Strategy needs space

In an interview the productivity consultant David Allen said that strategic thinking does not require large amounts of time (Clark, 2015).  More importantly, it’s space that allows innovative ideas and decisions that will guide the future direction of your not for profit.

Being strategic is one of the most important behaviours that guarantee an organisation’s long term success and almost every leader would like to have more time for strategic planning (Clark 2018). We are all too busy, dealing with the daily fires, and now that many of us are working from home, we feel like we’re working all the time.

Keeping track of our time and setting a regular time aside for strategic thinking and planning can help to embed strategic thinking into our schedule (Clark, 2018). Getting away from our routine and ‘to do lists’ can create some mental space. Encouraging our managers and team leaders to set some time aside for strategy and offering opportunities to share their thoughts and ideas can also foster strategic thinking throughout our organisation.

Strategy needs knowledge

You would not buy new a family car without doing some research, a test drive and without asking a friend who knows more about cars to have a look under the bonnet. Yet, I am regularly meeting not for profit leaders who open a new office or start a new service based on their gut feel.

Gut feel and intuition are important instigators but once you have formed your idea you should also consciously and thoroughly evaluate your strategy. Time pressure can work against assessing a decision, however often it only takes a few hours of top line research and number crunching to find the necessary data and evidence that supports or dismisses the idea. If you or your leadership team doesn’t have the time or know-how, you could engage a student to do some basic data analysis, or for something more sophisticated seek assistance from a consultant with experience in the sector. Spending some more time and effort on researching your idea can open new alternatives or modified ideas that can lead to better outcomes and more effective use of your limited resources.

Strategy needs multiple views

‘The government representative or the consultant has told us that there is the future and there is great potential for us’.  If this was the case why isn’t everyone doing this – or is everyone doing this? Good listeners tend to have more ideas, yet listening to just one source risks establishing a strategy on a distorted, or narrowly focussed reality. A stakeholder analysis can help us identify who has an interest and who will be impacted by the strategy. Talking and listening to all parties involved can help form a more realistic approach and lead to better outcomes. Engaging people who may influence the success of the project early on can help to overcome barriers and create more allies once you begin to implement the strategy.

Strategy needs empathy

Just because we have worked for many years in the sector and our clients tend to be loyal, it does not necessarily mean that we really understand and know the people we support. Do we know our clients’ aspirations, interests and passions? Do we understand what is currently working well and what is not? Do we understand the hardship, the barriers and the worries of our beneficiary? What are their physical and emotional needs, how do they think about the world and what matters to them? What would they like to achieve and how would they like to live their lives. We live in a fast moving world and while basic needs are likely to stay the same, external pressures heavily impact on barriers and support needs.  Unless we ask the right questions and we are prepared to empathise we are unlikely to come up with a strategy that creates meaningful and lasting change. Defining and understanding the need will help us to establish a strategy that creates outcomes that are needed and wanted, and drive meaningful improvements in quality of life.

Strategy needs courage

‘We have trialled this and it did not work’ is a common sentence that I hear in strategy workshops. It is an effective innovation killer and indicates that we are too scared to do things differently.  It also reveals that we are often too focussed on the activities, the ‘how’ of our strategy before we define the ‘what’. What do we want to achieve that creates lasting change?

Once we have defined the outcomes we require some courage to do things differently to the past.  Our beneficiaries and other stakeholders could assist us to co-design the activities or clarify why our attempts in the past failed. Most importantly we should have the courage to make ourselves redundant. Does our work create dependencies or do we empower our beneficiaries, facilitate independence and create long term impact?

Strategy needs ideation

Have you ever done a home renovation or built a new house? Usually it takes several plans, discussions and modifications until the final plan can be approved. Strategy needs ideation and time to form. If we rush the approval process the end result will reveal many unwanted surprises. Gaining better knowledge, reviewing our internal strengths and weaknesses, listening to everyone involved and giving our beneficiaries a strong voice will necessarily lead to variations along the way. Engaging a critical sounding board can broaden our thinking, or adopting an outsider’s view can help us review our assumptions and biases to develop a strategy that is bigger and better.