Strategic planning should be rewarding…not a chore. It should leave board members and staff re-energized and re-invested in the essential, life-changing work of your organization. And it should give everyone, particularly the Executive Director, a short-term direction for the next 12 months and a longer-term direction for the next 3 years.

Linked In features many comments on multiple tools for strategic planning including a basic SWOT (Strengths/Weakenesses and Opportunities/Threats) analysis, Lands Growth Curve (S-curve), EOS-Traction, Product-Market Matrix, and Force Field Analysis, etc. These may be exactly the right fit for some organizations. If you’ve never heard of any of these tools other than SWOT, don’t worry. In strategic planning, the issues organizations confront should be complex, not the tools! We don’t want board members and staff feeling stupid (and less likely to participate fully) because they are intimidated by a tool they don’t understand.

For the vast majority of organizations, a simple process is best so that the complexity of the organization’s work can be the focus. I believe strategic planning should focus on the triumvirate of mission, impact, and sustainability. The most important questions are: 1. What is our impact and what does our data teach us? 2. Do we need to course-correct with our mission, or programs and/or services to deliver more powerful impact for our clients & constituents? And, last, how do we guarantee our sustainability (i.e. our ability to guarantee our impact over the long-term)?

The strategic planning process should identify the 3 most important goals for the next 3 years, and break these goals down into the 3 most important action steps that can be taken in the next year. These should be revisited in a brief strategic plan check-in during a half-day retreat each subsequent year of the strategic plan. During this check-in, you will ask 1) Do we need to course-correct on our strategic plan? And 2. Identify the 3 most important goals and action steps for the coming year. This brief annual check-in is essential as course corrections may need to be made depending on a) what you learn as you implement the action steps, b) if things don’t go as planned, or c) if new issues/opportunities/threats have emerged in the past year.

Strategic Plan goals can also be assigned to board committees for discussion, progress check-ins, and review at regularly scheduled meetings so that there are sound issues to bring to the table at the annual check-in retreat. It’s helpful for brief strategic plan updates to be provided both verbally and in writing to the board and staff each month. Yes, each month. Action steps need to be kept in front of both board members and staff for effective implementation to occur.