Class notes - week six, Spring 2018

It’s a snowy late-February in Minnesota.

Class on Thursday was good, in a falling-into-a-routine kind of way. There was the lecture during the first half, then we wrapped up a bit early due to a snowstorm blowing in. I chatted with the professor on the walk through the driving snow out to the parking garage, discussed this blog, and gave some feedback on the pace of the class. The workload for this class seems like its rigorous but not overloaded.

The paper for that Stakeholder Analysis workshop also came together by the end of the week, at the deadline of course. Okay, twenty minutes after the deadline.

This past weekend involved a lot of shoveling. There was snow on Thursday night, then snow again on Saturday. The City of Minneapolis is now in the midst of back-to-back snow emergencies. Which means there will be more shoveling to do tomorrow night - when they plow the odd side of streets on day three it creates a mountain to move at the end of our driveway. Every time.

The reading for next week wasn’t too onerous, only two textbook chapters. I still need to finish last week’s class activity and jot down notes for the upcoming week’s exercise, but it all feels well under control right now. I wonder if that feeling is going to hold when I’m taking two classes again the second half of this semester.

Another thing I need to get working on is a presentation that I’m slated to give at two upcoming conferences, the first of which is just about three weeks from now. The topic is IT planning and budgeting, and this will be the first time I’ve given the presentation. There’s a long story about how I developed a model over the course of a decade working for my previous organization, and when I submitted these conference proposals last year I planned to be underway with implementing that model at my current organization. Long story short, I’m not. But I wrote the presentation description to be vague enough that it can focus on just the work I’ve already done, i.e. teaching the model rather than needing to talk directly to experiences with re-purposing it. And in a way I think this is better. It gives me more of an opportunity to use the conference sessions for feedback on building up that model, which I can hopefully add to using what I learn in the Carlson School IT Management class that I’ll be taking in the second half of the semester, and shoot for implementing IT planning later this year to align with the vision that my organization’s new Executive Director develops. All I need to do in the next few weeks is find time and motivation to strip that model down and create a slide deck and handouts.

Here is the lecture outline from last week’s class:

  • Tonight’s topic is strategic thinking, strategic planning
  • We tend to know more about the planning process than the thinking process
  • What do we need to know about strategic planning for nonprofits?
    • Internal support is key
    • When you think of buy in, think of co-creation. Buy in is harder when people weren’t involved in developing the plan
    • Getting the right stakeholders
    • Definition of what success is
    • Strategic plan is only as good as the implementation
    • Capacity to facilitate the process
    • Important to define roles (who does what)
    • It can be initiated by many issues
    • It’s a process, not an event
    • Important to identify potential barriers
    • Mission focus
    • Usually done on a timeframe (every 1, 3, 5 years)
    • Important to determine boundaries (resource and issue limitations) up front
    • Important to look at the external environment
  • Strategic planning is a process for setting direction and for organizational change
  • All kinds of things can be your barriers. Don’t plan your strategic plan during a time of crisis. If something major happens, pause on that plan and work on a different type of plan
  • Once you’re past a crisis, you can look at the lessons learned and what you’d do differently
  • We don’t always plan on the what-ifs, then they catch us off guard and we have a knee-jerk reaction instead of a strategic one.
  • The boundaries and resources - it’s important to know what you’re not going to do.
  • External environmental scanning tool - PEST analysis (political, economic, social, technological). Change that to PESTEEL (environmental, ethics, legal)
  • Other types of planning in the organization fold up into or fall out of the strategic plan. Those discrete plans should look like they belong to the strategic plan. They’re all subsets of the org’s overall strategic plan
  • Turning from strategic planning to strategic thinking. What’s the difference?
    • Planning is an activity that happens periodically, strategic thinking is ongoing
    • Understanding the bigger picture - where the organization is, needs to go, and how to get there
  • The downside to strategic planning is feeling like you’re locked in to a specific direction. Need flexibility to make mid-course adjustments
  • Getting a common vocabulary and language around SP terminology at the beginning of the planning cycle
  • Strategic thinking can (should) be done all of the time
  • Some strategic thinkers will ask generative questions - intended to generate ideas and discussion
  • Concept of reflective listening - listening to hear, as opposed to listening for the purpose of formulating a response
  • Strategic thinking is something everyone can do, regardless of title or position in the organization
  • Many people in all walks of life are natural strategic thinkers
  • You want to reward your board and your staff for thinking strategically
  • You need a couple of people on your staff who are a pain in the butt, who question things constantly.
  • As leaders and managers you praise in public and critique in private, and you never surprise each other when you can avoid it.
  • You want board members who know how to get the plan done, and staff who know how to execute on the plan
  • Sustainability can be a double-edged sword. Too much focus on how to bring in enough revenue to stay in business can detract from focusing on the mission.
  • Strategic thinking can help break down complexity and reduce ambiguity
  • The downside of planning, we don’t always think strategically about what we’re doing or how we fit into the bigger picture.
  • Thinking about the networked nonprofit concept, where does your organization fit within that broader ecosystem?
  • As an exercise, start a discussion about which nonprofit you would merge with. Doesn’t mean that you will, but it’s a way of generating ideas around where you fit.
  • What does your network look like, and what is the issue you’re really addressing?
  • If you don’t know what issue you’re fighting, then you don’t know where you fit and where you should network. Planning which is focused entirely on internal factors miss this.
  • Related concepts = systems thinking and design thinking
  • Many organizations don’t realize that they have mandates which should be reflected in the plan
  • A plan without a budget is not a plan - you have to allocate resources to the plan, and you should be able to crosswalk between the plan and the budget
  • In policy terms, it’s called an unfunded mandate
  • It’s nice to have communications/messaging goals. Over the next few years, what do you want people to think about when they think of your organization?
  • Is it readable? Too often when we write a plan we write for ourselves, not an external audience, and load it up with jargon.
  • Reality is, take it to about an 8th grade reading level. Scale it down. (MS Word built in readability test)
  • Mix up the text with pictures, charts, graphs
  • Comparisons with previous plans to show progress
  • Pre-planning process - the plan to plan
  • Some in process notes, make it into a chart to document how the plan was formulated
  • Evidence of the three modes of governance (fiduciary, strategic, generative)
Written on February 26, 2018