Strategic Planning – Vision and Perspective For Businesses and Non-Profits

Strategic planning in its simplest terms is comparing what your organization actually looks like today with a picture of how you want your organization to look, and making those two images match. First you must determine what you want the picture to be, to describe your vision. Next, you will take a “snapshot” of what the organization looks like today. The third step is to compare the two pictures to see where reality fails to meet your vision. The final step is to develop goals and strategies to make the two pictures look the same; to make your vision the picture others see when they look at your organization.

Most boards and business owners believe that strategic planning is important, but few have a formal planning process in place. The reason for this anomaly is the hard work and consensus required for a group of people to establish and articulate a shared vision. Nearly everyone believes that developing and adhering to a budget is important, and we all know how to spend money. However, many businesses and non-profits do not have formal budget processes either. They go from month to month hoping that cash flow will cover operating expenses and that some yet unknown event will bring in the funds for capital expenditures when needed. Ignoring strategic planning is just as much a gamble as operating without a budget.

In this article we will look at the beginning of strategic planning, frequently the most difficult assignment – vision. Vision describes the picture of a perfected organization; a living illustration of the reason your business or non-profit was established in the first place.

For businesses, this is the opportunity you identified and work to capitalize on. For non-profits the vision describes what caught your heart hard enough that it caused you to make an investment of time, talent and perhaps your own dollars to make the picture in your mind’s eye a reality. Other business folks are trying to turn their avocation into a profitable enterprise. Even sole proprietors find nailing their vision down to a few sentences is tricky work, and they don’t have to build consensus with board members or partners.

What makes you work so hard? You must be able to put it into words. Until you can, there is no vision that can be shared with others and no starting point for strategic planning.

Once you are able to articulate your vision you will have to offer it to others, which is where perspective comes in. ‘Perspective’ is how one perceives the relationship of things from a particular viewpoint. The perspective of a teacher is not the same as that of a student. How one describes the view from the top of a staircase will vary greatly from how it might be seen from the bottom. Life experiences and social opinion affect the perspective of each member assigned to identify the vision for your organization. Distilling vision into a few simple sentences is hard work, but the result is well worth it in increased profitability or enhanced service delivery to the beneficiaries of a non-profit.

Don’t give up. Keep talking. Find a way to turn the wide variety of perspective around the table to your advantage. You share some reason for being there in the first place, find a way to describe it. Once you have the vision established you can proceed to the next step. Without knowing where you’re going and why, you don’t have a high probability of success in getting there. It’s work, but it is worth it.