You have queried all of your important constituents, so you have mountains of information. You have filtered your information a variety of ways to look at the collected data from every conceivable angle—or so you think!
Now it is time to actually decide what the information says—and that is perhaps the key task in the whole strategic planning process.
First, look for where the streams of information lead to lakes! After we finished our surveys and collected our giant SWOT sticky notes hanging on our walls, our leadership team got together, committed the whole day to the process, shut the door and turned off our cell phones and said, OK, what does all this say? Mostly we looked for streams of similar comments and collected them into little pools. Then we tramped through the pools, looking for related ideas, testing them for compatibility, and eventually we saw a few big lakes emerging.
Second, name your lakes! It was the poet W.H. Auden who is quoted as saying, “How can I know what I think until I see what I’ve said.” Take the time and make the effort immediately if you can, to write one-sentence descriptions of the main collections of information. Not one-word descriptions. It’s too easy to put down Communication or Leadership, but those are topics, not whole thoughts, so put down in one complete sentence (that means a subject and a verb) what you believe the larger collection of information is saying to your organization. For LST, our list looked something like this:
- LST needs a new financial model, including a fund raising strategy and more predictable operations.
- LST needs a growth model with a good leadership model that will carry it through future transitions in leadership
- LST has a big database issue that needs to be solved
- There is great opportunity for LST in the U.S., including expanding FriendSpeak and expanding to other churches.
- LST needs to improve how we communicate with and serve our host churches.
- LST needs to develop closer partnerships with U.S. sending churches.
- Marketing of LST (By this time, we were so brain dead, that we didn’t do a whole sentence!!)
Third, take it to your board! We took this list to our board but did NOT show it to them at the beginning. Remember, they had received all of the raw data prior to this all-day meeting, so they came with their own picture of what the data said. We went through the whole exercise again of following streams and looking for lakes until we got to the end of the day. Only at that point did we bring out the synthesis that the Leadership Team had developed. In our case, with just slight modification of wording, the Board of Directors came to the same conclusions as the Leadership Team. It was almost an AHA! Moment when we put the two lists side by side—and very affirming.
If you come out with two very different lists, then you’ve got one more step, and that is to get your board and your leadership team on the same page. It might take a joint meeting to discuss why one group’s lakes don’t seem as important to the other group. Don’t stop until there is consensus.
Finally, the Executive Director or the one leading this strategic planning process must sit down and begin writing what will become the final version of the objectives for the strategic plan.
The objectives become the outline for the rest of the document, so again, be sure and write in complete sentences. In addition, the final version of the objectives document should include not only the main objectives, but the essential tributaries that flow into them to give a complete picture. For example, look at LST’s first objective in its final form:
1. To create an inclusive financial model that will achieve the following specific goal
A. Both income and expenses are more predictable
B. Annual cashflow variations do not require use of credit
C. New revenue streams are created
D. A fund raising strategy is developed, along with other strategies, resulting in a fully funded, sustainable, growing ministry.
And finally again, your board needs to have a look at what you may think is the final draft of the objectives until they are ready to sign off on it. There is no reason to write one more word until this initial document is finished and approved.
Next: When your “Objectives for the Strategic Plan” document is finished and approved, then the real work begins. How are we as an organization going to meet these objectives?