Strategy & Goals
Institutions begin with a vision. We feel it’s imperative that this vision and mission be written in a captivating way and shared by all stakeholders; see our 2-pager on Mission and Vision for more on that subject. But let’s assume the vision is clear and documented. Setting goals and strategies takes your vision to the next level. This is where the rubber meets the road!
Often, LCI leaders feel that a strong vision and ample amounts of passion are enough on their own to drive the work forward and achieve breakthroughs, and thus they neglect to set clear goals and strategies. This is a trap that too many LCIs fall into, and yet it can easily be avoided. Taking time to establish appropriate goals that will help you achieve your vision and mission is one of the best ways you can invest your time and the time of your staff.
First, some definitions. Our SME training curriculum defines a goal as “a desired end-result that provides long-term direction for a business or organization” (Session 4). Organizational goals should be developed with a timeframe of at least 1 year but not more than 5 years. Goals provide guidance and focus for an organization, they energize staff members toward the long term vision, and they give all involved parties a target to aim for.
Strategies, on the other hand, can be defined as “how to achieve a goal.” They are more specific methods and action steps that can be done to achieve the organization’s goals, and ultimately, its mission.
Business management guru Michael Watkins explains an organizational strategy as “a set of guiding principles that, when communicated and adopted in the organization, generates a desired pattern of decision making. A strategy is therefore about how people throughout the organization should make decisions and allocate resources.”
Watkins further states that a good strategy helps define the actions people in an organization should take or not take, and the things they should prioritize or not prioritize. We agree with him.
When writing goals and strategies, we always recommend using the SMART framework. This means writing goals and strategies that are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant/realistic, and Time-bound. For more in-depth reading on the SMART goal-setting framework, check out this article from Mindtools.com.
Above all else, when setting goals and strategies within your organization, don’t overlook the tendencies and behavioral patterns of your staff, board members, clients, and yourself! Our personal work styles and busy schedules often undermine our intentions, and the best laid plans are never achieved if the people who set them fail to take action. As management expert Peter Drucker famously quipped, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Just getting started?
- We recommend reviewing Session 4 from the PW Business Training Curriculum, which has great content on goal-setting and strategy. Ask your local PW staff rep if you need a copy.
- For a great breakdown of what strategy means and how it ties into organizational behavior, check out HBR’s Demystifying Strategy: The What, Who, How, and Why
- Developing a long-range strategic plan, with a built-in process for review of progress along the way, is a crucial, but often difficult, process. One of the best overviews of strategic planning that we recommend is Four Tips for Better Strategic Planning, by Ron Ashkenas. Below in bullet point form are Ashkenas’ four tips -- but we recommend you read the whole article!
- Insist on experiments to test the assumptions you’ve made.
- Bannish fuzzy language.
- Escape from template tyranny.
- Ask provocative questions.
Want to go deeper?
- When it comes to business planning, one of our favorite tools is Strategyzer’s Business Model Canvas. (Click the link for a 2 minute video overview.) Or, check out their nifty Business Model Handbook.
- Also from Strategyzer, we really like the Value Proposition Canvas and the accompanying Value Proposition Design book.
- Tomasz Tunguz provides this Six-Step Framework to Make Strategic Decisions, where he brilliantly lays out a process for deciding between competing objectives.
- David La Piana’s book The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution is a good resource for NGO-minded organizations looking to adapt their old strategies and enact a more fluid strategic process defined by “systematic readiness and continuous responsiveness.”
- For those LCIs looking toward implementation, here’s a detailed and thoughtful resource on how to make your strategy a reality: Nonprofit Business Plan Development: From Vision, Mission, and Values to Implementation.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.