Planning, and what’s left behind

Here are four things you should expect to get from every strategic planning consultancy.

1. Someone to clarify the issues for you by asking relevant–and, when necessary, rude and dumb–questions: "Why do you–?  Why don’t you–?  When are you going to stop–?"  (You know you’re getting this when you can say, "Our planning process is designed to answer Question X.")

2. Someone to guide the conversations you have about those issues who never forgets that the point of those conversations is not merely to air differences but to make decisions.   (You know you’re getting this when your staff and Board are presented with a set of alternative solutions, showing the costs and benefits of each.)

3. Someone to facilitate personal interactions so your group can discuss the problem and choose a solution without getting stuck in endless rounds of, "But when we did the auction the first time you forgot to send me a thank-you note."  (You know you’ve gotten this when the Board’s bully gets cut off in mid-rant or two people who refuse to work together both manage to contribute to a single point in the same meeting.)

4. An understanding of how to clarify issues, guide conversations toward solutions, and negotiate difficult personal interactions in the future. (You’ll know you’ve gotten this when you navigate around a difficult point at the next Board meeting, and return to the point and get it resolved at the meeting after that.)

The Nonprofiteer has just figured out that her own skills in clarifying issues, guiding conversations and managing difficult personal interactions among members of the client’s staff and Board actually leave her clients without item #4.  It’s a lot easier just to stare down the bully on the Board, or say the unsayable thing about the need for Board members to give money, or insert herself between two furious staff members before they can tear each other limb from limb, than it is to teach the Executive Director and Board President (and other staff and Board) how to do those things themselves.

Any tips about teaching those skills (instead of just modeling them) eagerly solicited and gratefully received.


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3 Responses to “Planning, and what’s left behind”

  1. matsonian Says:

    Sometimes I find that it is good to guide boards on towards their “own” solutions. You can do this a number of ways, but it takes skill and a complete willingness to percieve issues from the members perspective. One sure way is to offer the board members a tool like QuickPlanner Plus, let them create their own individual visions and objectives and then bring it back to the table. This can then facilitate the development of a solid plan for the group.

  2. Mary Jo Schnell Says:

    Regarding a place that teaches skills for addressing conflicts on that level, many
    years ago (1994?) I went through the Institute of Cultural Affairs intensive
    multiple day workshop on the technology of participation/group facilitation
    methods. The beauty of the lessons: equalized egos and/or dominant orgs and
    provided for much better group dialogue surfacing the best thinking and allowing
    for safe and supportive space to ask, explore and answer the tougher questions.

    They broke down their approach/strategy into 3 stages:
    1. The discussion method–structuring effective communication by
    naming/identifying typical stages people go through when asked to make decisions:
    a. objective for facts,
    b. reflective to allow emotions and associations (this allows egos and biases to
    surface but within the process of discussion not as the determining
    c. interpretive as a way to surface individual values and meanings from their own
    stories, and
    d. the decisional where, after everyone’s participated in the above, folks arrive
    at a new opportunity to name these processes, recognize them, and decide to work
    with eachother in a “workshop” setting to identify common goals, and action plans
    needed to reach them.

    2. The workshop method–designed to generative energy and creative thinking,
    infuse the group with a shared sense of responsibility, integrate thinking, and
    build consensus by structuring that process into 5 steps:
    a. contextualize/set the stage for work to be done and decisions to be made
    b. brainstorm and generate new ideas through discussion and document ideas/insights
    c. organize the thinking by breaking into small groups that form new relationships
    and further “ideate” brainstorms–this is mostly where folks are writing their own
    ideas on small pieces of paper, then creating consensus about those ideas in small
    groups and agreeing on categories for the ideas, and then reporting back to the
    group (again, keeping egos in check by always having to report to a group that is
    newly awared of when emotions or biases are at play)
    d. name those things that seem to be common denominators and build consensus
    e. reflect on the process and further gain consensus as well as confirm the groups
    desire and resolve to work together toward common goals now identified.

    3. Action planning–designed to clarify directions, align resources, designate
    leaders and responsibilities, and continue to build team trust and support.
    Pulling from info gleaned from above 2 stages you set up an action plan that:
    a. decides the victory by folks sharing their ideas about what it’d look like,
    current realities (swot for victory), and what folks wanted to commit to given the
    b. discerns key actions through brainstorming, organizing thinking and breaking
    into groups/task forces to create actions for clustered ideas
    c. creates calendar of actions and assignments given results from task force
    brainstorms and identifies a kind of launch activity (could be reaffirming current
    program with tweaks), ongoing activities with calendar dates, reporting, etc., and
    what they see in place after the actions that indicate they’ve arrived at their
    victory. This action plan also includes who is responsible for what, costs and
    creation of a mantra or title for the plans and a visual to show progress. Neat
    thing about this last piece, not only can folks see where they’ve been and what
    they’ve accomplished toward the goal, but it also becomes a touchstone for the
    process they’ve been through as a group.

    Parts or all of stages 2 & 3 are what I’ve mostly experienced in strategic
    planning sessions at nonprofits. The ones that have been most successful,
    however, were those consultants who intentionally walked the group through stage 1
    and held the group accountable to that experience and the lessons the group
    learned about themselves and each other….kind of got all the cards out on the
    table and created accountability to each other.

    Have seen this process used very effectively by Heifer International in their
    strategic planning process for US programs, by multi-org collaborations where a
    larger org in the group had been a dominant org, etc. and very impressed each time
    by the outcomes.

    Not sure where ICA is at these days but I have long felt that each exec dir, board
    pres and consultant could benefit from the strategies and processes put forth.

    My two cents.

  3. Nonprofiteer Says:

    Matsonian: I’m not familiar with Quick Planner Plus and will investigate. But I’m confident in my ability to guide groups to their own solutions of whatever problems they put on the table in front of me. What I wonder about is how effectively I teach them to address problems that surface after I’ve gone.

    Mary Jo Schnell: Thanks for the detailed roadmap. The conscious analysis of the consequences of decision-making may indeed be the way to get groups to own the process as well as the results. I’ll try it out and report back!

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