Who Creates Strategy?
The answer changes as the organization grows.
In the beginning, when the Board is significant in nearly everything, it generally creates the strategy. If no staff has been hired, it implements it as well.
As staff joins the organization, the Board’s ability to create strategy is gradually eclipsed by the staff’s ability to do the same. The staff’s knowledge of the sector, community, organization’s assets, the issue(s) it addresses, and the changing environment far outpace that of a (part time, volunteer) Board. When this happens, it is an organizational achievement, much like an adolescent going to college, and should be celebrated.
At this point, the Board’s role in strategy is to review the work of the staff, ensure it aligns with the mission, vision, and policies, suggest changes, and provide feedback and input over time as it is implemented. This can mean that Board members who have received a sense of satisfaction and/or identity from creating the strategy may be reticent to let go gracefully, just like a parent letting go of the adolescent. An organization that understands and supports Board members during this transition will find more success.
Of significance here also is the shift in the role of the chief executive (ED or CEO). It has moved from:
- implementing a strategy, to
- creating a strategy, to
- managing a team of professional leaders who create a strategy.
This is also a growth process, and deserving of celebration when achieved.
This developmental inflection point can also be a challenge to a “hands on” chief executive. If powerful Board members and the chief executive don’t want to let go, the organization’s growth will be stalled as the leadership team doesn’t grow into strategic responsibility.
An excellent stepping stone for a leadership team in this regard is to take shared responsibility for developing the budget. This will require collaboration, compromise, and to see the organization holistically, and thus develop both the team and individual skills and confidence.
The strongest, most progressive organizations engage their staff and stakeholders in strategic planning, through inclusive processes that give everyone a voice, a full perspective, and a stronger stake in the outcome. The first time an organization elects to do this, it takes some courage and vision, as it feels more risky than it actually is.