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Advice from Outside the Square

Why Strategic Plans Fail

Why Strategic Plans Fail

Most Indigenous organisations have been through a strategic planning process at some time in their history. Well run Indigenous organisations will repeat a strategic planning process once every 3 to 5 years.

Strategic plans are important tools in the governance, growth and direction of an organisation. You should have an overall “strategic” helicopter view of where you want to go and how you get there, backed up by the more “on the ground” business plans that tackle detail of the strategies over a shorter time period. They establish strategic direction so that everyone pulls in the same direction and day to day decisions become easier (does it help us in our strategy to get to the desired end-point?).

However most readers will say that in their experience, many if not most strategic plans haven’t been followed – they have not been implemented. Why is that? Why go through an expensive and time-consuming exercise only to let it slide?

Most strategic plans don’t get off the ground because of the ad-hoc, haphazard and obsolete methods used to turn good ideas into actionable plans. For example, everyone has done a SWOT analysis – you know, what are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? But how many explore the results with the simple question “so what?”

So what about our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? How have we developed aspects of the plan to build on strengths, fix weaknesses, explore opportunities, and mitigate threats? Usually after a SWOT exercise they are just left hanging there.

We need to ensure that when we write strategic plans, we have an eye not only on what we should do, but how we ill do it.

I have four critical questions you should ask when you complete your strategic plan so that you actually translate a goal into actionable strategies.

  1. What is the final outcome (not action) we are trying to achieve and why?
  2. How will we measure “success”?
  3. What other conditions exist?
  4. How do we get there?

Often people define their goals and objectives, and then launch into question 4, “how do we get there?” The danger in doing this, sliding from goals to objectives to strategies is that the strategies are no more than a wish list, they may not be practical, they may even define an action rather than the result.

For example, a goal might be to increase our services to our community. The objective may be to help more people obtain housing. Jumping straight into “how do we get there” jumps the thinking into doing things and the strategy might end up being “to build more houses.” However building houses is merely an action, not a strategy to get you to your outcome.

In order to build strategies properly you need to first ask question 1, which is “what is the final outcome we want to achieve and why?”

If you analysed and answered that question in our example, we would realise that the final outcome is not to have more houses, but to have more of our people living in good houses so that housing needs are properly met and the reason (why) we want to do this is to improve lives. Once you realise this you know that the strategy is not merely to build one house (one action along the way) but also to provide services around housing such as adequate maintenance, education about housing maintenance, better jobs so they can afford rents, and so on.

Once you know what your final outcome is and why you want that outcome, you need to ask the second question, “how will we measure success?”

You need to know when you have arrived. So, in realising the final outcome, you can put together a set of measures around housing availability and affordability, and the way people have established homes. Without this sequence of questions you might have set an incorrect measure about the numbers of houses being built.

Question 3 is about recognising that things in plans start to go wrong as soin as they are written: “what other conditions exist?”

This identifies any risky assumptions we may have used in the planning process that can cause pain if not identified early. What if an assumption did not taker place? What would you do differently?

Once these external factors affecting the path to thew final outcome are identified:-

  • they can be monitored more regularly;
  • risk mitigation plans can be prepared;
  • strategies and action plans can build in flexibility so that rather than collapsing in a heap, you can adapt and persevere.

While the method of preparing your strategic plan can be useful it is important to make sure that the plans are actionable.

If you want to know more about strategic planning in an Indigenous organisation context, we have a free whitepaper on the 10 steps to prepare your strategic plan that you can access from https://www.otsmanagement.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Strategic-Planning-for-NFP-10-Step-Guide.pdf

We have plenty of free resources from our website at www.otsmanagement.com.au and if you want to have an obligation-free discussion about your needs, please go to the website and click on the “Contact Us” tab.

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