Have you ever come out of a strategic planning workshop full of great ideas and big visions—but without a clear focus? You're not alone. Coming away with an actual strategy is the hardest part of a strategic planning process. How can you tell whether you have a strategy? Look at your current strategic plan with one question in mind: Does this plan tell me what we DON’T do?
If your answer is NO, check out this simple visual. The Strategy Circle can help teams make those hard choices more easily. And don't feel as if you have to wait for your next strategic plan--you can begin working toward greater focus at any time.
The Strategy Circle includes three elements: opportunity, priorities, and everything else.
OUR BIG OPPORTUNITY
Start with an overarching goal for the next few years, based on your vision and mission. How can your organization have the most powerful impact? This gives you a clear guiding star to set priorities.
OUR TOP PRIORITIES
Think about your key programmatic areas. Your final plan may include organizational or financial priorities, but we start with programs and services since they drive your impact.
What are the things that will most contribute toward achieving your overarching goal? I recommend sticking with no more than 2-3 priorities in each program area. More than that and it can become more of a listing of what you do than a clear set of priorities.
This is where your plan becomes truly strategic. Think through activities that you engage in that didn’t make the top three list. Ask these three questions:
1. What are we ready to say we will NOT do any longer?
2. Who else could do it? As we’re focusing more on our priorities, how could we partner or divest activities to other groups who may be a better fit at this time?
3. If we kept doing it, how could we make it simpler and less resource-intensive? For example, maybe a training could turn into a self-guided worksheet.
Drawing that clear line between what’s in the circle of priorities and what’s out is the first step toward redirecting your work toward what matters most.
EXAMPLE FROM THE FIELD
One of our clients had a big goal: they had pioneered a lot of work and were ready to scale up their impacts. To do this, they chose to de-emphasize small-scale programs and repetitive projects in favor of large innovations with broader effects. They also decided to focus their communications on high-impact, broadly applicable information rather than lengthy reports that wouldn’t be read.
This shift wasn’t easy, as much of this work was their bread and butter. But working through the strategy circle helped them realize that they wanted to step up, and they began brainstorming ways to shift their fundraising model to meet their big goal. They also felt some relief from letting go of work that had become less inspiring for the staff. Instead, they were energized by their shared commitment to making more impact.
You can use the Strategy Circle with any program or service that you’re having some doubts about. How can you focus on what adds the most value? How might you let go of lower-impact work? See if you can identify what should be in or out of the circle.
Remember that you don’t have to commit right away. Consider this an experiment. Talk to your colleagues and see if you can come up with one small step to increase focus and reduce work that is no longer the best fit.
This article on social innovation by Ann Mei Chang, author of Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good, addresses issues around creating value, and offers numerous examples of how to focus on what matters most. Or visit the Entrellis resources page for more ideas.