Here’s what you need to do during a strategic planning session. During the session, it’s important to set the context for the session and get everybody up to speed on who you are as an organisation. What we did at a strategic planning session I facilitated the other day was we pulled out the old vision statement. We went through the bylaws in the constitution and revisited the vision statement.

For some of the directors, it was the first time they had seen the vision statement. That is surprising to some and not surprising to others. The first thing you want to do is go through the vision statement and make sure that number one, everybody understands the vision. Number two, make sure everybody agrees with the vision. As it turned out a the strategic planning session I facilitated the other day, not everybody agreed on the vision.

They did in principle, big picture but there were some specific words that they felt were either redundant, unnecessary or incorrect. We spent some time tweaking modifying and improving the vision statement and the room was pumped.

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Vision Statement

A lot of people get vision and mission confused. A vision by definition is your view or image of the future. It’s not what’s happening right now, it’s not your goals that you need to achieve today or even tomorrow, it’s your dreams, your image of the future, almost like a perfect world.

In the not-for-profit sector, what we’re talking about is when your job is done, when you’ve achieved all of your goals what will the world be like? What will your members say? What will your constituents say? What will your stakeholders say and do and live? What will it be like? That’s a vision statement.

Mission Statement

The mission statement is a bit different. If the vision is the vision or the image of the future. The mission is what you need to be doing day-to-day. What do you need to be working on? What drives you? What are some of these objectives on a day-to-day basis?

They’re still somewhat aspirational but they’re a bit closer to home than your vision.

Key Elements of a Strategic Plan

Here are some elements of strategic planning. The strategic plan should be compelling. It can’t be something like the office needs a fresh coat of paint or we need to get some new chairs for the boardroom. That is not high-level planning, that’s not high-level thinking. It’s not the work that you as a board were called to do. What I encourage you to do is to really think of a compelling plan, something that gets you excited, even something maybe a little bit scary. That’s when you know that you’re onto a compelling plan. Also try to think about a time horizon of anywhere between two, three and five years.

Long Term Plans

One of the challenges that a lot of boards face or mistakes that they make is they come up with a strategic plan that’s only a one year plan. If it can be achieved in just one year or one term, there’s really no continuity. There’s no long-term and there’s really nothing for the new board to run with and help you reach those long-term goals.

What I encourage you to do is to come up with a three to five-year plan. Something aspirational, something visionary, something compelling, something that’s really going to involve not just your existing leadership but perhaps the next one. You start it. You lay the foundation and then they can keep it going for years and years to come, to realise that vision.

strategic planning session

You also want to think about staying high level. We’re talking 50,000 feet. Imagine an airplane as 50,000 feet up, then the committee level is around 25,000 feet. At the committee level there’s still some strategy but a lot of execution. Closer to ground level, that’s more the staff level at 10,000 feet.

A bit of strategy but a whole lot of execution and a whole lot of implementation. At your strategic planning session, you guys are up at 50,000 feet. Please stay there, don’t worry about how are we going to do this. The session is about the what and the why.

3-7 Goals

During your strategic planning session you’ll want to come up with between three and seven goals. Anything less than that and you haven’t pushed yourself. Anything more than 7, I’m not sure it’s manageable.

You may not have the resources, in terms of time, money, effort, staff or whatever to actually see these things through and then you might end up feeling overwhelmed, dejected and quit. You don’t want that. If you just focus on three to seven strategic goals that you can bring forward and work on for the next three to five years. Wow, you’ve accomplished something.

Implementation Plan

This is where a lot of groups struggle and fail, is they don’t have an implementation plan. How are you actually going to get this done, some call it deployment or execution. I call it implementation.

You’ve set the policy now, you’ve got to implement the policy. The first thing you need to do is you need to make a decision. Who is going to do what? By when? Here’s something that I find useful and this is what we did with Scw’exmx the group I worked with the other day, is once we nailed down those goals, of which we came up with 6 which, we then decided to assign a goal champion or a goal ambassador. Someone that’s responsible for taking that goal forward to the next step.

Strategic Planning Session Recap

Tip 1: Get everybody up to speed on how the organisation is doing. One way is by pulling the organisation’s vision statement and mission statement and make sure everybody is up to speed with it.

Tip 2: Establish a compelling strategic plan with three to eight long-term goals, a span from three to five years.

Tip 3: Establish an implementation plan, and assign goal champions that will be responsible for taking the goal(s) to the next step.

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Strategic Planning with AMC

If you need a facilitator to help with your next strategic planning session, drop us an email. We’ll be happy to go over different options with you to make sure your next strategic planning session is a huge success.

About Tom (TJ) Abbott

Tom (TJ) Abbott, CSP is the Managing Director of AMC NPO Solutions and an authority on Governance. He has over 25 years experience as CEO, President and board director of several not-for-profit organizations. Tom has also spoken in over 20 countries.

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