As we approach the traditional strategic planning season, this is a good time to think about what planning schedule is best for your agency. Over the past thirty years, I’ve led and/or participated in a multitude of planning retreats. If our experiences are similar, most planning events start on a Friday evening and conclude on Saturday afternoon. What a fantastic opportunity to get your board and management team together to discuss and plan for your agency’s future.
Most of you have experienced success in weekend retreats, and many have been a positive experience for your agency. Today, I’d like to discuss another option. Some of the most successful planning events I’ve led were the select few that did not take place over a single weekend; but spanned over a few months.
Developing your strategic plan over time (during a series of extended monthly board meetings for example) may be a better option for your agency. For many years, the weekend retreat has been the go-tomodel for most agencies, as most are quite successful. Let’s take a look at a few advantages of each model to help you consider the best approach for your agency.
Advantages of a weekend retreat:
- Bringing everyone together for a weekend to focus on strategy is time well spent; especially if you can travel. The greater the distance from the home office usually equates to less interruptions.
- Weekend retreats create a positive sense of urgency
- Time is of the essence. Why linger if we can hit the ground running on Monday?
- Nonprofit agency resources are razor-thin; this may be the only time of the year you can gather to focus on your strategy.
- There can be a great feeling of accomplishment when your foundation (vision, mission) are developed or reconfirmed, and a set of goals are created in just a couple days.
- A weekend retreat allows you the option to bring in expertise from anywhere in the country.
Advantages of a non-traditional planning schedule:
- With extended planning, we bring out everyone’s ideas to the surface. The one or two strongest personalities in your group may end up building your strategy. In my experience, the first to talk and the loudest speakers are often the narrowest thinkers. Your agency’s collective personalities may not allow for a day-and-a-half discussion and consensus of our agency’s future direction. There are usually a couple individuals on most teams who can run through the process of proposing, reviewing, challenging, and approving ideas in an afternoon. But, you have individuals on your planning team whose ideas are often revealed days or weeks after the group discussions. Quite frankly, these are the individuals who often bring the greatest substance to the agency’s long-term planning.
- Strategic plans are dynamic. The moment they are written, they are at risk of becoming obsolete. If your strategic planning is a process and not an event, you will find you are using your plan to your advantage, and less likely finding it collecting dust on the shelf.
- You avoid groupthink. When everyone is offsite, without external input, you are creating a de facto echo chamber. Groupthink may also override the impending exhaustion of the Saturday afternoon session. Extended planning allows you to research ideas and discuss them with other members of your staff, vendors, and your customers.
- You will have more time to discuss how your operation is positioned to support your new strategic goals. Goals execution requires changes in your operation, and these changes require the support of your process owners.
Your board members and volunteers put in many hours for your agency that cannot be easily measured. If you are going to take a weekend to gather the team, consider spending the time getting to know each other by hosting an event with, and maybe include a motivational speaker. When it comes to managing your strategic planning, take your time. Don’t rush. Make sure everyone has time to absorb the ideas and contribute to the success of your agency.
Admittedly, I’ve written this article with a bias toward a slower planning process. Ye ole rabbit and the tortoise might be the best analogy to consider when determining whether it’s best for your agency to plan our future in a few hours, or create a planning approach that keeps your plan dynamic, workable, and aligned to your operation.
I’ve had some amazing weekend planning experiences in my lifetime. It is a wonderful experience to spend a day or two with your colleagues, as you chart a new path for your agency. In the long-run, you’ll need to decide whether an event or a process is the best course of action to plan your agency’s future.
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