We’ve had a few years now of heavy criticism of strategic planning, in both the profit and nonprofit sectors. This dates back to The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, penned by Henry Mintzberg’s in 1993; now, there are multiple articles using the phrase “the death of strategic planning” in their titles or content.
Most of the criticism has sung the same tune since 1993: strategic planning is too rigid, too simplistic, a fantasy expedition. I agree; this is true for the original and traditional strategic planning processes. I don’t know how well they worked in the past, but since the 1980’s, the world has moved far too quickly for the old processes to be effective.
But we do need some kind of plan, right? We can’t just run willy-nilly into the night, operating entirely on instinct and reactive smarts, can we?
Yes, a sense of shared direction is needed, as is a rationale for that direction.
So what should nonprofits do? The annual process of the Board getting together in a retreat, preceded by a handful of interviews with significant partners and funders, is entirely inadequate.
An effective strategic process will offer the following:
- A vision and set of goals for the next few years that is malleable as the world changes.
- Plenty of room for the executive function in the organization to make changes on the fly, without having to revisit the Board for permission.
- A level of client/constituent/stakeholder involvement that fully informs the vision and goals; let’s call this “saturation.”
- Feedback loops that generate information that can be compared to the assumptions on which the vision and goals were originally formed.
The result is better called “Strategy Development” than “Strategic Planning” and is an ongoing process rather than an annual one.
To that end, here’s a document designed to help make the shift: Strategy Development vs. Strategic Planning