The Problem with Strategic Planning

Simply put, strategic planning is the process of making the decisions about where your organization is going in the next few years and outlining the steps needed to take it there.

Although it sounds simple, in reality it’s anything but. Yet it’s a necessity, not a luxury. Your board wants to see a strategic plan, your funders want to see a strategic plan and, when used, instead of put on a shelf to collect dust, a strategic plan can actually help your organization get where it wants to go.

One of the reasons the strategic planning process can be so difficult is that it often revolves around variations of a single model that may or may not be a good fit for the organization.

Janet Rock, Director of Knowledge Creation at Propellus, remembers when she started at Propellus nine years ago. She was also taking non-profit studies classes, where they learned strategic planning but were taught only one model. “I worked on consultations at Propellus and all of the strategic plans looked the same, exactly like what I had learned in school.”

 “To me, that felt very binary,” says Rock. “Over time, I didn’t see or make any other models. It was strange that there was this one-size-fits all model for strategic planning. That’s not to say that our members are developing the exact same plan over and over again, but I see a more customized model as being far more beneficial.”

The importance of thinking outside the single-model box is echoed by Propellus Manager of Consulting Jeff D’Silva: “ There is a tendency when you are given an assignment to use the standard model, but that means your thinking might not be broad enough.”

Another problem with strategic planning comes from the lack of reflection or measurement that is typical when an organization’s current plan reaches the end of its term. “In my experience, there is very little ‘looking back’ as you start the new plan,” says Rock. “People tend to look at strategic planning as: ‘that document has expired; it’s time to start a new one.’”

To simplify the strategic planning process for Propellus members—and make it more useful—Rock has developed a new Strategic Planning workshop that will be facilitated by Jeff D’Silva.

While taking his MBA at the U of C, strategic planning courses were by far his favourites. “Deciding on a goal and then knowing how you are going to get there applies to everything from sports to business to Game of Thrones,” says D’Silva. “There are a lot of models out there that are really simple, fun and interesting.”

“Coming to Propellus for the strategic planning workshop, you are going to get a different way of thinking about strategic planning than the norm or the standard,” explains Rock. “It’s about understanding who your competitors are, who your friends are, who your partners, collaborators, funders and stakeholders are. It is about what you need to be able to run the very best programs that are going to meet your mission.”

The workshop will take a “Choose Your Own Adventure” approach to strategic planning, with participants spending a good chunk of time on a visual one-page model of a plan. “The visual doesn’t need to be rainbows and horses. It can be boxes, flow charts and pyramids,” says Rock. “A visual allows someone like a funder to be able to easily see where you are going and how you plan on getting there.”

Participants don’t need previous strategic planning experience. All that’s required is an understanding of your organization and facilitator D’Silva will guide you through the process. Watch for the workshops starting in spring 2014.

If you need Strategic Planning (or any other help) before the workshop starts, contact Jeff D’Silva at 403-231-1431 or

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