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Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Strategic Planning - How Does Research Inform Our Practice?

Strategic planning is undertaken in many different ways in the various nonprofit organisations that I have interacted with and consulted to over the years. Whilst the various approaches all focus on some level of engagement across the organisation, methods of such engagement, depth of engagement, and timing of this engagement, vary quite widely. The one thing that they have in common is the desired output - being some sort of strategy plan, the format and structure of which, also varies quite widely.

In an attempt to bring this variety into some broader context, I noted with interest, an academic article in the July 2015 British Journal of Management entitled "Off to Plan or Out to Lunch? Relationships between Design Characteristics and Outcomes of Strategy Workshops" by Healey, Hodgkinson, Whittington and Johnson (of Manchester Business School, Warwick Business School, and Lancaster University Management School). Having delivered one of my research papers, entitled "Action Learning Intervention as a Change Management Strategy in the Disability Services Sector - A Case Study" at the 2013 British Academy of Management, to which the British Journal of Management is linked, the article on strategic planning attracted my attention.

A range of very interesting findings were presented in this research, which was based on a detailed questionnaire survey that was distributed to a random sample of 8,000 members of the UK's Chartered Management Institute, from which there were 1,337 respondents, being a response rate of just under 17%. Those that had not participated in a strategic planning workshop in their current organisation were then excluded from the analysis, which left a total of 846 valid responses from which the findings of the research were drawn.

These findings may be of interest to your organisation, especially as you may be planning your next round of strategic plans and considering the vagaries of workshop alternatives to enhance the process and inform the production of your strategic plan. The findings focused on what was identified as three concepts related to outcomes of strategy workshops, identified as follows:
  1. The research identified the organisational outcomes that were linked to the formal workshops. The researchers defined organisational outcomes as the impacts that the workshops would have on the organisation's strategic direction, including its vision, values, business plan and business processes. Here they suggested that the formalities of the event itself provided a rare forum for examining and changing the goals of the organisation as well as defining the communication strategies around this. They supported this by suggesting that a process of open and frank discussion concerning the long-term logic of the business, underpinned any switching of the strategic focus.
  2. The research identified the interpersonal outcomes that were linked to the formal workshops. The researchers identified the team-building and organisational development impacts that such formal workshops enabled. The bringing together of individuals to collaborate on the common issues, facilitated these outcomes, reversing the sense of disengagement and the absence of shared feeling that some experience if they have not been involved in such formal workshop events leading to the development of the strategic plan.
  3. Finally, the research identified what they referred to as the cognitive outcomes that were linked to the formal workshop processes. Cognitive outcomes were described  as the understanding of the organisation's strategic positioning and direction, the strategic issues that it faced and the wider business environment that informed the full range of strategic outcomes.
What practical guidance can be extracted from this type of research and what, if any, are the implications for your own organisation as you consider the workshop structure, process and aftermath, as you commence your strategic planning activities?

  • I think it is reasonable to assume that your workshop design should consider the interplay of all outcomes identified by the research, namely organisational, interpersonal and cognitive;
  • I believe that from a structural perspective, the outcomes of the workshop should ensure that opportunities to strengthen the internal organisational communication lines is maximised;
  • The strategic inclusion of relevant personnel from across the organisation must be considered in order to maximise the sense of inclusion and to pave the way for well considered strategy content;
  • Strengthening key internal relationships should also be identified as an outcome that can deliver benefits in both strategy-inputs as well as strategy-implementation; and
  • The success of your strategic planning processes is potentially predicated on the adequacy and depth of your preparations.
OPTIMUM NFP has developed a strategic planning process that has responded to many of the issues identified in this research and has successfully executed the process in many nonprofit organisations. Contact David Rosenbaum at on 0411-744-911 to arrange a no-obligation meeting to discuss your organisation's strategy planning process. Make the most out of the research that, when used well, can be to your organisation's benefit.

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