– By Mike Konzen, principal and chair
To everything(turn, turn, turn)
There is a season(turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven.
I was recently reminded of the above lyrics from the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” with the passing of Pete Seeger. He wrote and then recorded this song in 1962, the year I was born.
These lyrics also recently came to mind following a conversation with a prospective client – the leader of an eminent cultural institution. I’d been talking to them about a strategic plan, and I was very excited for the opportunity. But the news was not what I expected: “we need to put some things in place in our organization before starting this process with you.”
My reaction: Disappointment. And relief.
This client made one of the most important decisions that an organization’s leader can make. I was relieved that they clearly understood the importance of timing to effective strategic planning.
To be sure, there is a time to plan. And based on my experience, there are six important elements that dictate the best timing:
- Motivation: A leader should be clear about their reasons for planning. Organizational growth? Transforming their mission for the future? Enhancing financial sustainability? Taking advantage of a unique opportunity? There can be multiple reasons, but there should be clarity.
- Openness to Change: As my friend Chris Cavanaugh (Magellan Strategy Group) will often say: “There needs to be a dissatisfaction with the status quo.” Planning will implicitly result in some amount of change. Although it can also reinforce the need to preserve some existing aspects.
- Leadership: There needs to be an empowered individual who can “carry the flag.” This role is important for engaging the board, motivating the staff, and challenging the consultants. Often it is the chief executive, but sometimes it can be another senior leader. Sometimes it is a new leader, using the planning process to shape their agenda.
- Organizational Capacity: A strong leader must be supported by a core of staff who can make things happen. Inevitably, planning will also expose various needs to increase organizational capacity – especially to execute the plan.
- Resources: There are three key planning resources: money, time, and focus. Money is required to pay consultants, do research, and communicate with your constituents. Time is needed to let the process play out, build consensus, and explore opportunities. Focus is required for the organization to effectively participate in planning.
- Readiness for Action: I’ve always felt that our best plans are done with organizations that are “chomping at the bit.” Our client Beth Hill (Fort Ticonderoga) is always well into implementation before the ink is dry. The only good planning is highly action-oriented. This is reflected in our Planning Mantra:
Think Deeply . . . Plan Carefully . . . Act Boldly