Strategic planning is a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future.
Great Organizations have Great Plans
In simplest terms, an organization undertakes strategic planning to reaffirm or modify its mission – why it exists, what its purpose is, what it now does – and to agree on its vision – what it wants to be and do in the coming years. The purpose is not to decide what should be done in the future but to decide what should be done now to make desired things happen in an uncertain future.
In short, strategic planning is a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future.
The real value of strategic planning in a school is more than simply the outcome of having a blueprint that guides future leadership decisions. It is a powerful and effective way to build consensus and motivate resource support, and is particularly useful in defining priorities for the Board, the Head of School, and administrative team who are charged with the implementation of the plan.
Pitfalls of Strategic Planning
How many times has your organization embarked on a strategic planning process, only to build a plan that ends up on the shelf? If your organization is like many others, it's because they have failed to avoid the major pitfalls of strategic planning. The main pitfall of planning is falling into the delusion that planning can determine outcome. Planning cannot guarantee the outcome you want. Instead, it can help you to achieve something integral to any future success, readiness to face the challenges that chance presents.
Rule number one for coping with pitfalls is to know what you're up against. Here's our list of 10 major pitfalls to avoid ensuring your strategic planning effort is successful.
1. Not planning
2. Not including key people in the planning effort
3. Planning before undertaking a “Situation Assessment”
4. Developing a Mission Statement first
5. Confusing goals and objectives
6. Measuring activity instead of results
7. Jumping straight to strategies after developing objectives
8. Not developing detailed action plans for strategies
9. Not gaining buy-in before implementing the plan
10. Not monitoring and revising the plan
Seven Critical Benefits of Effective Plans
Planning consumes resources, a precious commodity for private schools. As a process that defines the direction and activities of the organization, it can be an overwhelming and daunting task. Despite the overwhelming nature of the process, the benefits of planning can far outweigh the hardships. The time devoted to the planning process varies from organization to organization and depends on the resources available to devote to the process. Whether you decide to devote only a 2-day retreat to the process or engage in a 12-month process, your organization will begin to realize the benefits right from the start.
Some of the fundamental benefits to the planning process and the development of the final plan include:
1). Articulates a uniform, shared Mission and Purpose: When the underlying mission of the organization its basic purpose is brought into question. Any thought of changing the basic mission of an organization unquestionably calls for a strategic plan.
2). Organizational Uncertainties and Crisis Management: Private Schools often have to deal with changing circumstances around them and make adjustments less critical than a fundamental mission change. Although the purpose may stay the same, the environment is changing, calling for modifications in how the organization does things to achieve the mission.
3). Creates a Framework and Direction that Guides Decision Making: Boards, Heads, and staff need a comprehensive and understandable basis for day-to-day decision making and yearly operational plans/budgets. Decisions in governance and management are more reliable when made deliberately, with full examination of possible future consequences, within the framework of priorities, in accordance with the organization’s needs.
4). Foundation for Fundraising: A successful fundraising program rests on both a realistic determination of funding needs and a persuasive statement of why people should contribute financial support. Strategic planning is requisite, especially for organizations that are embarking on a major capital campaign for bricks and mortar or endowments. Comprehensive planning is one of the key marks of readiness to undertake the commitment that such campaigns require – major donors are expecting this.
5). Allocate Resources-to-Opportunities: All organizations must shepherd their resources and constantly be vigilant in expending their revenues and assigning personnel. Board members have a fiduciary role in financial responsibility. Strategic planning enables boards to enact logical resource allocation over longer periods of several budget cycles, and yearly strategic financial plans.
6). Tool to Monitor Performance and Achievement: Criteria against which to measure and evaluate how well an organization and/or individuals are doing are established through strategic plans. There is no way to tell whether an organization is achieving its mission unless somewhere those purposes are clearly stated and measured.
7). Organizational Effectiveness and Commitment: Private schools function as a team; boards, administration, and staff. The process of planning puts a spotlight on team effectiveness. Particularly revealing is the focus it puts on board leadership; measuring board commitment, fulfillment and belief in the mission (not just today’s problems), board support and oversight of staff; and any micromanagement or blurring of boundaries and/or channels. Planning can strengthen the organization’s fabric, becoming the adhesive of an emerging team effort.
Eleven Secrets to Making Your Plan Work
1). Carefully select the members of your planning team. Use 2 criteria for selection –make sure you include those who can, and will, contribute positively to the content of your resultant plan; and secondly make sure you also include those who are positioned to drive the successful implementation of the strategies within the plan. That means leaders both formal and informal.
2) Remember that strategic planning is more than an event, it’s a process. Once you’ve developed the plan, your work is just beginning. Implementation is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time and resources. Make sure you take implementation seriously. Integrate your plan into the day-to-day operation of your organization, the yearly agenda for the board, the “charge” for the committees; even the Head’s and Board’s yearly goals for evaluation.
3). Educate your administrators to the strategic planning process. Make sure they all understand the definitions and the importance, of terms like “mission” and “goals.” And make sure they all understand the critical role they play in both strategy development and implementation.
4). Involve employees beyond those on your planning team. Ask them for help. Have them participate in pre-planning surveys to “bubble up” issues for discussion at your up-coming strategy sessions. And be sure to offer them feedback on the outcome of those sessions. Remember, asking for their input implies a promise to feed back. If you forget that feedback, they’ll feel cheated.
5). Gather applicable information prior to your strategy sessions. Have your planning team think through the issues you’ll likely discuss at your up-coming strategy sessions and decide on the information they’ll need to deal with those issues and arrive at strategic decisions. Then, prior to your strategy sessions, gather and share that information among the members of your planning team.
6). Hold your strategy sessions away from your place of work. Avoid the interruptions and distractions that often arise when planning team members’ offices are “just down the hall.” It’s too easy to step down the hall to check a message, and return much, much later.
7). Allow enough time for your strategy sessions. Strategic thinking involves thoughtful discussion. This simply takes time. Those who rush, end up with inferior plans.
8). Encourage open communication. If you’re the leader, you’ll play the most difficult role in the process. For you’ll walk the fine line between being an active participant and coming across as “too strong.” As the boss, you’re in a position of leadership. Others will simply hear your voice as a bit more loud than any of the others. Tone it down and encourage others to participate.
9). Communicate your strategy. Once you’ve developed your strategic plan, let your employees and stake holders know your plan. After all, they’re the one’s who will help with implementation. And don’t just tell them once. Tell them over and over again; put it into your communication documents; put up posters, hold annual progress meetings, involve them in the action plans and annual implementation reviews.
10). Keep your plan alive. Have your employees develop specific action steps (tactics) to implement your strategy. Monitor progress of those action steps at quarterly review meetings. Remember, it’s one thing to develop a strategy, and quite another to implement it. This is real work! You’ll need to manage it as such.
11). Link your strategic plan to your budgeting process. As part of your action plan development, estimate the resources required to accomplish all of the action steps; thus to implement the strategy. Those resources should include: people, money, facilities and equipment. These estimates feed nicely into the budgeting process. So your budgeting cycle should follow your strategy development and your action plan development.