Many organizations are launching new strategic planning efforts. Some have resources, others do not. To support the strategic planning efforts of your organization I have interviewed a strategic planning guru, Jonathan Kaufman, and wanted to share his insights and strategies below.
Jonathan Kaufman is co-founder & Principal of Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies. In this role, Jonathan collaborates with nonprofits and social entrepreneurs all over the world, helping them expand and deepen their impact. He specializes in business and strategic planning, metrics development, community and millennial engagement, and impact assessment for a wide array of Third Plateau’s clients.
Daniel: How has your thinking evolved about strategic planning since your first strategic planning process?
Jonathan: It's been a long time since our first strategic plan and our thinking and process have evolved immensely. One of the biggest ways in which it's changed is around transparency. Our old approach was to work with a very small team of leaders at an organization, go through the whole process, and then come back to the rest of the stakeholders (staff, board, program participants, partners, funders, etc.) with a "finished" product. While that process was efficient and nimble, it failed to create a sense of ownership across the entire organization, which inevitably hampered the organization's ability to implement. Now, we prioritize transparency throughout the process and as a result are seeing organizations much better poised to drive impact.
Daniel: Given the rapid pace of change, is the “3-5 year” strategic plan still important?
Jonathan: Absolutely! In fact, we believe that organizations need multi-year strategic plans because of the rapid pace of change. Organizations have to know how to weather storms, how to identify new opportunities, and when to pivot; that’s exactly what a good multi-year strategic plan offers.
Daniel: What makes a good strategic plan?
Jonathan: Good strategic plans are not a prescribed list of actions, nor are they are blueprints for the future. So much of what an organization is going to face is unknown, so it’s pointless to try and plan for every possible scenario. We often jokingly tell our clients, “If five years from now you’ve done exactly what’s in your strategic plan, no more and no less, either you missed a major opportunity or we’re way under charging.” While it’s important to anticipate what may come, it’s far more important to align a team to a common vision so that when the inevitable “stuff” happens, you’ll know if it’s an opportunity that will further your aims, or if it’s merely a distraction. A great strategic plan does exactly that by serving as a tool by which to make decisions.
Daniel: What values guide your design of a strategic planning process?
Jonathan: As I mentioned above, transparency is a big one. Others that rise to the top: inclusivity, boldness, creativity, passion, curiosity, and flexibility.
Daniel: Is it important to engage non-employees, non-board members and non-clients in the strategic planning process? Why?
Jonathan: YES! Organizations don’t operate in a vacuum, and neither should their strategic plans. The most successful strategic planning processes are the ones that open their doors and engage diverse stakeholders—the more diverse the better. The more perspectives an organization has—about itself, its current state, its future, its landscape, its value add, etc.—the better equipped the organization will be to design smart strategy.
Daniel: How do you make the strategic planning process engaging for your clients? Why is this important?
Jonathan: We put a lot of work into making sure the strategic planning process embodies the culture and values of the client organization. This is not our strategic plan, it’s theirs, and that has to be felt by everyone. Within that culture, we push everyone to think expansively, boldly, and creatively. There is nothing more engaging for organizational leaders than to see new, exciting opportunities for what the organization and team can achieve.
We also try to laugh a lot. Good snacks don’t hurt, either.