Are Your Goals Strategic Enough?

An important aspect of your planning process is determining how far you want to stretch your goals. Some of the most common questions that arise during planning retreats (especially with nonprofit organizations – and I’ll get to that shortly) are “Are our goals strategic enough?”, “These goals don’t seem strategic enough to me.”, or “This might be too far into the future for us.” In each of these cases, the strategic stretch of one or more goals under consideration is being questioned. This is a natural part of goal setting. If these questions never arise, then the participants may be to apathetic, and are probably watching the clock to see when the event is going to end.

Struggling with the strategic stretch of your goals tends to be more common with nonprofit agencies, rather than during a typical business planning retreat. It’s not a negative issue, but rather a byproduct of the makeup of the participants. Think for a moment about the participants at your nonprofit agency’s planning retreat. The backgrounds are often quite diverse, with board members representing a variety of different industries, as well as members who are serving simply because they have a particular passion for the agency’s mission.

This diversity in our experiences and backgrounds allows us to bring a variety of perspectives to the planning table. However, with the exception of a couple very-active board members and staff, many of the participants spend no more than a few hours per month immersed in the agency’s activities, or may be first year volunteers who haven’t gotten enough experience under their belts to judge how far and how quickly we need to move the agency toward the vision. The combination of our different backgrounds and the varying amounts of time we spend with the agency can make it a challenge to find that strategic sweet spot.

Should you slow down or hit the accelerator? The first person I recommend you look toward when these questions arise is your executive director. The executive director is going to give you a perspective that reveals the operational efficiency of the agency. The more efficient your operation, the more time your executive director (who happens to be the de facto champion or co-champion for most goals) can spend working on more strategic issues.

There are some legitimate reasons goals seem to be more or less strategic in nature. Here are a few:

Goals that simply create other plans. These tend to be some of the first types of goals that frustrate individuals. However, there are times the development of a subplan is both strategic and critical. If your marketing or fundraising is stalled, and you don’t have a plan for either, then the development of a subplan is warranted. If you are authoring this type of goal statement, then make sure the goal incorporates the Key Performance Metrics (KPMs) the plan will address, when it will be deployed, and how it will be monitored and maintained.

Goals that get a little too close to the operation. These are the goals that need to be pushed off the table if at all possible. Operational goals do not normally move you closer to your vision. It is common for these types of goals to pop up during the planning event. When they do, it is simply an indicator that something in the operation is not hitting on all cylinders. Your executive director will normally assign responsibility to ensure these items are addressed. Keep in mind, these operational issues do have an impact on your overall strategy. Until they are addressed, you may find it difficult to complete some strategic goals in a timely manner.

New facilities. Often the cart-before-the-horse discussion. Do we need a new building to grow? Or, have we already outgrown our building? About half of the time a new facility goal is presented for discussion in a planning event, it is replaced with a goal that is more focused on understanding and managing growth.

Ambiguity. These goals aren’t goals yet. Just an idea that still needs to be flushed out. This means it’s probably time for a quick break, then readdress the issue when everyone is recharged.

When I facilitate a planning workshop, and the strategic nature of a goal is questioned, I like to have the group start by turning the heat up a bit (on the goal, not the room). Then, if necessary, back things down. What you should be looking for is a range of slight discomfort, which is an indication the goals are stretching you just enough to keep your attention without having your staff start emailing their resumes first thing Monday morning.



About Ron Woodbury

Owner and Founder of Ron Woodbury Consulting.