By Carlo Cuesta


When doing your next strategic plan, your team will face the urge to transform everything.

Your team will want to use the planning process to better understand their place in the organization’s future.

And, your team will want to use the planning process to get clear on what they need to do every day.

And, your team will want to use the planning process to help them communicate what your organization does.

And… the list goes on.

Strategic plans that try to do everything, do nothing. These kinds of plans are not scaled to what the organization needs and is capable of doing, nor are they positioned to truly bring about real change within the organizational environment. We often hear the refrain, “I don’t want a plan that sits on the shelf and collects dust.”

Well, if you don’t want that you need to build a plan that focuses on execution.  Here are five principles for doing just that…


1. Recognize that your strategic planning process will not answer every question you ask of it.

The best processes are refined and reduced to the most essential and relevant questions that you and your staff and board need to answer. Before you start your planning process, spend time with organizational leaders on identifying these questions. Make lists of these questions. And then, start prioritizing what questions are the most important to answer.


2. More ambitious goals = greater change = more people freaking out.

It’s okay to be ambitious when setting goals, but remember change makes people nervous. And, you need people around to execute the plan. Make sure the people most affected by the change are included in the planning process from the start and have a hand in setting objectives that help map a strategic pathway forward. If possible, bring board and staff leaders together to discuss plan goals and actions, embracing the different perspectives that governance, program, and operational leadership can have on a strategic plan. Also, build into your schedule specific times to check in with different stakeholders to get their feedback.


3. Focus planning discussions on the 20 of the 80/20 rule.

Imagine your organization spends 80% of its time on day-to-day activities (I know, it’s probably more like 175% of its time) and it spends 20% of its time on special, strategic projects that will eventually transform the 80%. Your planning should focus on the 20% and how it will impact the 80%. By making sure board and staff know the difference between what is operational and what is strategic, resources can then be directed in a timely fashion toward creating change. Plans that have a lot of day-to-day activities baked into them confuse what really needs to get done to take the organization to the next level.


4. When creating a new strategy, you need to decide what old strategy you will end.

Often an organizational strategy is one wall papered over another. This creates a lack of clarity among board and staff about what is important. It disrupts your ability to measure the effectiveness of a strategy and, most importantly, needlessly expends resources that are already stretched thin. Carefully inventory the strategies that you are currently implementing and as you build new strategies make choices about which old strategies you will sunset.


5. Align Strategies to Impact and Resources.

For a strategy to be executed, people need to get behind it. Thus, it needs to be both relevant and compelling. If your strategy does not amplify your impact and help you grow and sustain your resources then it’s not going to get the backing and support needed. Though it is important to explore a variety of ideas and perspectives, it is essential that the strategies you choose align with the resources you need and the impact you are seeking to create.


By following these five principles, you will take steps within your strategic planning process to ensure that you have strategies that execute. By creating a focused planning process that engages a variety of stakeholders and produces strategies that matter, you will be able to create a foundation for success.