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Strategic Planning Basics

Strategic planning means different things to different people. There are some very specific ways of doing it and some very specific formats. Yet to simplify things, I figure that if you have something in writing with these three qualities, you can call it a strategic plan.

First, it’s a long term plan. A strategic plan is more than just the annual work plan, or the annual budget. It’s usually longer than a year. Two years, ten years, twenty years, it’s a longer range plan than is made on a day-to-day, month-to-month basis.

Secondly, it’s comprehensive. It covers all the different aspects of the organization. Not just the programs that you’re going to run, but also the administrative institutional stuff like board development if you have a board, staff development if you have staff. It also includes the financial plans for capital improvements. If you’re a non-profit, it includes the plans for fundraising, where you’re going to get the money, how you’re going to spend the money. How detailed you want to get is a matter of choice — goals, objectives, strategies, performance metrics, etc. — but it’s only strategic if it says at least a little bit about everything that the organization (or division of an organization) does.

Third, it’s not really a strategic plan if the leaders of the organization aren’t bought into it. It’s not okay for someone two levels down to make a plan for the whole organization and call it a strategic plan. A strategic plan needs to be embraced by whoever is in charge of making it happen.

Strategic planning is an opportunity to rise above the day-to-day operations and decision-making and look further to the future. It’s is a chance to take stock of big trends affecting your organization. It’s a chance to evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities; and make plans accordingly.

Many organizations invest in strategic planning every few years since the idea is to not wait for a crisis or a big decision that suddenly needs to be made. Even absent an apparent crisis or big decision to be made, taking stock of your situation and your surroundings makes you able to better anticipate the next big decision and prevent the next big crisis.

Strategic plans are useful for many reasons. Groups use their strategic plan to attract employees, investors, and donors. The plan gives potential partners of all types a good picture of where their organization is headed. Groups use the strategic plan as a way to hold key officers/employees responsible and accountable. It’s an excellent tool for both accountability and for celebrating progress. Groups use the strategic planning process to work through and make hard decisions. Also the process is very useful for gathering input from stakeholders and taking a good look at the environment in which you exist. For many, actually, it’s the process that’s most valuable.

Whatever your reason for strategic planning, it’s important to spend the right amount of effort; that is, in right proportion to the amount of benefit you’re going to get from it. Strategic planning has a bad reputation in the world because so often strategic planning efforts are not right-sized. The biggest complaint is that strategic planning is too involved and requires too much effort in proportion to any good that might come from it. Another complaint is that planning is way too vague or based on too many assumptions, to the point of being useless.

To maximize reward for your participants, know at the outset why you want a plan and don’t push people through a process that’s too complicated or too simple to get what you need.

Let your life speak

I know I’m out there. I’m big on Facebook and email and I usually don’t mind being the center of attention. And I love to tell stories. Mostly about me! And what I experienced. And how I see things. Haha. It’s true.

Maybe it’s because I’m straight up self-centered and need attention. Yup. I can own that. I was born an extrovert, over-confident, and as a kid I was encouraged to go first and show off. Yet there are other reasons.

For one thing, I’m amazed at myself! Really. I am honest-to-god tickled-pink at some of the stuff I can do. This is not arrogance, this is me being in awe of my creator. Have you read The Body by Bill Bryson? He describes MY body and it’s amazing. Yours too. I brought a message to my Quaker Meeting about this. Listen here if you want. It’s called Marvel and Gratitude for What’s on Board.

I truly walk around in a daze of marvel at the world around me. When I see a beautiful sunrise or a forest ski trail, or when I pull off a new song or a fence repair, I want to share my awe. What you see on Facebook is “Look at me. Look what I can do.” But what I’m thinking is “Look what a human can do. Even this human!” My marvel and gratitude overflows and spills out in posts.

Secondly, it’s a Quaker thing — let your life speak — one of our core testimonies. It’s about not just saying stuff but doing stuff. Societal change comes about because of how we live our lives, not because of what we say or think or wish for. Quakers do stuff.

Not only that, while doing good things it helps to show others what you’re doing. Demonstrate. Model. “Let your light shine” is a related Quaker tenet. Something worth believing in is worth acting on. Yet I can be of even greater service to my fellows when I demonstrate my beliefs; when I show what they look like in action. Is it bragging to strut your stuff and say here’s who I am and here’s how I do stuff? I think it depends on intention. For what purpose art thou saying look at me?

We are each a blend of reasons for how we are in the world. I am some blend of some of the above, bumbling along in my over-confidence hoping others might learn from my follies.

What I’m really trying to say is that no matter who you are, if you are truly grateful for the miracles within you than it’s okay to shine. Sharing your awe – even about yourself – is a good way to act on your gratitude. Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket. Let your life speak so the rest of us can marvel at what you can do and who you are.

America is great because of slavery

Not saying it’s great we had slavery, but that slavery helped make our economy the greatest in the world. Let’s just say it.

You might think that American ingenuity made us great. Or capitalism. Individualism. Entrepreneurship. Sure, those contributed. And many other things too. Yet during black history month – all the time actually – let’s remember that slavery also made us great. Millions of slaves picked cotton and worked fields to grow American wealth. I believe we are still coasting on that momentum today and we owe a reverent debt of gratitude to the black people who came before us and paved the way for our prosperity.

Did you know that over 30,000 ships came to the Americas with slaves as cargo? Did you know that the United States had nearly 4 million slaves at the time of the Civil War? That’s a lot of free labor.

This graphic depicts a simple four-fact history of how black people contributed to the US economy, and how they have been deprived of it opportunities.

When I worked at the Maine Development Foundation many years ago I was asked to research economies of other states and the world and try to find correlates to economic growth; that we might uncover some secret to apply here in Maine. What I found is that economic growth is often correlated with wealth disparity. The bigger the difference between the rich and the poor, the more likely it is that the economy will grow.

How shall we measure the greatness of a country? What should be our goal? How about a company or a nonprofit or a city or a state or any group at all? What should be the measure of greatness?

Rather than overall economic output, for me the measure of greatness is creativity, sustainability, and overall happiness. Those things are way more important to me than material wealth. I am usually hired by groups not to help them get richer but to get happier. Bosses want their people to get along better and love their jobs more. You might be rich but are you happy? That’s what I think matters most: people’s happiness.*

We could ask this of America today: “America, you seem rich but are you happy?” I’m afraid of the answer.

For me, I love the Mahatma Ghandi quote: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” I think this applies to all groups.

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* Easy for me to say because I have money. I am privileged. I’m simply naming that for a person who does not have money and you ask, “What’s more important, money or happiness?” they might answer differently than me.

And here’s a time lapse animation of the voyages of 31,166 slave ships over 200 hundred years from 1660 to 1866. It’s backed up by a searchable database.

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