PMA Consulting, LLC

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Strategic Planning: Where Are You?

Throughout 2013 on the PMA blog, the firm will be sharing its unique methodology for strategic planning, informed by many of the great discoveryprocessthinkers on the subject and projected through a prism of the challenges facing nonprofits in the Carolinas.  PMA’s seven-step process to strategic planning ensures that hard data and creative ideas are married with the voices of multiple constituencies, leading to a plan that has the buy-in of those whose backing will be needed for success. If you have missed any of the posts so far, then catch up right now!

Getting Started – There never seems to be an opportune time to engage in a substantial planning effort, and yet the longer it gets put off, the more an organization may suffer from broken processes that are disconnected from community trends.  So, how does your organization undertake the effort?

Setting Expectations – With volunteer and staff leadership committed to charting a course for the future, an organization is primed for an exciting period of discussion and decision-making.  But nothing ruins a strategic planning process more effectively than an ill-defined process that fails to prepare participants for the journey ahead.  When the conversation stops being about the organization but instead the process itself, you know your planning has gotten off track.

Discovery + Defining the Issues – Once an organization has set expectations for how its own strategic planning effort will engage participants, the next critical stage is engaging in a discovery process to aid in defining the issues the process will explore.  A big mistake made by many organizations is a rush into discussion, forgetting that those around the table are not working from the same understanding.

Benchmarking – Metrics vs. Strategies – We’ve heard it said before that benchmarking can be counterproductive to strategic planning.  Just as board members and senior staff are sitting down to think creatively, statistics about what is happening at other organizations are introduced, and the group instantly begins to narrow its thinking.  Instead of rethinking the way you do business, you’re instead focused on incremental improvements.

Gathering Data – If you engage a strategic planning facilitator, the gathering of data will have been an important part of discovery and defining the issues, which we covered in a previous post.  Once the planning effort has been structured, it is important to go back and compile information in a usable format for the individuals who will be doing the planning, providing them a useful overview of each topic.  This is sometimes called an “organizational assessment” or “current conditions assessment.”

Convening Voices – As we’ve covered in previous blog posts, the pre-planning work to ensure an effective process can take weeks or months of preparation.  For a strategic planning effort to have teeth, it is necessary to invite organizational leadership to engage in discussion about key questions.  A strategic plan developed independently, by a handful of staff members, is unlikely to have the buy-in necessary to make it happen.  External voices are needed.

Drafting the Plan – So what about the actual plan itself?  We haven’t addressed that yet intentionally – before putting pen to paper, the process needs to be informed by all the steps that have come before.  You’ll be ready to start drafting your plan roughly half-way through the period of convening voices, providing ongoing framework for your planning entities to begin putting the pieces together.

Launching Implementation – A classic mistake of strategic planning is expecting the same group of people who helped you clarify high-level vision and goal-setting to roll up their sleeves and create the tactical implementation plan as well.  In reality, that group is likely to be running out of steam and glad to be rounding the corner with an end to the planning process in sight.  It’s not that the strategic planning process is a tremendous burden; rather, it is important that you reward those individuals who have likely been working together for several months with a rest.  Congratulate them on a job well done, but encourage them to stay close as you look to launch implementation.

Look for more information in our Strategic Planning series in the coming months:

October – Marketing Your Plan

November – Measuring Success

December – A Final Word on Strategic Planning

For more information on how to utilize PMA for your strategic planning process, contact Patton McDowell at