Putting strategy in its place

by Casey Enders

As a recovering management consultant, I have spent (and still spend) a lot of time thinking about strategy. I love strategy. I take great, nerdy satisfaction in seeing someone break down a tough problem and develop an elegant, structured solution.

At its core, strategy is a way to get more of the right things done. It forces us to focus limited resources on the things that will achieve our goals most effectively – important in any setting, but especially so in the highly resource-constrained non-profit world.

The problem for strategy lovers like me is that we often see strategy as a goal in and of itself – and because we love it and think it’s important, we want to do it all ourselves. But strategy crafted without context or buy-in is impossible to implement, leaving us frustrated when a seemingly brilliant idea falls flat on its face.

So how do we take stock of context and seek input… strategically?

Stop, look, and listen.

Before jumping into the strategic planning process, pause to reflect on the context in which your team is operating. “Context” has a different meaning for everyone, but there are a few questions you can ask to orient yourself during this reflection:

  • What is your community like right now? What changes has it gone through recently – political, economic, social / cultural?

  • What are the key trends that are affecting what you do?

  • What is your mission and who are you serving? How well do your clients or constituents think they are being served today?

  • What is the current state of your organization?

  • What are the most critical challenges facing your team?

Identify your stakeholders and talk to them. Getting advice from people who know, understand, and care deeply about the work you are doing will not only improve the actual strategy you’re developing, it will also increase buy-in from the people you need to effectively implement that strategy. That group may include clients, board members, employees, community leaders, experts in your field, or others. To identify the right people, ask yourself:

  • Who do we depend on?

  • Who depends on us?

  • Who will implement this strategy?

  • Who will be affected when we implement this strategy?

Strategize for implementation. Strategy is the first piece of your Leadership FrameworkTM and it serves as the foundation on which the other three pieces are built. To actually get things done and achieve your goals, you can’t stop at strategy.

With a solid strategic foundation, you will be able to determine:

  • Process & Structure: How will we get our jobs done? Who will do what? What do we not have that we need to innovate, build, or acquire?

  • Metrics: How will we know if we are making progress against our goals?

  • Culture: What does it feel like to work here? What behaviors do we need to encourage?

I know strategy remains a critically important part of any project, but it has to be taken into context. These questions have helped me do just that.

Taylor Enders