Being strategic involves more than strategic planning, but that planning cycle is one place it often shows up. When I think about the strategic planning work that has been most impactful over my career, the impact has come not from the content of the plans themselves but from the commitment of the leaders behind them to use the strategy as a decision-making guide. These are people who have embedded the intentions of their strategic plans into the daily workings of their organizations over the long haul. As a result, they have plans, as I say in the strapline of my book Sightline, that “gather momentum not dust.” Here are two such examples, in the early stages of their strategy implementation cycle:
Soon after Ecojustice developed its new strategy, it set about rearranging its organizational structure and operational planning processes to enable greater integration across its litigation, law reform and communications functions, as articulated in its strategic plan. Devon Page, its leader at the time, has since moved on to other opportunities but left the organization in strong hands and with a clear path forward, thanks in part to a collaboratively developed strategy that built strong buy-in throughout the organization. The strategy also served as a hiring tool for a new Executive Director, as it presented a clear and inspiring mandate for candidates to consider.
Habitat for Humanity has a longstanding model for promoting affordable home ownership. When Eden Grodzinski took on the leadership of a Habitat affiliate west of Toronto, she knew that she would need to leverage that reputational strength while also refreshing her organization’s business model to reflect the new economic realities of the housing market that put home ownership out of reach even for most people earning mid-range incomes. Eden used a strategic planning process to educate her Board and staff on those new realities, test a new vision and workshop various possibilities, resulting in a plan that charts a relevant and doable path forward. As we agreed afterwards, “the old math was no longer working!” She has acted on those strategic intentions quickly, including in her communications, staffing and operational decisions. That swift action has accelerated the momentum behind the implementation of the plan.
Collaborative development, frequent communication and aligned action that is early and sustained are key ingredients for translating strategic thinking into strategic doing. I am grateful for people who demonstrate that it’s possible to link big picture vision casting with practical action.
Find more real-life examples of leaders that demonstrate the ELASTIC characteristics here, and in my new book, ELASTIC: Stretch without snapping or snapping back.