Tips for successful strategic planning in a smaller organisation
Jipe Kelly, Co-founder & Consultant at AfriDev Exchange

Irrespective of size, every organization needs direction. This means having a clear idea about:

  Your Vision; the ideal future that you envisage
  Your Mission; why your organization exists (to ultimately achieve your vision)
  Your broad aims (the specific changes or benefits you are aiming for)
  More detailed objectives (the activities you will use to meet aims)
  Your strategies and plans, with targets, for achieving your goals, in the long, medium and short term
  The value systems that underpin your work
  Your policies which are an expression of these values
  Monitoring and evaluating whether your organization is having the impact that it desires

Unless you are working within a well thought out framework, and unless you plan properly, you will go from crises to crises. This is a particularly important issue in the fast changing environment in which non-profit organizations now operate. Planning makes it possible for organizations to be open for change, deal positively with new challenges and embrace new opportunities in an organized fashion. There are however several key differences between doing strategic planning in a smaller organization and a bigger organization.

First, the team is likely to be smaller, and contain mainly volunteers with greater front line responsibility.

The second key difference is that the smaller organisation obviously has less resources to invest strategically, in terms of both time and money. This limits the strategic options available, which is a negative, but also makes the necessity of focus easier to understand, which is a great positive.

The third important difference is the availability of resources for the planning process itself. While it might be a good choice, it is a significantly more difficult investment for a small organisation to invest a few days of management time and thousands of euros in any process.

Given these three key differences, here are some important tips for making the strategic planning process effective in a smaller organization:

1.Keep the team small — while 6-8 people is ideal for a bigger organisation, 3-5 is likely to be better for smaller organisation. Make sure your team represents the three points of the Tension Triangle - the sector, finance and operations. Also, of course, make sure the CEO is fully involved in the process.

2.Don't have too many aims — we routinely work with 5-10 aims in most organisations, but 3-5 is a good number in smaller organisation. Remember, while you lose some ability to focus on specific strategic areas, fewer aims also means less time is necessary for the planning process. A benefit of reducing the number of aims you use is that you may end up forcing yourself to focus more.

3.Skip some of the less critical parts of the process — in past years, we have skipped some parts of the process with clients in order to focus on the most critical issues. While this can be dangerous, you might consider not doing the following exercises in a smaller organisation: Significant Regulations, Other Assumptions, How Can We Shoot Ourselves in the Foot?. You can also save time by combining Measures of Success with Goals and reducing the number of Strategic Issues you examine.

4.Understand you will have next year to tackle another set of issues — It's a good idea to do a great job understanding and dealing with a limited number of strategic issues each year. Some of the most successful smaller organisations I know have a ''theme'' for each year - one year it might be sales, the next year it might be quality, margins, or employee development.

5.Push yourself — and your team — to keep the strategies as focused as possible. A multinational organisation CAN handle a range of issues, but it's much more likely to succeed if it narrows down its scope of operations.

6.Don't have too many objectives — We often see 6-10 objectives in larger organisations, but smaller organisations will be well served to have 3-5 objectives. If you finish these off, you can always start to work on the next set of objectives earlier.

7.Pay much closer attention to implementation — Because there aren't resources dedicated to strategic activity, routine functions will always demand a higher proportion of your team's time in a smaller organisation. This means you will need to be very careful about allocating time to action plans, and must be highly disciplined about having monthly monitoring of action plan progress in order to keep the ball rolling.

8.Outsource as much as you are comfortable with in the process itself. It's hard enough to learn how to be the best at the things your organisation does, so consider outsourcing at least some of the planning process to people who do those things professionally.

Remember, strategic planning should be viewed as a routine part of your operations, rather than a separate event, so make sure the process fits into your normal operations cycle with a minimum of hassle. If you use these tips, you should be able to get through the process in a reasonable amount of time and get tremendous benefit.

successful strategic execution is paramount to creating greater impact on your social goals and sustaining your organization. If you accomplish these four steps you should achieve over 90% of your objectives within the timeframe selected. If you need help on putting in place structures or facilitating these processes, do not hesitate to contact us on:

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