Guest Blogger Marta Siberio: The toughest moments in the strategic planning process

Today guest blogger Marta Siberio continues her series on the strategic planning process with some advice on navigating the difficult moments of any strategic planning process. 

A well-designed and managed strategic planning process is valuable, and it can be fun! However, there are always tough moments. Here are some of the most common--along with some ways to navigate them successfully:

Making choices:  It is often very difficult for organizations to focus on a few key things in designing a strategy. During times of great uncertainty, it can be even scarier to limit an organization’s scope. Further, the prospect of ending programs or initiatives is usually loaded with emotion. At the same time, selecting strategic priorities is the key to increasing an organization’s impact. To help organizations through this difficult step, I usually offer the “rule of three:" transformative work is more likely to occur when energies and talents focus on no more than three things at once. I also remind participants that three years, the recommended maximum time span for any plan in our current faced-paced world, is a relatively short time, and the opportunity to focus on three new things will be here before they know it.

Sharing decision-making:  Deciding the organizational priorities, which services stay and which go, and how resources will be allocated are some of the high-level decisions made in planning processes. Deciding who will make these final decisions can be a difficult issue for organizations.  To what degree should staff or the Board to be involved? The answer depends on organizational culture. What is most important is to be clear and up-front with staff and Board about how their input will be used.

Reactions to change:  Throughout the strategic planning process it is common to encounter resistance, push-back and other behaviors that can be challenging. Most often these are presentations of people's psychological reactions to impending change. When not addressed in a productive fashion, these reactions can become roadblocks to creative, collective engagement. To help strategic planning groups through these potential roadblocks, I offer insights about theory of change, the need to acknowledge loss and normalize the process of adaptation to new realities.

Implementing the plan: Once the plan is done, there is usually a gradual realization that you have only just begun! But it’s important to focus on plan implementation immediately. After some modest period of rest, I like to suggest that organizations establish consistent and easy-to-follow processes to implement the changes and report on progress. It is only by applying your focused attention to the work that you increase the odds that you will actually follow your plan! I also like to encourage embracing the full time span of the plan. Spreading out the work over the full three years makes it more likely that it will actually get done.

Guest blogger Marta Siberio is the principal in Marta Siberio Consulting, which has provided organizational development and strategic planning services since 1993. You can read Marta's previous posts in this series, on the role of leaders during strategic planning, readiness for strategic planning, and the benefits of strategic planning.

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