This is the third in the series of blogs from Heyheyjoe looking at strategy in charities and non-profits. The previous two blogs were an overview on strategy from the management texts and sector bodies, and last time an overview of why strategy is so important. This blog looks at the process of creating a strategy and blog 4 will look at the sections, and the specific components of a strategic plan.
Ten things to do to prepare for a new strategy
1. Form a project group to drive the strategy. Perhaps the first thing to do in creating a new strategy is to create a group that will be the curators of the new strategy. The people who make sure the process is done right, the whole organisation is involved, the research is done about the internal and external worlds, and all that. The group should include people from the services team, the fundraisers, the HR team, the comms team, the finance team and of course the CEO’s team. Basically, the group should include the key teams from the organisation.
2. Review the last strategic plan. It sounds obvious but the first thing to do in creating a new strategy is to look at the last one. How did the format and sections work? What have people learnt about how the strategy was implemented, or the process of creating it? What is worth building on from the last time, and what would be good to change?
3. Rate progress in key priority areas since the last plan. One very specific area for review is what of the priorities that were promised, have been done, and what hasn’t worked. At its most fundamental a strategy is about setting out priorities and delivering them. How did that go?
4. Look at timings and key internal or external events on timing. A key issue about creating a strategy is the process. A process which has the time to engage staff and other stakeholders, to gain ownership, is vital. Strategies are not just about a few pages in a document – they are about what an organisation says and then does. Having the organisation feeling that the strategy reflects their views, and has stretching but achievable priorities is so important. So the timescale for creating a strategy should reflect that – somewhere between 6 and 12 months is probably about right.
5. Ask key internal groups what they are expecting from the strategy. Having identified the timings for a strategy, then the project team can ask the different parts of the organisation, what they would like to be the priorities for the new strategy. There is a bit of a chicken and egg about this: the CEO and trustees need to begin by setting out the kinds of things they are thinking about as priorities, then other teams can respond to that direction of travel. If a key priority is to become a remote-only organisation, or double the number of beneficiaries, then the different teams need to feed in what that would mean for fundraising, or staff and volunteers, or IT, etc
6. Compile overview of recent research about stakeholders. If there is a period of 5 years between strategies, then (hopefully) an organisation will have done quite a lot of research into what its stakeholders think and feel in that period. This could be staff or supporter surveys, beneficiary focus groups, public or parliamentary tracking and all sorts of other possible investigations.
7. Horizon scan the outside world for relevant info. What is happening in the outside world that might impact on your organisation and its strategy. What are other people who work in the same space as yours doing that might be relevant? There are a host of external factors that might impact on your organisation – find out what they are: cost of living, equality, diversity and inclusion, environmental, social and governance issues, interest rate rises, stock market movements, legislation, and so on. The list is probably long but no less important for that.
8. Research views of key internal stakeholders. The perceptions and experiences of internal stakeholders (staff, volunteers, trustees, clients/beneficiaries for example) is really important to the development of a strategic plan. What do they think about the organisation and its activities? Are staff happy about their experience of pay and conditions? Are volunteers joining or leaving? What services do beneficiaries need? Any strategic plan needs to know where internal stakeholders are at, and how they feel?
9. Research views of key external stakeholders. The perceptions and experiences of external stakeholders (funders, donors, the public, government, politicians, journalists to name but a few) will have a bearing on the organisation and how likely its’ strategy is to succeed. So find out what they think?
10. Give enough time to draft and redraft. A strategy doesn’t appear in a first draft, fully formed and perfect. It takes a while to get right. The drafting, getting feedback and revising isn’t an irritating chore. It’s a core and integral part of improving the strategy. While 10 drafts may indicate that something has gone wrong, 3-5 drafts of a strategy is the way to improve and refine. It shows that people are engaged and feel able to contribute to the final product.
All this could be put another way. Any organisation whose strategy was dreamt up by a CEO or Chair of Trustees, after a day working at home, and adopted with minimal discussion, is never going to have a great strategy. A great strategy is discussed, altered, cared about, owned, and improved by the process of creating.