I have been working on a draft document seeking to explain how a large not-for-profit organization can grow into the future, and do so by seeking funding from the government and the community. As I pondered ways this could be done I was brought back to my discussion here, and the research I conducted with LMI back in 2007.
Organizations that are most successful are “outcome focused.” That is, they know the outcome they seek to achieve and then they align their resources to meeting that outcome. As I wrote previously, outcomes as described by organizations (schools, businesses, government agencies) tend to be amorphous. They sound good, but are notoriously difficult to “nail down.” This then is the heart of the challenge:
“How do we convince others to commit resources to help achieve our ‘outcome’ if we cannot clearly define what that outcome will be?” Or, put another way, how do we know we are “there?” This ties directly back to metrics, and strategic planning.
Strategic planning is another one of those areas of business operations that tends to receive lip service but is viewed as creating a document that collects dust.1 Fortunately I have seen strategic plans that work. They work, by breaking out of the concept of a “plan” and becoming a “Process.”So what does a working Strategic process do?
1. A working strategic process provides the long term vision, or “outcome” that sets the tone and direction for the long-term success of the organization. Yes, this may be somewhat vague. The classic “Provide a nurturing environment where all employees feel valued.” But it won’t stop there.
2. A successful strategic process identifies tangible goals that are directly aligned with the long term vision.
3. Along with the tangible goals a successful strategic process will identify the tasks, or a “roadmap” that will outline the means to achieving the goals. This roadmap then becomes the basis for the metrics that will mark our progress towards our vision.
4. Finally, the strategic plan is something considered at all levels of the organization in daily decisions, is monitored regularly (ideally monthly), reviewed quarterly, and (again in an ideal world) updated annually.
So let’s drive this back to the initial point of discussion: how does this fit with raising resources?
A strategic process by its very nature should be directing the allocation of resources. Resources should be directed at achieving the vision of the organization, and providing the support for those supporting that achievement. Once you have identified the roadmap, you can identify the resources needed to achieve those goals, and from that identify the gaps in resources and funding.
Imagine the scenario now, with a solid strategic process in place, as one moves forward to seek funding. No longer as you asking for money to achieve an important, but broadly defined outcome. You are seeking funding for specific tasks–tasks that you are able to show are directly tied to achieving the outcomes your organization hopes to achieve.
This cuts to the heart of the human psyche–we are more willing to support those things where we can directly see the benefit. Why make it more difficult than it needs to be–let’s directly tie resources to activities to outcomes..
1. Actually, in my personal opinion another of the weaknesses of strategic planning in addition to focusing on the “planning” aspect of it is the degree to which consultants and academics over complicate the process. If you want a process to be successful, it needs to engage every member of the organization to varying degrees. To do that the process needs to be easy to understand, and easy to implement. This is not to imply that people are incapable of grasping a more complex process, but rather that this becomes something “in addition” to what they perceive as their job, and they will be less likely to devote their time to something that is seen as overly complicated and burdensome.