DIY Strategic Planning

These days, everyone recognizes the value of planning. It's always important to have a clear vision and to chart a path to reach it. Defining an organization's mission, establishing the goals to fulfill that mission, and identifying the resources necessary to make it all a reality helps bring an organization together and gets everyone working in a common direction--a valuable outcome in and of itself.

However, as budgets tighten and dollars become scarce, many organizations are taking the DIY (Do It Yourself) approach to strategic planning; an approach which has its share of advantages, but is not without pitfalls. It is true that strategic planning isn't rocket science, but like any discipline it requires a level of expertise, an understanding of process, and the time to see it through to completion.

Having come in after many DIY planning initiatives to start over, pick up the pieces, or simply finish (just like the plumber cleaning up after the botched drain repair project), Zoo Advisors offers these observations and lessons:

  • A strategic plan should be about strategic and big picture thinking. Don't get stuck in the weeds of the day-to-day minutiae.
  • Make sure the planning process has commitment and buy-in throughout the organization, from the Board to senior leadership to the staff.
  • If a Board member or other volunteer offers to manage the planning, be sure they have the time to see it through to the end. Volunteer-led efforts tend to take twice as long as those led by a hired facilitator.
  • It's tough to lead a process and also participate in it--that's where an external facilitator comes in handy; they have no stake in the outcome and are trained to manage the process.
  • The facilitator should work to have everyone active and engaged in the planning and encourage open and candid communication.
  • If assigning a staff member to produce the strategic plan, give them the tools, time, and resources necessary to get it done right.
  • Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. It's difficult to get an outside perspective from inside. Ask outsiders for their input and ideas.
  • Those templates you see on the web are just that. Be careful of the cookie-cutter approach to planning for your organization.
  • Finish it. One of the biggest dangers of doing a strategic plan yourself is it always gets pushed to the back burner. Don't let writing the plan go on too long. Move to the fun part--implementing your new vision.

In the end, a successful strategic planning process needs a good facilitator. Whether it be an internal staff person, a board member, or an outside consultant, committing the appropriate resources is critical. The outcome is an invaluable tool which will guide the organization well into the future.