just reiterates what you do and how you’ll do more of it, you’re missing out. Your staff may be spinning their wheels on things that keep them busy but don’t lead to the kind of impact you could have. Your funders may not see a compelling vision that they want to support. A good plan can drive meaningful activity toward a critical goal and inspire the staff, Board and donors.
Let’s get started.
You will focus your efforts on three things: IMPACT, STRATEGY, and SUCCESS. To get you out of the program planning/laundry list mode and into a strategic mindset, we’ll start with IMPACT and STRATEGY.
This is your starting point. It encompasses your vision, your mission, and an impact statement.
The vision tells what the world will look like when you have succeeded in your mission.
The mission will be better for being short and sweet. Think tagline:
We do X (what) for Y (who)
This helps it be both memorable and inspirational. A few examples:
Splash: We clean water for kids.
MenEngage: We’re working with boys and men to promote gender equality around the world
WalkDenver: To reclaim Denver’s streets for people.
If you have a lengthy mission statement that includes language you’re really attached to, great. Put it into a statement of guiding principles or translate it into values. That way you have a memorable mission AND a thoughtful explanation of how you work.
Finally, the impact statement is specific to this strategic plan. This is the one overarching goal that drives your whole plan. Again, it’s short. It’s also measurable.
We achieve X by Y timeframe
This is hard. You do many different things. But the key to thinking strategically is to get out of the list of activities and into how the world will be different three or five years from now when you’ve been successful.
Another way to think about it comes from The 4 Disciplines of Execution: If everything else continued as is, what’s the one thing you could drive toward that would make the most difference?
Sometimes groups with widely disparate activities find it hard to establish a single impact statement. If you’ve made your best effort and can’t establish a single overarching goal for this time period, it’s ok to identify more than one—just keep it to a small number, or it will be hard to remember and harder to prioritize your work.
Here’s where you really diverge from listing programs. How will you drive change? You need to consider both how you think change happens, sometimes referred to as a Theory of Change and what niche you fill in creating that change. Your strategy represents your best guess about how you can frame and maintain leadership in a unique niche.
Some framing statements that may help you think about this:
We are the ones who:
We are stellar at this thing that no one else can do as well as we do:
We focus on filling a unique niche: our clients, type of work, geography, or how we drive change and empower action. (aka “Where do we play?” AND where we don’t…):
We do it in unique ways (aka “How do we win?”):
We’ll resist the temptation to:
How? (Note: there might be more than one temptation…)
We’ll stay ahead by:
We won’t do:
Use whatever framing helps you to come up with 3-5 statements about your strategy. These will drive the way you structure your work and processes, so they may or may not be something you want to share publicly.
Congratulations—with an IMPACT and STRATEGY, you’re already ahead of the game, and far more focused on strategy than most organizations.
In my next blog, we’ll address SUCCESS: defining specific priorities and objectives, and tracking and measuring success. Stay tuned, and check out additional Entrellis resources here.