I’ve been thinking alot recently about Strategic Planning in a time of recession (in other circumstances, I have used this process with schools, school districts, non-profit organizations, government agencies here and abroad, and a few private sector organizations; my favorite of these was the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) back in 1994):
An economic recession is not the time to shrink back in fear and hesitate to act, nor is it the time to act reactively, spasmodically, thrusting out into the markets with every new idea that it seems might produce income, nor is it the time just to continue to do what we’ve always done only harder with fewer resources. It is, however, a time to hug to one’s core sense of purpose, the values at the heart of one’s work, be clear about the knowledge one has and needs, and act in powerful, innovative, carefully focused, yet also risky ways, to create new opportunities. In effect, it is a time to act with wisdom.
Wise organizations have increased their capacity for deep reflection, self-knowing, being purposeful, and acting in knowledgeable ways that are rigorously focused, galvanizing, and motivating to employees. Having delved deeply into who they are, what they value, and what their purpose is, they are better able to engage with the work they decide to do coherently and efficiently, to take risks to be innovative with clarity of purpose and alignment of action. They are also better able to state to the world who they are and what they offer.
I believe that a Strategic Planning process should enable an organization to act with more wisdom. Most approaches I know are mostly technical/rational processes that examine various kinds of data about the current situation in terms of strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes also threats and opportunities, see what the “gaps” are, and develop some goals and strategies around those gaps. Rarely does that sort of process truly focus and inspire and galvanize action broadly across an organization; usually the resulting document sits on a shelf until the next round five years later. It does not usually enable an organization to act with more wisdom.
The sort of Strategic Planning process I help my clients engage in starts with looking inward, into the heart of who the organization is, into its stories and myths, examining the most meaningful of its artifacts and experiences, to mine from those the values and sense of purpose that lie at the center, the core, of the organization’s being. This is not a technical process, but a shared meaning making process. It is about reinvestigating who we ARE as an organization, at our core.
Next the process examines the consequences of that inward look to clarify or reframe the organization’s Mission, as in, given these values and this purpose, what do we actually DO as an organization? This is a place to be rigorous. How does who we are determine (not just influence) what we do, in the big sense? ….