Basics of Identifying Strategic Issues and Goals

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    Basics of Identifying Strategic Issues and Goals

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.
    Adapted from the Field Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning and Facilitation.

    This activity is usually conducted as part of the overall strategic planning. Therefore, the reader might best be served to first read the information in the topic Strategic Planning. Strategic issues and goals are usually identified near the end of the strategic analysis activity (which sometimes includes doing an environmental scan and/or SWOT analysis.)

    Address Questions Such As:

    1. What external changes could effect the organization?” Consider, e.g.,
      – changing demographics of stakeholders, including number, values, resources, power, etc.;
      – changing rules and regulations; expectations and resources from customers, vendors, etc.;
      – expected shifts in needs for products and services; availability of leadership and staffing; and
      – what other current or new organizations provide similar services?
    2. What are the opportunities we might have from this external situation?
    3. What are the threats that we might be facing from this external situation?
    4. What is the quality of our internal activities, e.g., Board operations, planning, marketing, products and services, staffing and finances?
    5. What are our weaknesses of the organization, based on the quality of our internal activities?
    6. What are our strengths, based on the quality of our internal activities?
    7. Should we do a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats? — see SWOT analysis) to strategize?
    8. Or, should we collect input from everyone now about what they see as strategic issues? (Assume you’ll use this approach, rather than a SWOT for now.)
    9. Use a round-robin technique to collect and organize members’ input. (Issues and goals usually come from strengths to be build on, weaknesses to be strengthened opportunities to be taken, and threats to be avoided.)
    10. Visit with each issue, whether it’s “important” or “urgent.” Often, issues seem very important when they’re only urgent, for example, changing a flat tire is an urgent issue — but you’d never put “changing a tire” in your strategic plan. Attend only to the important issues and not the urgent issues. Attend to the important issues and not the urgent issues.
    11. Facilitate to gain consensus on the top three to five issues. (Many issues are based on gut feeling or intuition, rather than on extensive external and internal assessments. Issues that are too narrow do not warrant planning and issues that are too broad will bog you down. Deal with issues that you can do something about. Be careful not to ignore current major issues in the interest of pursuing more creative and forward-looking goals. Many organizations have faltered because their planning focused too far down the road and they ended up falling over their feet.
    12. Write down the issues. Issues should be clearly articulated so that another outside of the organization can understand the description of the issue.
    13. For each issue, one at a time, identify goals that, when achieved, will address the issue. It might require several goals for each issue. If planners get stuck on identifying goals, then have them brainstorm what can be done (strategies) to address the issues, and don’t think about specific goals for now. Once strategies have been suggested, then suggest some specific milestones that will be recognized along the way of implementing the strategies — can call them goals. Don’t worry about getting the perfect goals. You can refine them as you actually work to implement them.

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