Case Study 04. A customized engagement system to deliver an actionable strategic plan (after a false start). 

The Challenge

As most organizations in the non-for-profit sector know, strategic planning is both a necessity and an opportunity. Good strategic plans are tricky to create - fraught with possible contradictions: an actionable vision, concise detail, flexible framework.

The Ask

A Community Support Services organization approached GC knowing we take an unorthodox approach to strategic planning and engagement design in general. They asked us to help them get beyond their previous strategic planning experiences and generate an actionable strategic program through a process that brings together the Board of Directors and organizational staff; previous attempts actually created some rifts. And, they wanted to thread through efforts from their past attempt (because they didn't want to waste their previous investment) - even though this past attempt delivered a plan that failed to reconcile the contradictions of strategic planning and was accordingly, shelved. We understood, there was data to be leveraged so people didn't feel like they were revisiting past efforts that didn't yield. Going back to square one felt like a cold start.


The Process

Bringing together two groups - staff and a Board of Directors - that have a shared interest but vastly different experiences to co-create requires ground-work. So we began with the design of an engagement strategy that would both inform the participants about each other, as well as help us understand the current practice context as it compares to where they want to go by 2021...all before getting together in-person to knock it out. Through conversations with the board and staff, as well as discovery through their past work, we were able to zero in on what a successful strategic planning process would mean to them. To prime participants for the session and get to where we needed to go, we brought together what we learned from their past efforts into a "Master SWOT" and created a pre-session survey to gather input on the current Vision, Mission, and Value statements and to identify potential strategic opportunities to explore. We used this information to create a structure for our in-person session, as well as clear the path for working together, given that through this pre-work it became evident that the group had some conflicting perspectives to work through.

To help bring the group together around their shared interests of success, and knowing that a capacity assessment is key to a planning process that generates objectives grounded in an organization’s capacity gaps, GC prepared a capacity assessment that would be reviewed and discussed at the in-person session using all the discovery data collected through the survey. This capacity assessment enabled the group to start the in person planning session by clearing the air and cultivating a better understanding of the conflicting perceptions so that together, they could agree on the desired future state before ... all before driving into strategic objectives related to core services, support functions and revenue generation.

Customized strategic planning engagement process

Customized strategic planning engagement process

This plan has been way over due for [our organization] and our past Strategic Plans bear no resemblance to this masterpiece. Thank you, all of you, for your professionalism as a dedicated team in making the future more forward in community engagement.
— Strategic Planning Participant (Board of Director)

The Results

The organization came away with an actionable vision, with concise detail, in a flexible framework - a one-page strategic program model that will guide them into 2021 with agreement from all who are involved in making it happen. More importantly, they came away with a shared engagement experience unlike one they've had together to-date and a renewed sense of what can be possible during that sometimes dreaded strategic planning phase in a not-for-profit’s life-cycle. Both Board Members and staff emerged with a greater understanding of each other's perspectives. Sometimes the process is the outcome!

Thank you, Liz and Megan for the help with this. On behalf of the committee, I would like to extend my appreciation of the excellent work you did. This is very crucial for [our organization] as it defines the organization and its roles in the next three years. I found working with your team very fruitful and the process enjoyable. You were able to grasp [our organization] very quickly and you charted a process that was transparent, engaging and more importantly driven by us. Thanks again and I am hopeful that we enlist your service at some point in the future and I will definitely recommend your service to others.
— Strategic Planning Participant (Board of Director)