Have you ever had a strategic plan that ended up in a folder on a shelf somewhere? Three years later you had to wipe away a layer of dust to remember what it said? Or perhaps you worry your strategic plan will end up there and wonder if it’s worth the significant investment of time, money and effort.
This blog is about keeping that plan alive. At Aurora this means that the strategic plan becomes a central guiding document for your work. Major disclaimer: the rest of this blog starts with the assumption that your strategic plan is a strategic and meaningful document that should be used to guide your work. We know that if you start with a meaningful plan it’s unlikely to end up on the shelf. But even great plans may fall victim to the urgency of daily to-dos that can work against getting your plan off the page and into action.
We’ve done a lot of strategic planning at Aurora Consulting and create our processes to ensure that the plan is indeed strategic, meaningful, and sustainable. We provide formal and informal guidance to help the staff and board lead the plan after we are gone, helping to ensure that it becomes an actionable guiding document. We reached out to one of our former clients to ask them the question: how are you keeping your plan alive?
Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association (PPNA) works to enhance the quality of life in the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood by facilitating community engagement, embracing a diversity of voices, and fostering economic and community development. PPNA’s previous strategic plan focused on strengthening organizational capacity and the organization felt ready to grow, refine, and strengthen their work in the community through a new round of strategic planning. We worked with PPNA in late 2013 and early 2014 to complete a strategic plan.
The strategic planning process was created through a design team (composed jointly of staff and board). The process included meetings, phone calls, working sessions, and a retreat with staff and board members. An in-depth environmental scan co-led by Aurora and PPNA was conducted to reach into and hear from the neighborhood, informing the entirety of the strategic plan.
We caught up with Becky Timm, the executive director of PPNA, in September to talk with her about how the implementation of the plan is going and what they are doing to keep the plan and the momentum from the planning process alive. Becky shared some great ideas and tricks that PPNA is using to keep the plan alive.
- Buy-in: We know this actually starts at the very beginning of the process, but establishing the buy-in of both board and staff members goes a long way. PPNA board and staff members were in agreement that it was time for a new plan and felt good about how the process was designed. In the end, this means PPNA board and staff members are now fully engaged in implementation and are committed to carrying the strategic plan forward.
- Shared language: PPNA created “insider language” to use when referring to the plan. The language of the four – referring to the four goals of the plan – came about organically and PPNA has made a point to continue using this language. Being able to simply say the four makes it easy for board and staff members to quickly refer to the plan when making decisions, considering changes, and reviewing their work. How does this align with the four? has become a common refrain.
- Visibility: Keeping the goals of the strategic plan top of mind can be as simple as keeping them visible. The goals can go at the top of an agenda, or be included in reports and packets going to board and staff members. PPNA uses a projector at board meetings to look at documents; when there isn’t a specific document to be discussed the four are projected. The four are brought up over and over, similar to how a nonprofit might reference the mission or vision statements.
- Framework: The goals of the strategic plan can be used to frame new ideas, projects, decisions, challenges, or conversations. At PPNA, they used the four to present the budget for review and approval by the board. All of the budget priorities were aligned within the four using the language of the four and graphics to highlight key information. This representation allowed the board to see clearly how PPNA currently and could allocate resources to align with the strategic plan. It also allowed the budget discussion to proceed with common language leading to a lengthy and engaged discussion about the budget.
Hopefully your organization can implement some of these tips, or perhaps they sparked new ideas that might work for the culture of your organization, because it’s worth it. PPNA is already seeing the benefits of having a strategic plan that serves as a strong guiding document.
- Communication: When the strategic plan stays top of mind, that also means that board and staff members can draw from it for organizational talking points. This is true for both internal and external communications, giving everyone language to describe what PPNA is, what they do, and why they exist.
- Mission connection: A strong strategic plan will be closely tied to the mission. This means that when you keep the plan alive, you are also keeping the mission at the center of everything you do. So when PPNA talks about the budget they are able to have an engaged and meaningful discussion because everyone can see how the budget directly ties to the mission.
- Marching orders: At PPNA they have found that the strategic plan has given everyone clear marching orders. The board and staff are leading the plan together and are in agreement about the goals and priorities they are pursuing. The four also gave PPNA a framework for clarifying roles and assignments among staff members to ensure everyone is working within scope and best utilizing their strengths to accomplish the four.
- Laser focus: Clarity and agreement around the four, and the strategies that outline how they’ll pursue the four, has given PPNA a laser focus when it comes to allocating time, money and other resources. At a nonprofit organization where all three of these can be in short supply, it is critical to stay focused on how to best achieve the mission and have a strong impact. At PPNA this means keeping the work not too broad and not too narrow, but just right.
How are you keeping your strategic plan alive?
Is it time to refresh how board and staff think about the organization’s future?
What benefits do you need out of a strategic planning process?