I wonder … how relevant is your current Board Strategic Plan? You may, of course, have a sparkling, succinct, highly relevant Strategic Plan, which has adapted to the challenges of the last year, and which sets out clearly your goals for the next few years, as well a roadmap and timetable for how you are going to achieve them – a Plan which is owned and known by all your stakeholders, who feel just as enthusiastic as you, and who are highly motivated to turn your collaboratively-sourced ideas into reality … if so, please don’t feel any need to read further. In fact, definitely stop reading now – you might become overwhelmed by your complacency, and that probably isn’t good for your health.
If, on the other hand, you have a nagging and lingering worry that your Strategic Plan is not quite up to scratch … in fact, where did you put it? Did you ever actually have a proper plan? … then now is the time to grasp the nettle and do something about it. I write having just participated in an uplifting and energising Strategy session with one of the charity boards I chair (watch out for the photos on Twitter!), and I wanted to communicate more broadly my key learnings, to support others in their quest to ensure that their organisations are well set up strategically for the next few years. So – here is my 3 step guide to creating a new Strategic Plan …
Step 1: give yourselves a break
If you don’t have a really good strategic plan, don’t fret. It is what it is; there is no point wasting time or energy in regret or blame. We are often being reminded that these past 12 months have been the most turbulent in the history of humanity since WWII; I think this should be enough to allow yourselves to give yourselves a break. You are where you are as an organisation; don’t look back – only look forward, and think about what you would really like from your Strategic Plan.
Step 2: set a date, and then plan for it
A date in the diary is a marvellous stimulation for action. Work out when you think you can all get together, ideally avoiding evenings, when you are more likely to be depleted of ideas at the end of a long work day. If it has to be a couple of hours at the weekend, so be it – this is not something you will make a regular event, and if this is what it takes to get you all together and focused, do it. Once you have a date, plan for it – and, in this planning, start where you are. The shelves of bookshops groan with the weight of ‘how to’ business books, each of which will set out its own approach to strategic planning; only you as an organisation know where you need to start, however, and what will be of most use to you. Do you need to revisit your old Strategic Objectives and update them? Or do you need to re-evaluate where you are headed as an organisation, and what you want to achieve? Perhaps you have had a number of new Board members and you need to re-establish what your organisation does (and could or should do)? In any case, plan carefully, make sure someone (typically the Chair, but not necessarily) leads it, and that everyone has plenty of time in advance to prepare their own thoughts to bring with them to the meeting.
Step 3: remember that the plan is only a beginning
‘Aye, there’s the rub’ … in fact, your Strategic planning meeting almost certainly will only be a beginning. There is a very simple reason for this – like governance (about which I have written extensively in the past), strategic planning is not actually something which can be ‘achieved’ or ‘completed’; it is a constant process – of checking, nurturing, re-evaluating, adapting … and yes, this is so much easier to do when you have some clear objectives in writing, which you can use as a base point. Do not imagine, however, that the creation of a written plan will happen after a single brainstorming session; and even if it did, if you are doing your job properly as Board members, you should be looking at this plan regularly, asking how it is progressing, and making sure that it is still relevant. Static plans are – I might argue! – artificial constructs. Admittedly, they make it easier for reporting mechanisms to function; in an agile, nimble organisation which seeks to make change happen in an increasingly fast-moving world, it is a fair bet that you are going to have to keep looking at and re-evaluating your strategic plan, while not losing sight of the central aims of your organisation, and while creating a stable enough environment for your executive team. Whoever said that the work of a Board member was easy?!
Anyway, the essential message of this article is that you can do it. Start with Step 1 today …
Dr Helen Wright is a Board Chair, Education Advisor and Executive Leadership coach. She currently chairs 4 Boards and regularly advises Boards and Board members about best practice in Boards, focusing on pragmatic and effective solutions.