How to … design and implement a strategic plan

Strategic planning helps determine mid- to long- term goals and what areas to focus on.

It is harder to do in development sector as there is often a great amount of unmet need, which one intervention alone cannot tackle. Management guru Peter Drucker famously said that in for-profit organisations, success can easily be equated to profit. In non-profits, however, the bottom line is a ‘change in human beings’, which is significantly harder to plan for – but not impossible.

The plan

Many elements of strategic planning are the same across the board, but there is no single formula. Planning can take three weeks or three months, depending on the size, scale and longevity of organisations.

But before the planning, do a reality-check, get feedback and meet stakeholders and beneficiaries in your target communities. Also, make the staff do field visits to help them connect with the cause.

So who should be involved in the strategic planning process? Usually a director or manager from each functional area of your organisation is needed to consider all aspects of work. Managers should brief their teams about the results of planning, inform them about structural changes and be open to feedback.

Key areas

During the process, a few things you should decide on are:

Your vision: What is it that you want to achieve? Setting a vision of the future you want to create is crucial to guide everything your organisation does from here on – even if you feel you are 10, 20 or even 50 years away from achieving it. Don’t shy away or dismiss it.

The problem: What does your organisation believe the problem is that it is trying to tackle? What are its root causes?

Encouraging everyone to understand the problem is crucial when coming up with new strategies and solutions.

Once your problem and its root causes are defined, decide how you can claim your organisation is changing that. That is, define, your theory of change and set out the stages of your intervention. Many organisations can also have a short-term and long-term theory of change – the short one feeding into the long.

Core Values: They will form the culture of your staff. Respect, humility, solution-focused – whatever values you feel are crucial for your organisation to flourish should be clarified.

Short-term goals: Arguably the hardest part of strategic planning is creating shorter term goals and visions for next three or five years. What are your target numbers of beneficiaries for the next three years? Short-term goals help prioritise and keep you away from creating over ambitious workplans for staff that won’t be met, and won’t realistically contribute to your long-term vision.

Put plan into action

Many organisations create a strategic plan, but fail to execute it. Setting goals for your teams are worthless without actually holding yourselves accountable to them. Based on the strategic plan and your three-year goals and vision – chart out yearly plans for your organisation. Ideally, team-heads should create their department’s own plans. From this, they can create monthly workplans for themselves, and depending on whether management sees fit – attach monthly targets to these as well.

Programme monitoring frameworks are crucial to start developing or reinvesting in at this stage.

At the end of the yearly plan make sure each team has a target and that they know what it is. Ensure you remember that this end-of-year target meets up with the three-year target set in strategic planning.

Creating a Logical Framework Analysis (LFA) and Indicator Performance Tracking Tables (IPTT) are key to programme monitoring and should keep senior management up to date on what is happening at four different levels: activities (what your organisation does on a daily basis, what it ‘sends out’ to the world), outputs (what happens as the result of an activity – the workshop itself and organizing it would be the activity, whereas the attendance of the workshop would be an output), outcomes (what happens as a result of your output – did one of your attendees change their lifestyle because of the workshop?) and goals (what your ultimate target is).

Creating the LFA and IPTT are greater tasks within themselves and help you to monitor goals and targets.

A few points to keep in mind

• Human resources and monitoring teams will be crucial during the process. HR for ensuring maximum staff investment creates avenues for the best ideas, your monitoring team for making sure goals and targets will be visible in the future and can be tracked.

• Prioritising where the focus needs to be over the next three years is key to ensuring you aren’t jumping the gun leading to a failed intervention. Ask yourselves what needs to be done now. Don’t try and tackle too many problems at the same time.

• Strategic planning also gives an opportunity to make key organisational decisions in line with your purpose. What big debates are currently taking place that affect your programme? Are you looking to raise field staff salaries? Should you be targeting a more diverse range of communities?

• Something that is key but often less emphasised is learning. You planned timelines, calculated risks, set targets, but it still went wrong. Why? With a strategic plan and a regularly updated programme monitoring framework, it becomes easier to track and identify what the problem was – and what to not do next time.

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