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MORE ON STRATEGIC PLANNING

THINKING AHEAD WITH STRATEGIC PLANNING
By Del Albright (written 1996 with 2015 revision)

 

The development of a strategic plan can be a long, drawn out process, requiring tons of emails and several meetings, depending on the complexity of your group; but here are some shortcuts and the outcome is well worth every step. 

 

The plan is usually developed through a series of meetings that produce draft documents that require follow up meetings.   Input is gathered on a variety of topics, depending on the slant of the plan.  People in and outside the group may provide helpful start-up points. The key to making the process more efficient is twofold;

 

        1.  Being prepared ahead of time with some thoughts, ideas, and concepts about the organization and the plan; and

 

        2.  Being committed to the process and following through with assigned tasks.

 

The outcome is worth the effort.  When an organization has a strategic plan that people believe in and are committed to, a metamorphosis occurs.   People begin to understand what the organization is about and where it is headed.  It becomes easier for those same people to translate that direction to other people. Everyone begins saying the same things and talking from the same sheet of music. 

 

Efforts become more coordinated, cohesive, and incredibly effective. Recruitment into the organization increases because of the common message being delivered by all members.  The organization moves from just existing, to creating an impact -- bringing about change.

 

One approach to strategic planning that seems to work well consists of the following terminology:

 

TRENDS:  The model takes a look at what is happening to the organization now, internally and externally.  These trends are listed via a brainstorming session, and then prioritized by the group. 

 

OPPORTUNITIES:  Here we look at what opportunities exist within the trends of what is happening to the group.  It asks what kinds of positive things can be accomplished?

 

CONSTRAINTS:  Then the model visits the things holding the group back – the constraints that keep you from achieving the opportunities.

 

MISSION:  The group revisits (or establishes) its mission in light of the trends, opportunities and constraints.   A mission is a calling – what you are all about, the bottom line.

 

VISION:  Then, fifth, with the opportunities in mind, a vision is established for the group – worded in present tense language, compatible with the group’s mission, giving a picture of where the group is, and what the group will look like (in the future).

 

VALUES: The group reaffirms (or establishes) its values as a group. The combined Mission, Vision and Values statement should pretty well tell the outside world just who you are, what you stand for, and where you’re headed.  Values are usually one-liner, one or two word phrases.

 

GOALS:  Now we get into specific planning.  Goals are broad, overarching targets that the group wants to achieve in the long run.  Goals take the mission apart (symbolically) and put it back together one piece at a time.

 

STRATEGIES/OBJECTIVES:  Objectives are more specific than Goals, and are designed to help achieve the Goals.  Objectives are worded with an action verb as the first word (such as provide, accomplish, do, take, enlist, etc.).  You can choose to use the word “Strategies” or “Objectives” at this juncture of the planning.   “Strategies” are the foundation of Strategic Planning.

 

ACTIONS:  This is where the rubber meets the road (or the track meets the snow).  Actions are the “who, what and when” elements of the plan.  These are specific “to do” lists, with names attached, that fit together to accomplish each Objective.

 

SUMMARY MATRIX: This is the final listing of the Action Items (tied to the Goals and Objectives), by name, of the “who, what and when,” listed in a tickler format (Excel or other spreadsheet) that helps someone keep track of who is doing what by when at one quick glance.

 

Obviously, this is not the only path to a strategic plan; but it is one that has worked in the past.  The plan is usually developed in the sequence as noted above.  First the Mission is clearly outlined and agreed to.  This is the same as purpose or calling or aim in life.   The Mission identifies the customer and the organizational core services and functions.  This needs to be done before the Vision can be developed.

 

The Vision is a futuristic look at the organization.    It is the image or conception of what the organization looks and thinks like.  The “visioning” process has been refined over the years into what is sometimes called “futuring.”

 

Visions are usually worded in the present tense, although they paint a picture of the future as it should/could be.   A vision for Chrysler might read:  “Chrysler is the top rated automobile manufacturer in the world, with a highly diverse workforce of thoroughly competent professionals, who never produce a dud car!”

 

A Vision also establishes the playing field for future planning and goal setting.  All organizational goals should help lead to the Vision of the organization.  It becomes the “golden arches” of the organization.

 

Values outline the significance of the group -- the meaning, the beliefs of the organization.   The Values of a local four wheel drive club, for example, might include a statement like “we believe in responsible four wheeling and family fun.”   One would ask the question: “What do we believe in?” in order to determine Values.

 

Up to this point in the process, the background and “playing field” have been established.  Next it is time to set the goal posts -- the Goals.   Goals are worded in broad language, and are usually long term in nature.  Many times they are far reaching or all encompassing.  For example, for the Blue Ribbon Coalition, one Goal might read: “Have an active presence in every state by the year xxxx.” 

 

A Goal does not tell how to get there or what are the intermediate steps; it merely places a goal post out in front of where the organization is now.  The playing field was defined by the Mission, Vision and Values.

 

Given a goal, it is easy to figure out the strategies (usually called Objectives) needed to achieve that Goal.  Strategies (Objectives) can also be thought of as the scheme, or the system, or the “how to” get there steps.  They are the methods by which the Goals will be achieved.   Some example Objectives for the abovementioned Goal might read:

 

        *   Develop recruitment criteria and budgetary needs for state representatives.

*   Set up a test case state representative in California.

*   Establish a state rep in states with significant motorized recreation.

*   Develop a mail out campaign about BRC for nationwide distribution.

After Strategies/Objectives come Actions.  Actions put words into work.  These are the specific steps by which the Strategies will be achieved.  Continuing with the above examples, some Actions for the Strategy on the California state rep might read:

        *   Develop recruitment criteria and budgetary needs for Calif. state rep by 4/1/96 (Jim)

*   Adopt recruitment criteria and budget for test case state rep by 4/15/96             (Board)

*   Recruit and place Calif state rep by 6/1/96                             (Clark)

*   Provide progress report/update to Board on test case state rep by 11/1/96           (Joe)

 

Actions can be as detailed as needed to ensure that things will get done as per the group agreement.  But this is where the plan succeeds or fails.  These are the “tactics” that take the team down the playing field, around the obstacles and through the goal posts. 

Depending on how refined the Plan is, such things as Critical Success Factors and Performance Measures can be built in to provide ongoing feedback on the implementation of the Plan.  In other cases, just the Actions serve as a yard stick to determine if the Plan is in fact on track.

 

Once completed, the Strategic Plan must become a living and dynamic document that is updated and referred to regularly.  It should be shared with everyone in the organization.  It can be shared with partner organizations and supporters as well.  It should never collect dust on a shelf.  All future decisions and policies should be tied to the Plan.   It should serve much like a compass does to a back-woods traveler when a directional decision needs to be made.  It is brought out at the critical time before the wrong path is chosen.


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