1. Intent focused
2. A systems perspective
3. Thinking in Time
4. Intelligent Opportunism
These are the five elements that make up strategic thinking as described by Dr. Jeanne M. Liedtka, a faculty member at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business and former chief learning officer at United Technologies Corporation.
“You’re a strategic planning consultant? You must use Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions a lot.”
Sinking feeling. As I stood by the grill with a beer in my hand at a recent summer party, I couldn’t come up with even one of his apparently essential strategic questions
I mentioned some of the business thinkers we often draw on, like Jim Collins and Peter Block. My new friend nodded politely, but I was clearly speaking to a Drucker man. He told me how Drucker’s business frameworks had guided his successful career as a manager. How they were now helping him transform the effectiveness of the nonprofit board he served on.
I was eager to learn more when I got back to the office. Amazon is taking its sweet time delivering Drucker’s book, but in the meantime here are Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask Your Nonprofit Organization:
What is your mission?
Who is your customer?
What does your customer value?
What are your results?
What is your plan?
These are all questions we ask and answer in the course of strategic planning with our clients, although not in Drucker’s specific terms.
For instance, the word “customer” was once a refreshing shock to nonprofit sensibilities, a challenge to those who automatically disdained commerce and marketing. Later on, calling donors and clients “customers” became a cliché. When a useful term becomes a buzzword, it shuts down the good thinking it once may have stimulated.
But it’s been a while since Drucker’s heyday and “customer” seems to have dropped out of frequent use in the nonprofit world. So, maybe it’s time to bring the “customer” back into our strategic discussions.
In any case, I’m glad to be challenged to learn more about the amazing Peter Drucker and I’m looking forward to learning more about his Five Questions.
- A compelling vision of change. First and foremost, of how the world, your community will be different.
- The way. While setting an inspirational and meaningful goal is critical, without articulating your path to that goal you’ll not really being strategic, are you?
- The will. While plans are more than paper and the planning process itself should unleash new understanding and meaning, you have to believe enough in what you’ve committed to to start acting on your strategy in all you do.
- Leadership. This may or may not be a proverb, but I love this saying “the community goat starves to death.” Someone has to take ownership of the plan to move it forward. Hopefully, that’s your board. And your CEO. And each and every person in the organization.
- Courage. You’ve probably made some big stretches in your plan. To quote Francis Perkins:
“Most of man’s problems upon this planet, in the long history of the race, have been met and solved either partially or as a whole by experiment based on common sense and carried out with courage.”
If you are starting your strategic planning, here are a few other tips for you:
The bottom line: “93% of successful organizations report that strategic planning has ‘some to critical impact’ on overall success, whereas only 48% of low success organizations report such impact.” Association for Strategic Planning
At the center of strategic planning is the commitment to community outcomes or mission-based objectives. These objectives are backed up by a clear-headed understanding of the dynamics of the world you exist in, a thoughtful and evidence-based strategy for executing programs (or an experiment that you’ll learn from) and a plan for building the operational capacity and strategic partnerships that are your best shot at reaching those objectives.
If ever there was a book that could help improve strategic planning, it’s Decisive, How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.
According to the book, our usual process looks like this:
- We encounter a choice.
- We analyze our options.
- We make a choice.
- Then we live with it.
This sounds logical and familiar. Most of us would pat ourselves on the back for being so rational.
The problem, as the Heath’s point out, is that there is a fatal flaw at each stage:
- Narrow framing makes us miss other options when we encounter a choice.
- Confirmation bias makes us gather self-serving information.
- Short term emotions often tempt us into making the wrong choice.
- We’re overconfident about how the future will unfold and stick to one path once we’ve made our choice.
Luckily, the Heath’s suggest four strategies to counteract your biases. They sum them up in the acronym, WRAP: Read more
Whatever approach you use to create your nonprofit strategic plan, your board and directors need to be sufficiently involved to ensure their understanding, ownership and ability to champion a plan that increases your impact on your community. Here’s how to do that.
There are many ways to develop your nonprofit’s strategic plan. While it’s hard to say there is any right way to do strategic planning, here are a few elements of the process that I believe are essential to its success.
What leads to success in getting help from others? A well-defined question or set of questions, a spirit of sharing, careful planning so time is well-spent, an interesting group that also benefits from coming together, commitment to listening and learning, a focus on improvement, reciprocating and appreciating the extraordinary gift you’ve received. Oh yes, you also have to ask.
“It’s really not that complicated. The creative process is trying really hard to solve a problem.”
Isn’t that the essence of strategic planning?
While our missions aren’t necessarily problems, the goal of getting from where we are today to realizing our mission can be seen as a big puzzle that we are trying to solve. (Puzzle = problem). Whether we’re ending homelessness, or ensuring our kids graduate from school ready for success in life, or challenging and inspiring others through art – we are all seeking the best path to achieve our mission.