Strategic planning is important to any organization, whether that organization be for-profit, non-profit, or governmental. A strategic plan guides an organization’s actions in order to achieve its mission or its vision. But ultimately, the plan is just a piece of paper if the stakeholders can’t use the plan to make programmatic decisions. I have been involved in two strategic planning processes, first with a theatre company I managed and recently a small program on campus. Both processes were completely different, and I can only say that one of the processes was successful.
The strategic plan for the on-campus program was the more successful of the two processes. Each planning session drove home the idea of a shared vision. As noted in The Real Value of Strategic Planning, the process and resulting plan enabled the group to make effective decisions that would further the vision and goals of the program. A key factor in the success was that it did not take place in a vacuum, specifically that more than just the top management should participate in the process. The campus program was small enough that the majority of the staff, senior and otherwise, was able to contribute in an effective manner. The small group session ensured that everyone had his or her voice heard in a meaningful way.
Short and focused meetings were another element of success for this process. The staff members didn’t feel as if their time was being wasted. This made the meetings meaningful. Not only did the group come away with an actionable plan that provided clear goals along with outcome measurements, but the program staff also walked away with a shared vision that was not completely present at the beginning of the process.
The strategic planning process in which I participated for the theatre company broke almost every guideline described in The Real Value of Strategic Planning. The planning committee was compromised of stakeholders in the company, but many of those stakeholders were not key. In this case, key stakeholders would have been board members and the acting company. These two groups were underrepresented. The committee was too large. Not everyone was able to have his or her input. Those who did get the opportunity to speak often rambled on, digressing from the topic and offering nothing of meaning. However, it was hard to have meaning as there was never an agenda for the meeting so nothing progressed. The executive director wanted things to happen more organically, but the meetings lasted longer than the allotted time. At the end, the company was left with no plan and no clear idea of anything that had happened in the meetings.
Strategic planning is important to the life of an organization. But the process has to be conducted in an effective manner that moves things forward. The people involved need both to give and get something from the process.