The Retreat – Strategic Planning Part 2

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This is part 2 of our series on Strategic Planning. (Check out part 1 on the environmental scan here.) 

For an organization engaged in a strategic planning process, a well-planned, well-facilitated retreat can be an important step in generating ideas for moving the organization forward and developing an action plan to ensure that ideas are successfully implemented. 

Retreats are usually 1-2 day planning sessions with key leadership and staff. An external or internal facilitator is usually needed to ensure the gathering is productive. 

At ILE Consulting Group, we recommend preparing for the strategic planning retreat a few months in advance to ensure productive event with momentum to build on as you complete the strategic plan.  

Set intentions and expectations upfront, be clear about what you want to accomplish during the retreat, engage your facilitator and staff in setting the stage for success. 

  1. Conduct the environmental scan (more on this in part 1 of this series). 
  2. Produce a report on key issues, challenges and opportunities.  
  3. Create an agenda informed by the information gathered.  
  4. Select discussion questions (we provided a list of questions at the end of this post).
  5. Get buy-in – include all participants in planning – ask for their input on the agenda, activities. 
  6. Assign roles even small roles make it fun (i.e. time keeper, recorder, snack steward, organizer). 
  7. Build in time to create an implementation plan with written goals, tasks and a timeline to execute ideas discussed during the retreat. 

Areas of Focus 

Having meaningful discussion questions is helpful to focus the conversation and make sense of the information and data presented. 

After receiving data on internal and external factors that impact the organization’s work, the tendency is to jump right into generating lists of strategies and solutions. However to get the most out of the retreat and the strategic plan process overall we advise reaching consensus on 3-5 focus areas. 

Once the team is in agreement on the goals and areas of focus. We recommend conducting a workshop for each focus area to establish an operations or implementation plan.   

Strategic Planning in turbulent times 

In the age of COIVD, political unrest and natural disasters most organizations are baffled by increasing volatility in their sector, and the pace at which change happens. Planning for this “new normal” is key for sustaining impact and success. 

For nonprofit or mission-based businesses strategic planning may be needed to respond to emerging conditions at the organization including:  rapid growth due to surge in clients or additional donation,  new demands or new services needed to respond to the changing needs of clients, transition in leadership or board, changes needed in  – may all warrant a strategic planning process sooner than later. 

Though usually held in person, virtual retreats are now the norm. With a skilled facilitator on board, you can have a productive retreat in person or online. 

Discussion Questions 

Select 5 -7 discussion questions for small and large group sessions during the retreat. 

Questions on Strategy 

Does your organization have a clearly state list of strategic priorities?

When was the last time you reviewed or edited your strategic priorities? 

Are your current initiatives and projects aligned with your strategic priorities? 

Has your strategy been translated to specific actions? 

Do you have a well-defined strategy, a clear written statement of where the organization is headed? 

When was the last time you reviewed or edited your strategic priorities? 

Are your current initiatives and projects aligned with your strategic priorities? 

Are your strategic priorities complimentary or do they seem to conflict?

Questions on Capacity 

What competencies are needed to fulfill your strategic priorities? Tip: Benchmark the sector and rank your organization against each competency.

List each of your operations and where these competencies are reflected. Where in your operations is it missing? 

How might you build competency and capacity where it’s most needed? 

Is talent management/recruitment aligned with priorities?

How often do leaders discuss the organizations accomplishments as well as shortcomings and aspirations with staff? Are all staff privy to this information? 

Questions on Industry Leadership 

How might you share what you’re good at with other similar organizations? 

In what ways are you taking the lead in your sector, in the types of services you offer and how you deliver and execute? 

Questions on Impact 

Is your value proposition important to clients and stakeholders? 

Does every one in the organization agree on what the value proposition is? 

What unique services do you bring to your service population? 

Are you seeing the outcomes you desire for your organization and your constituents? 

Questions on Culture 

How often do leaders discuss the organizations accomplishments as well as shortcomings and aspirations with staff? Are all staff privy to this information? 

What transformation is needed and how do leaders and senior management engage the team in change? 

To what extent is the entire team enrolled in the vision and mission?

How do leaders keep the team excited and engaged in the work, build excitement about the future?

How are wins celebrated, even the small ones?

How are stakeholders and clients engaged – does this align with your core values?

How does this interaction serve your brand? 

Part 3 … Coming Soon.

In our 3rd and final post on strategic planning we will do a deep dive implementing the strategic plan and sustaining momentum long after the retreat. 

In the meantime be sure to check out our post on 6 Attributes of High Performing Teams.#

ILE Consulting Group, LLC
Anasa Laude, Managing Director
Franky Laude, Director of Policy and Media 

Environmental Scan – Part 1 of Strategic Planning Series

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Nonprofit Strategic Planning

 

Why Strategic Planning ?

As a nonprofit leader it is important to periodically check in on where your organization is going, why your services matter and whether you have the right operations and processes in place. Sometimes these answers become somewhat vague over the years. Shifts are occurring more rapidly with massive societal change. For instance the global pandemic, climate change and the new spotlights on racial discrimination and economic inequality are rapidly shifting client needs, donor interests and public policy. Luckily, strategic planning can help us affirm our role, where we want to go and get us on track to that destination.

Data on Nonprofit Strategic Planning and Shared Vision Across Stakeholders

Likelihood of Nonprofit Having a Formal Process for Measuring Leadership Performance Due to Having Recent Strategic Plan

Research on nonprofit leadership conducted by the Concord Leadership Group, LLC revealed: 

77% of nonprofits with a written strategic plan agreed their nonprofit had a vision understood and shared across stakeholders, only 47% of nonprofits without a plan agreed a unifying vision existed. 

Nonprofits with a strategic plan more likely to have a formal process for measuring leadership effectiveness (75% vs. 50%).

Source:  The Concord Leadership Group LLC. (2016). Home | The Concord Leadership Group. https://concordleadershipgroup.com

The strategic plan explores basic questions such as: 

Why do we exist?

What do we do (day to day)?

How do we do it ?

Are we doing it well? 

How much does it cost and how do we fund it?

Who do we engage in implementing the strategic plan and how?

In a series of upcoming posts we will provide a snap shot of our approach to strategic planning including from the environmental scan to the implementation plan. 

Contact us to learn more about our work with nonprofit organizations and mission-based businesses. We would love to hear from you. 

Part 1: The Environmental Scan: Gathering context, internal and external

After initial meetings with executives, board and key staff to learn about the organization and what they hope to get out of the strategic planning process, we begin diving into the environmental scan.  Environmental scans are instrumental in planning an organization or program’s future priorities, it can be particularly relevant to strategic planning projects. The Environmental Scan helps us project out in to the future with the following questions in mind: What does the future hold and how prepared are we? 

There are several frameworks that are often used to help with this task. One of the most well-known is the SWOT analysis which stands for Strengths and Weaknesses (internal to your organization), and Opportunities and Threats (external to your organization). A twist on SWOT is SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results. which focuses on leveraging organizational strengths . A third framework for environmental is PESTLE, which refers to Political, Economic, Social, and Technology, Legal and Environmental issues. 

We use a combination of frameworks depending on the organization and their needs. 

Major questions we investigate during the environmental scan include:

  • What’s going on in your sector. How are best practices changing? What are the new benchmarks? What technological changes should we be aware of? 
  • What data is available and what is it telling ?what are the trends (over 3-5 years)? Are you producing the outcomes we want to achieve? Where are your clients coming from? How are you doing with fundraising and donor retention? 
  • Demographic, economic, and social changes. What are the impacts of rapidly evolving issues such as pandemics, climate change, racial injustice and gentrification impacting the communities we serve. What demographics are most vulnerable? What is the impact on your donors and strategic partners? 
  • Opportunities. Are there unmet needs we can address? Are there new funding streams or Partnerships we can tap. Are there policy changes coming down the pike that will benefit organizations you can take advantage of?
  • Threats.  How will cuts public funding impact your work? How will problems with public infrastructure make it harder to serve  your clients? 
  • Is there overlap between your program and other similar programs? Does this create competition for donors and clients?. Is there an opportunity to partner and offer complimentary services?
  • Impact. What kind of change do you want to make?  Do your beneficiaries and stakeholders share this vision? To what extent have we been successful? 
  • Capacity and resources. What do you need to improve your operations, in terms of competencies and experience, technology, and processes?

Use these questions to guide your approach for conducting interviewing  beneficiaries, board, staff, donors, volunteers, partners and other stakeholders. gathering data and establishing benchmarks. 

Interviewees for Environmental Scan 

Interviewee 

Perspective 

Beneficiaries 

Impact of your organization on their lives, services provided by other programs and unmet needs. 

Quality of client engagement and communication at your organization. 

Stories of engagement with your organization that can provide insight on impact, strengths and weakness in service delivery.

Personal experience changes in access to public subsidies, rising costs of food, medicine or housing – insights on demographic, policy and social trends. 

Board 

Level of board engagement and competencies.

Insight on organizational leadership, fiscal health, and overall capacity.

Staff

Insight on strengths and weaknesses in operations and process. 

Insight on demographic and social trends, knowledge of emerging regulatory issues.

Access to data on client intake and outcomes, donor engagement and costs.

Donors 

Organization’s readiness / capacity to adapt to trends in the sector, changes in funding and policy coming down the pike. 

Partners 

Knowledge of trends in your sector and concomitant sectors  that could indirectly impact your organization’s operations.

Volunteers

Insight on the quality of volunteer engagement at your organization and untapped social capital.  

After conducting interviews we work with organizational leaders to prioritize some of the issues raised and generate a list of additional research questions and types of data we want to explore. This information is synthesized into a report and presented to leadership and board. This report will help set the stage for the next step in the strategic planning process – the planning retreat. 

In our  next post, Strategic Planning part 2 we dive into our approach in prepping and facilitating the planning retreat. 

In the meantime, take a look at our other posts and please send your comments. We would love to hear from you. 

If you’re interested in discussing opportunities to work with us, contact us today! ##

6 Attributes of High Performing Teams

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Image: Forming, Storming, Performing, Norming

Leaders assemble teams to complete essential functions such as program administration, human resources, accounting and facilities maintenance. 

For the purposes of this post: teams are multiple employees (and external stakeholders) who work together on distinct high performing teams is essential in successfully serving communities. Mission-based programs with low performing teams will not yield intended social outcomes and can tarnish the organization’s relationship with their clients, funders, and other stakeholders. 

After many years of consulting and teaching project-based courses, we here at ILE Consulting Group have seen a fair share of team successes and breakdowns. Team breakdowns do not have to be permanent, however. In fact, with the right attitude, tools, and support teams can overcome failure and become to highly functioning teams. 

Building teams poised for success requires establishing clear measurable goals, values and direction upfront. Friction is to be expected during the formation of teams as individuals on the team work to get on the same page, adjust in their role on the team and learn how to interact with their fellow teammates.

There are numerous issues – internal and external- that impact team success. The six most common factors that can make or break a team, in no particular order, include:

1. Values. Being on the same page about why this work matters, how you’ll get it done, how you’ll treat each other. Having a values system ensures team cohesion when things get tough. To establish values leadership and team members should generate a list of values. Continuously checking and reflecting on the team’s adherence to its values is essential. Teams should use a scorecard to measure performance. When the team scores low on a particular value, address this problem immediately before it escalates and causes further damage to the team psyche and productivity. 

2. Mindset. Researcher Carol Dweck coined the term “Growth Mindset”, which describes underlying beliefs about the potential for success. Teams that emphasize a growth mindset share the belief that no matter the odds, success is possible. A growth mindset keeps team members enrolled and invested in the project despite the challenges that will inevitably arise. In addition, particularly on teams in nonprofit organizations, growth mindset places a high value on the latent talents and assets within the communities they serve (i.e., the belief that all children in our community can and will succeed when adequately supported).

The opposite of Growth Mindset, according to Dweck is a “Fixed Mindset”, which describes a set of negatively underlying beliefs. Negative thinking is to be expected from time to time, especially when teams are overwhelmed or in conflict and cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Leaders can aid their teams in adopting a consistent growth mindset with continuous coaching and regular reflection. 

3. Communication and Information Exchange. Sharing information is two-fold in the following ways: 1. Ensuring that all members of the team have access to files, data, reports, and other organizational assets are crucial to team success. Lack of information or organizational artifacts can result in unnecessary delays, and often results in duplicating work that has already been done, which wastes time and money. 2. In addition, transparency is becoming increasingly important in the mission-based and public service sectors. More and more constituents, community stakeholders, and employees and demanding openness past and current challenges. No matter how bad the news, keeping team members informed, builds trust, agency, or sense of empowerment keep them committed long-term despite the obstacles along the way. 

4. Vision and Direction. Having clear direction on what needs to be done and how to go about it is a must for team success. Having clear vision and direction reduces conflicts about how to get things done. Conflict slows the team down and hinders productivity. Having a picture or vision of the future is key in keeping the team enrolled in the mission and drive motivation and productivity from day- to- day. 

5. Resources. While mission-based organizations are often resource-strapped, operating successful social programs require money and talent. Employees of nonprofit organizations experience burnout as a result of “having to do more with less” with no additional insight. One way to address this is through strategic partnerships and resource pooling with other organizations. This may include sharing space and admin staff to eliminate or reduce overhead, or outsourcing certain functions that can be managed by other agencies. 

6. Team Size. The size of the team can pose challenges as well. Teams of three to five are often preferred due to ease of decision making, as it is often difficult to get larger teams on the same page. Smaller teams allow for better efficiency in distributing work and holding members accountable.

If a program or project requires more than five team members to accomplish tasks the team should be broken up into smaller ‘sub-teams’ based on the tasks.

What Individual Team Members Believe They Need to Be Successful

At ILE, our team has had countless conversations with employees of various organizations and companies about their experiences in the workplace. Leaders and employees prioritize these three needs:

Agency. Employees want to feel as if their talents and efforts matter. As a team member, they want to be understood by their fellow team members. Being heard and having their ideas and contributions acknowledged is also important. They want to feel as if their work has meaning and contributes to a high-level mission. Team members need to feel as if they have a part to play in bringing this mission to fruition. 

Emphasis on self-care and personal development. Many employees we have spoken with report enjoying work settings that emphasize self-care and personal growth. Having bosses that allow for flexibility in work schedules to address individual or family needs, having access to professional training and education, and a boss that checks in on them were all highly valued. 

Coaching and mentoring. Beyond their role as a team member, employees also want specific direction and coaching regarding their responsibilities to the team, the organization and the community. Having one on one time with leadership or personnel that can support individual team members in mapping out both team goals and individual professional goals, reflecting on their achievements and working through challenges are all highly valued. 

The image above illustrates a commonly referenced concept of team evolution: Forming, Storming, Performing, Norming. This concept is commonly applied to new teams, in a linear manner. However, in reality, this process often repeats itself over the course of team work, and resembles something closer to this: 

Image: Team Cycles. Norming, Storming, Re-forming, Reflection, Performing.

Team cohesion and productivity can suffer due to various challenges prompting a need for the team to reflect regroup, air out frustrations and challenges and get back on track. 

In mission-based work, teamwork can be especially challenging due to limited resources relative to community needs. All teams experience cycles of highs and lows. However, there are many ways of supporting teams and each member to ensure success despite the challenges. 

Read our related posted on the 5 Pillars of Capacity Building.

ILE Consulting Group, LLC
Anasa Laude, Managing Director
Franky Laude, Director of Policy and Media