When not to plan

As a strategic planning facilitator, whenever someone asks me if it’s possible, useful, or necessary to develop a strategic plan during times of volatility and uncertainty, I always say some variation of “yes.”


There are three scenarios where a new strategy may actually be unhelpful — or at least not your best investment of time. Maybe one of these applies to you right now?

  1. When you have a big, sticky issue to address first. For example, I once worked with a client who was deciding whether to merge with another organization and/or to divest of one of their subsidiaries. It was better to make those two decisions before developing a strategy, as we didn’t know if we were strategizing for one, two or three organizations.
  2. When you aren’t sure your model is working. There isn’t much point in developing a plan that is likely to be rooted in your current ways of working if those ways of working are no longer serving you well. Often, a strategy development process is too compressed to have more generative conversations that help you fundamentally rethink your approach. It might be more useful to join with others in your sector for a series of conversations about more effective models, more impactful joint initiatives or collaborative pathways that will strengthen your relevance first, before developing a new organizational plan to deliver on your part of that vision.
  3. When you can’t yet articulate your desired destination. Particularly in the charitable sector, it is not always self-evident what an organization’s “win” is.  Describing in detail what you are trying to achieve — what your preferred destination looks like — is a critical precondition to mapping your route to get there. It’s an exercise of imagination, and it’s frequently missed. It can be included in a strategy development process, but investing dedicated energy to adding the nuances and shading to your shared picture of your desired future is usually a better way to go.

A strategic plan is an excellent tool for helping you say a strong “yes” or a defensible “no” to opportunities, but developing it might be your second step, not your first.

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