There are many different models for the preparation of a strategic plan.
At OTS Management we use a process that has been synthesised from our learning and experience gained by working with Indigenous organisations since the mid-1980’s. We base it around a series of workshops that is a collaborative effort between Board and management.
We outline our 10 step process below.
Step 1: Agree on a strategic planning process.
The critical issue is to have leaders and opinion-makers in the organisation agreed about the value and need for the process. You need to:
- Understand of what strategic planning is and how it is done;
- Believe in the potential value to the organisation, in terms of providing a common vision and focus, with agreed-upon goals and strategies;
- Consider the costs in time and money and the return on investment;
- Decide on the time-scale or term of the plan;
- Agree upon a process and establish responsibilities for the various steps in the process.
Except for a very small organisation, it will probably be desirable to set up a strategic planning committee or task force. Choose participants carefully, assuring their appropriateness and commitment to the process and their willingness to devote significant time to the planning effort.
Step 2: Carry out an environmental scan.
This helps provide an understanding of how the organisation relates to its external environment. The scan usually includes an external component — identifying and assessing opportunities and threats in the external environment — and an internal component — assessing organisational strengths and weaknesses. This process is often referred to as “SWOT”: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
The external component of the environmental scan should include a review of the target or service community and the broader environment in which the organisation operates, to identify the opportunities and threats facing the organisation. This process would include consideration of “PESTLE” or the external influences arising from Political, Economic, Societal, Technological, Legal and Environmental factors.
It is often valuable to identify critical success factors for the organisation. This step is not always included in strategic planning, but can be very useful. Try to understand what factors are necessary to the future and continued success of the organisation. These may be factors like relationship with target community/constituency, resources, program strategies, governance structure, and staff skills and style.
The result of the environmental scan should be an analysis of organisational strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats and not just a listing of those factors.
Step 3: Identify key issues, questions, and choices to be addressed as part of the strategic planning effort.
This may mean specifying “strategic issues” or questions that the organisation should address, and setting priorities in terms of time or importance. If there is little disagreement about issues and priorities, it may be possible to move immediately to the organisational vision and then goals. If there is no agreement on general directions and organisational goals, it may be important to explore issue priorities and identify critical choices.
Steps 1 to 3 have got you to “where you are now”. Then you need to define “where do we want to go.”
Step 4: Define or review the organisation’s values and mission.
Be sure there is consensus on why the organisation exists, what goals or outcomes it seeks to achieve, what it stands for, and whom it serves. If it has specific mandates –things it must do or not do based on its articles of incorporation or bylaws, or long-term contracts or grants – then these should be clearly defined. Consider beginning your strategic planning by agreeing on the following:
- Core values – those beliefs or principles that guide the organisation; these values are shared by Board and staff, strongly held, and not easily changed.
- Mission – the stated purpose for your organisation’s existence.
Step 5: Develop a shared vision for the organisation.
In some strategic planning efforts, a vision for the organisation is developed after a vision for the community has been discussed — with the assumption that a shared organisational vision may be dependent upon a shared vision of what society should become. Whenever this is done, it is important to agree on where the organisation wants to be in three to five years (It is often helpful to focus on where you want to be at the end of the period covered by the strategic plan).
The vision might describe the organisation broadly, in terms of its mix of programs, reputation or status inside and outside its primary target community, key accomplishments, and relationships with stakeholders; specific descriptions might be included in relation to service/target area, program scope and depth, funding, governance, staffing, relationships with other entities, visibility, etc.
Step 6: Develop a series of goals or organisational status statements which describe the organisation in a specified number of years – assuming it is successful in addressing its mission.
It is usually a short step from the vision to goals – sometimes the statements describing the vision are essentially goal statements. It is extremely valuable to transform the vision into a series of key goals for the organisation, preferably in the form of status statements describing what the organisation has to do to get to the status of the Vision. For example:-
“Super-Service Inc will operate an alternative high school with public school funding that will have a student body of 250”; or “Super-Service Inc will provide comprehensive services to youth from pre-school through college age”; and so on.
During the development of goals, it is always important to ask two questions of every goal submitted for consideration:-
- Vision, Mission, Values – Does the goal help the organisation achieve its vision, is it within the definition of the the organisation’s mission, will achieving it subscribe to the organisations core values?
- Is the goal, and the phrasing of it, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Result-based, Time-defined)?
If the answer to both is not an unequivocal “yes” then the goal must be discarded.
Step 7: Agree upon key strategies to reach the goals and address key issues identified through the environmental scan.
The major emphasis should be on broad high-level strategies (not lower-level action steps), including current and new program, advocacy, collaborative, or other approaches. These strategies should be related to specific goals or address several goals. The process requires looking at where the organisation is now and where its vision and goals indicate it wants to be, and identifying strategies to get there. The Board needs to provide a broad view to guide this effort, while the planning group or staff can do much of the detailed analysis.
In agreeing upon strategies, the planning group should always consider the need to clearly define responsibilities for their implementation.
From steps 1 to 7 you should be able to compile your high-level strategic plan. We recommend you make this a practical actionable plan by following steps 8 to 9.
Step 8: Develop an operational business plan that addresses goals and specifies objectives and work plans on an annual basis.
Once the longer-term elements of a strategic plan have been developed, it is time to ensure a specific operational plan to begin implementation. Strategic planning recognises that strategies must reflect current conditions within the organisation and its environment. Thus it is rare to attempt to develop detailed annual objectives except for the first or perhaps the first and second year covered by the strategic plan. However, annual operational business plans are needed. Annual program objectives should be time-based and measurable. The annual plan may be a part of the strategic plan or, preferably, may be an annual addendum to it.
Step 9: Finalise a written strategic plan that summarizes the results and decisions of the strategic planning process.
There is no set format, but be sure to include the outputs of each major step.
Step 10: Build in procedures for monitoring, and for modifying strategies based on changes in the external environment or the organisation.
Be sure progress towards goals and objectives and use of strategies is monitored regularly, with strategies revised and annual objectives developed yearly, based on the progress made, obstacles encountered, and the changing environment. Have procedures for taking advantage of unexpected changes such as more sympathetic government policies or appointed officials, improvements in the economy, changes in local funder priorities, or changes in the target population. Define annual objectives at the start of each year. Look back to see what progress has been made in critical success factors. Use the plan as a compass, but not an inflexible blueprint for action.
At OTS Management, we can help you through the process of preparing your strategic plan, and inn the process make it a working document that you can refer to almost day by day. We provide skilled facilitation in workshops and small group meeting that focus on the key issues.
If you want to know more about strategic planning, or how we can help your organisation, get over to our website at www.otsmanagement.com.au and click on the Contact Us link to set up an obligation-free first meeting.
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