The Strategic Planning Process

The Strategic Planning Process

One of the most important forward-looking initiatives any Indigenous organisation can take is to prepare a definitive strategic plan, looking at least 5 years ahead.

A strategic plan sets the strategic direction of the organisation and translates the organisation's vision into a roadmap over the next few years, showing how it will carry out its mission.

Without a clear, documented strategic plan, your priorities will change from time to time depending on external stimuli at the time.

You will not have clear milestones against which to measure progress, nor will you have measurements on whether or not you are fulfilling the mandates provided by your members.

With a strategic plan you can look clearly ahead at least 5 years and set targets as goals, ensuring that each year, you are moving toward ultimately achieving your organisation's vision and purpose.

If you are still unclear what a strategic plan is, and even more importantly what it can do for you, we have written an informative eBook on strategic planning worth $25 but available for a lot less here.

This article will describe to you the strategic planning process that you should take your organisation on, in order to prepare a clear and documented roadmap for your development as an efficient and productive organisation.

There are seven stages of strategic planning:

  1. Pre-planning
  2. Identifying and defining where you want to go as an organisation
  3. Understanding the detail of your current internal and external circumstances
  4. Analysing the desired goals and the current situation to create strategies to bridge the gap
  5. Preparing to implement the plan
  6. Documenting and communicating the plan

As we go through each of these stages, you can obtain our Strategic Planning Templates for Indigenous Organisations and follow our steps with the relevant templates of worksheets and checklists to complete.

Pre-planning

It is important to place the work you are about to do as an organisation into context and plan for how you should best involve others and gather information so that everyone involved is prepared and starting from the same page.

Many Indigenous organisations reading this may not actually be ready to proceed with a strategic planning exercise. Depending on your circumstances, there may be barriers to strategic planning.

For example, you may be in the midst of a funding crisis, or you may be a young organisation that is still working out leadership and governance issues.

These sorts of circumstances may mean that you are not ready to set aside sufficient time to discuss and prepare a strategic plan while you have critical operational matters at the top of your mind. Too many future decisions may be coloured by what will happen in the next few months or weeks.

You need to check on your current barriers if any, and on issues such as cost and time - and compare such disadvantages with the likely benefits -  to see if you are ready to prepare a strategic plan.

Once you believe you are ready, you should gather some basic information such as the history and background of the organisation. While this may seem obvious, many Indigenous organisations have quickly recycling staff and founder members and directors often complain that there is insufficient recognition of purpose or history.

Now is the time to ensure that everyone who will be involved understands where you came from before you discuss where you want to go.

Then, you need to spend some time in planning the project.

You need to decide on the terms of the strategic plan - what part or parts of the organisation will it cover?

What is the objective of preparing a strategic plan - to set long-term direction, to present a business case, to restructure, or to explore new opportunities?

Who will be the target audience of the plan - internal or external stakeholders?

How far ahead will it plan for?

Who will "own" and manage the process and what assistance and resources will be available? Who in authority will "champion" the plan and who will be involved in the planning team? How long will the project take?

Next, as part of the terms of reference for the plan, review your mandates.

Mandats are the "rules" or authority for your organisation to do what it does. These mandates can be formal (such as your Rule Book) or informal such as community norms and expectations. Your strategic plan will be impacted by mandates since you should not be planning activity that is extra-mandated unless you negotiate and change your mandates accordingly.

In reviewing the mandates of course you will need to identify your internal and external stakeholders and analyse the strength of your relationships (and their importance) and how they should be involved.

Defining the Vision

Once you have prepared for the planning project, your first task should be to define your Vision.

This step will allow you to answer the organisational question - where do we want to go?

In other words, you will describe what the organisation will look like, behave, and do at this ideal time in the future - this is what you are journeying toward.

To start with, you will need to identify your organisational values. This allows you to focus on how you actually do - or want to do - business in the next few discussions. You cannot describe a future state unless you know what is ruled "in" and what is ruled "out" in behaviour, activity and in operation.

The next step is to review and define your Purpose - why you exist as an organisation. Is your purpose statement clear in identifying who you work for, what you want to do for them, and why you should do it rather than another organisation or agency?

After this, you review or write your Vision Statement and define it in quantifiable terms so that in future, you can actually measure how close you are to achieving your vision.

Having a clear Purpose, Vision and Values Statement - that everybody understands and agrees with - will allow you to list your critical success factors so that these can later form your goals and objectives and measurements.

Survey your Environment

The next stage of strategic planning is to get to understand where you are now, in terms of your internal and external environments.

Through a series of interviews, workshops and focus groups, you can survey what your external and internal stakeholders think of your current situation, your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

External stimuli on your environment may result from political, economic, social, technological, legislative and environmental trends. Analysis of these may result in identifying opportunities you can take advantage of, and threats you should plan to mitigate.

Your internal environment could be best described as a series of strengths that you can continue to develop, and weaknesses that you need to correct.

Ranking as to priority and importance will help you separate the wheat from the chaff for planning purposes.

With this "deep-dive" information at hand, you can then identify your current situation in terms of:

  • your structure
  • your legal context and situation
  • your human resources
  • your programs and services
  • your administration, records and finances
  • your expenditure models
  • and your statutory compliance.

Bridging the Gap

In defining your vision and clarifying your current position, you should now have a good picture of the gap between your current position and your desired future position.

In order to really focus on the important areas rather than cause stress and chaos at what will inevitably be a very long list of gaps, prioritising all of these issues identified into Key Strategic Issues will focus your attention on what matters.

Key Strategic Issues are those issues that are major, high-level issues that you will need to resolve in order to progress to your vision. Resolving a Key Strategic Issue may resolve many lower-level issues that were also identified. Key Strategic Issues represent the need for fundamental policy, operational or management change affecting your organisation's purpose, vision, programs and services, financing, structure or management.

For example, Key Strategic Issues are about improving governance and board performance rather than tactical issues about incomplete minutes.

Once you have prioritised your Key Strategic Issues, these will help you in identifying the strategies that you need to implement in order to resolve them.

Remember, this is about high-level strategies, not tactical, operational decisions and actions. So, strategies should be framed to "bridge the gap" describing what you have to do to get closer to the position of the Vision.

Once defined, evaluated and agreed, the strategies will in turn cascade into a series of goals and objectives.

Goals are broad statements of what you intend to achieve, during the term of the strategic plan, by implementing your strategies. You may find that you need more than one goal of a strategy in order to describe the outcome of implementing that strategy.

Objectives are the actions or milestones you intend to take to achieve the goals. Again, some goals may need more than one objective to describe its outcome.

Remember that your strategies, goals and objectives should be:

  • specific
  • measurable
  • achievable
  • result-oriented and
  • time-based.

Planning for Implementation

Step 6 of the strategic planning process is to plan for implementation.

In the same way that you should not launch into your strategic planning exercise without first preparing for it, you should not document and implement your strategic plan without first planning on how you will implement it.

Many a strategic plan has remained on the shelves after an enthusiastic exercise to prepare it - because there was insufficient time spent on the logistics of implementing it.

You should decide on how you will monitor and evaluate your actions, and provide scheduled time to analyse results and make amendments where necessary in the light of real-time outcomes. The military often says that a plan is as good as the first shot fired.

Prepare step-by-step action plans as required that document how you will implement the actions required to achieve objectives, and hence goals and strategies.

Identify the people responsible and the resources required so that you don't set yourself and others up to fail. Map the plan into a master implementation schedule that you can continue to monitor and adapt.

Documentation and Publication

Finally, you can put all your work into a strategic plan document.

There are many ways to organise the information but at OTS Management we use the following:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Purpose, Vision and Values Statement
  • Summary of Mandates
  • Environmental Analysis
  • Key Strategic Issues
  • Strategies
  • Goals and Objectives
  • Implementation and Action Plans
  • Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Appendices

Of course, once drafted, the strategic plan will need to be discussed at board level and endorsed by the board. In governance terms, the strategy of the organisation should be set by the board.

Once endorsed, you will need to decide how the strategic plan will be communicated - to staff, to members, to funding agencies, and to the general community and public. This may require various versions and summaries of the strategic plan to suit the audience.

If your strategic plan is prepared in this way, you set yourself up for the greatest chance of success in its implementation. This is because you have adopted a bottom-up model of obtaining information and gaining mandates, along with a clear and logical thought process of taking the steps from where you are now, to where you want to go; before you enter into a flexibly scheduled implementation process.

OTS Management offers a product that you can download - our Strategic Planning Templates for Indigenous Organisations that provides templates for every step described above.

There are 41 templates, worksheets and checklists that you can complete as you progress through the above process - each document asking the relevant questions for you to investigate and analyse, and the decisions and issues to be recorded and worked on. The checklists provide reminders on what you need to do at different times through the process, and the templates include fillable Word files of the strategic plan document and a Plan Summary that we call the PLan-On-A-Page.

It is great value for an Indigenous organisation that is about to prepare their strategic plan in-house and you can buy it here for $197 and download it immediately.

You can use the templates to follow the process above, or get our eBook on strategic planning (for only $10) and use the templates as you follow the process there.

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