How does your strategic plan look on your shelf?

Imagine someone were to read your strategic plan on Monday. Then Tuesday they walked into your organization and interviewed all your staff and volunteers and partners and suppliers. Wednesday, they interviewed whoever you provide service to – customers, clients, members… Thursday, they read all your communications. And Friday, well, on Friday, they talk to senior management and the Board.

Would they recognize the organization from one day to the next?

I’m not asking whether everyone would use precisely the same words to describe the organization, but whether the gist, the underlying realities, the fundamental truths would be consistent.

The reality is, for many organizations, the observer’s experience would be quite different from one day to the next to the next. And, for some, the organization would be practically unrecognizable.

When I speak with leaders who are new in their roles, they often describe a situation where the strategy, the activities, the budget, and the communications are entirely disconnected. There’s a strategic plan but it doesn’t have anything to do with the way the organization operates, how decisions are made, how priorities are set.

It’s up to them to knit them together. They have to ignore the sunk costs of how the organization got here, and move it forward. But how?

  1. The strategy, via the strategic plan, has to be translated into tangible projects that can then be executed. If it’s not being used to determine what the organization actually does, it’s just ideas, words on a page. What activities need to be stopped/started/continued to make this happen?
  2. Whatever the organization is up to should be integrated into the strategy – if it doesn’t fit, either the activity or the strategy needs adjusting. There’s only one list of priorities, not multiple.
  3. Figure out how to measure your success. Having metrics against your activities helps communicate what the point of those activities is in the first place, which helps greatly in implementation.
  4. Communicate the heck out of the plan. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Embed it into your communications vehicles, early and often. I know an organization who’s painted their ambition vision statement on their boardroom wall. Tailor your messages to your audience – your clients or members won’t care about your internal processes, but your employees probably do. But at the very least your marketing messages and your internal messages have to be consistent – they need to derive from the same source.
  5. And then you listen. Listen to understand how it’s going, to understand where you need to tweak, to find out where new opportunities are arising.

So, where does your strategic plan live? On a shelf?

Ideally, it’s been pulled apart and lives all over the place – pinned to bulletin boards and on computer screens and in all sorts of documents and scrawled on post-it notes, and in job descriptions and marketing messages and terms of reference and orientation manuals – and everywhere else you explain who you are and what you do.

(And, anyhow, don’t we all need more shelf space for those books we are totally planning on reading this year?)

If we can help you create a strategic plan or turn it into a reality, please get in touch.

Photo by USFS Region 5, via Flickr, used by Creative Commons license.

Contact us at or call 416-737-3935 to discuss how we might be able to help.


We offer resources to help leaders of associations and other not-for-profits think about their approach to strategy and governance, from various perspectives.