How to Get Organizational Strategy Right

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Does your nonprofit have a strategic plan? Has it been updated within the last year? Is it referenced often? If you answered ‘yes’ to all three of these questions, congratulations! You're among very few organizations that have taken the first step in ensuring a successful future.

If your nonprofit is like most, you answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the first question, and ‘I don't know’ or ‘no’ to the rest.

Believe it or not, you have a strategy!

Regardless of whether your organization has invested in a formal strategic plan or not, you still have a strategy. As Roger Martin recently wrote on the HBR blog network:

Every organization competes in a particular place, in a particular way, and with a set of capabilities and management systems—all of which are the result of choices that people in the organization have made and are making every day.

Martin goes on to explain that regardless of your strategic intentions, it’s what your team does on a daily basis that is the reality of your strategy. That strategic decision-making takes place throughout the organization, and that every employee plays a role in setting strategy.

But is it the right strategy?

Making sure that everyone is executing the same strategy requires that every member of the team understands the top-level organizational strategy and what their personal responsibility and opportunity is in relation to the strategy.

Martin advises that each individual think carefully about four things:

  1. What is the strategic intent of the leaders of the level above mine?
  2. What are the key choices that I make in my jurisdiction?
  3. With what strategic logic can I align those choices with those above me?
  4. How can I communicate the logic of my strategy choices to those who report to me?

Ensure your strategy sticks, by connecting the dots.

In addition to encouraging every person in the company to view their role in this manner, at OrangeGerbera we help our clients put in place a framework that forms a direct connection between the top-level strategy and individual work plans.

The typical outcome looks something like this:

  • The organization's strategic plan has no more than four or five high-priority goals at any given time and has articulated them succinctly and specifically.
  • Each department or team within the organization has its own strategy and handful of goals that clearly roll up to and support the organization’s goals.
  • Every planned project, initiative, or activity undertaken by a team can be directly tied to at least one of the departmental goals.

We've found that this approach works best when the strategy and goals at each level are set collaboratively with all stakeholders, and where team leaders and members identify how individual work plans also support the strategy.

When helping nonprofits adopt a thoughtful and systematic approach to their fundraising, we help encourage a process that highlights this connection throughout the organization, so that every activity, from individual microblogging to updating donor profiles in the CRM system, are never more than 3–4 steps removed from top-level organizational goals.

An example of this in action is a recent workshop promotion conducted by one of our clients:

  • The person responsible for the promotion executed a series of Facebook posts with specific calls to action for people to register for the workshop. Per his plan, his goal was to drive at least four registrations as a result of these Facebook posts.
  • The rest of his plan (he was using an action brief) included other tactics that, based on previous promotions, he estimated would drive an additional 12 registrations.
  • One of the primary goals of his plan was to drive at least 14 total registrations for the workshop. (As a best practice, they always plan to exceed their goals.)
  • This campaign is one of 18 that his department will conduct this year that include workshop registrations as a primary goal. The sum of all registration goals from all 18 campaigns totals 200, which is his department’s annual goal for workshop registrations.
  • One of his nonprofit’s top-level goals this year is to increase engagement in their programs (of which workshops are one) by at least 25%, which will be accomplished if all departments successfully reach their respective corresponding goals for the year.

As you can see from this example, if the organization doesn’t reach its program engagement goal, it’s a very simple process to figure out what went wrong and how to correct it.

By connecting the dots between project work plans and top-level organizational goals, the organization can be confident that all members of the team are supporting the same strategy.

Image Credit: John Morgan (with changes)