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From an Expert: Easy Steps to Activate Your Dead Strategic Plan

I recently had someone tell me that strategic planning was dead. When I asked them if their organization had a strategic plan, they quoted former CEO of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, “We have a strategic plan, its called doing things.” And I know many of you just nodded in agreement with that statement. 

The truth is, strategic planning has gotten a bad wrap. Too many of you have a strategic plan sitting on a shelf. Others have a strategic plan that was beautifully designed and printed — and it becomes obsolete months later. 

Here are the top four reasons why strategic plans fail:

  1. You didn’t include enough stakeholders. It is important to gather information from board, staff, donors, and your community. You cannot sit in a board meeting or an office and write a plan.
  2. You forgot to dream. A strategic plan is not the same as an operational plan. Ask yourself a big, scary question and dream what can be. 
  3. You locked yourself in a room and wrote the plan yourself. For a plan to be successful, you must involve others. In its highest state, strategic planning is nothing more than a process to drive consensus around a forward motion.
  4. There wasn’t any implementation planning. Goals and objectives are great, but you have to live the plan day to day. If it doesn’t fit into your daily work than it is the wrong plan. 

So what can you do? Here are four easy steps:

  1. Unearth your current plan and ask:

    1. Does it give you goose bumps?
    2. Could you ask your best donor to invest in it?
    3. Is it still relevant in 2014?
    4. Do you base your board and committee meetings around the initiatives?
  2. Get inspiration from others. Sometimes you need to see someone’s goals to make sure you are dreaming large enough. Check out these inspirational and beautiful plans. For more information, tips and tools on strategic planning, visit my Strategic Planning Pinterest Board.
  3. Jump start it! Use this action plan to jump start your initiatives. The action plan is a great tool to hand off to committees charged with implementing initiatives. 
  4. Print out a calendar and map it. If you have a good plan, but it isn’t being executed, it likely needs to be added to your calendar. Print out 12-24 months on the calendar and cut your plan into pieces and start placing it on the calendar being mindful of staffing and finances. Get buy-in from those assigned with the tasks. 

Rather than finding inspiration from Herb Kelleher, I am instead motivated by Greg S. Reid, “A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.” Here’s to making your dreams come true. 


From An Expert guest blog post by Sarah Milston of The Spark Mill providing services for people and organizations who design change, focusing on fundraising, strategic planning, retreats, marketing, organizational development as well as team and board development. 

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