Basics of Strategizing (during strategic planning)

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    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, Ph.D., 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 on the topic of Strategic Planning.

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    Developing Strategies to Address Strategic Issues and Reach Goals

    One of the most frequent reasons for ineffective strategic planning is failure to think strategically. In these cases, planners mistake organizational efficiency to be organizational effectiveness. One of the key indicators of this problem is planners’ reluctance to conduct a solid strategic analysis that includes an assessment of the external environment of the organization and feedback from stakeholders. As a result, planners end up looking only at what the organization is internally doing now and how they might do it a little bit better. In their planning, they end up fine-tuning what the organization is already doing, rather than shoring up weaknesses to avoid oncoming threats and using strengths to take advantage of new opportunities.

    Suggestions to Ensure Genuine Strategic Thinking

    1. Recognize strategies to be associated with, e.g., resolving major issues, developing new products or methods of delivery, servicing additional or smaller groups of customers, or mergers/collaborations for survival or efficiency.

    2. Strategies should focus on structural changes as much as possible. These changes are more likely to direct and sustain changes in the organization.

    3. In general, strategies deal with the question, “How do we position ourselves if the future changes, and if it is not what we expected?”

    4. Use a brainstorming technique to collect all ideas from planning members.

    5. During strategy development, continue to ask, “Is this really a strategic activity? Will it leverage change in your organization?”

    6. Reconsider strategies that have worked or haven’t in the past.

    7. Ensure strategies don’t conflict with each other, i.e., that implementing one strategy will directly impair the implementation of another.


    • The top issues usually produce the most complex and contentious strategies to deal with the issues and reach each goal. Therefore, meetings to identify strategies may be the most contentious.
    • To ensure effective communication, revisit what the term “strategic” means to the planners.
    • While facilitating the meetings, use brainstorming to collect all ideas and process them. Use Post-It notes to organize ideas.
    • To help refine and clarify ideas, consider asking “Why” five times for each idea.
    • To further explore a suggestion or an idea, ask the speaker if his or her statement is based on an assumption or solid data, and if is it a conclusion.
    • Each strategy or group of strategies might be associated with new or current programs.
    • Each major function should eventually have its own specific strategies, measurable objectives, resource needs, financial need specification and budgets, and plans to evaluate results.

    Return to the topic Strategic Planning.

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