Category Archives: Strategic Planning

How to Hold Mindful Conversations – Part 2

In our last post, we discussed three ways to structure conversations, even everyday ad hoc conversations, to achieve your objectives. Every conversation is an opportunity to build relationships, to coordinate activities, to plan for the future, to sell your ideas, to get ideas, or to recap the past.

Today, we add another structured conversation, with a specific focus strategic planning

Continue reading How to Hold Mindful Conversations – Part 2

How to Hold Mindful Conversations – Part 1

Mindfulness is an important buzzword these days. Basically, Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

We each hold dozens of conversations, mostly mindless conversations, every day. These are wasted opportunities to build relationships or coordinate activities or to plan for the future or recap the past. It is possible to focus a conversation so that it has a meaningful result by using some simple techniques. It is possible to plan your conversations. And after a smidgeon of practice, you can apply these techniques with little or no effort.

All the techniques seem to follow a specific pattern of topics, in a particular order:
get the facts, get the feelings, get the values (determine importance), generate options, and decide on actions. Here are some of the patterns:


ORID stands for Objective, Reflective, Interpretive, Decision. These are the most basic steps in a focused, mindful conversation. The ORID process applies almost everywhere. You can repeat the ORID as a building block at each step of the other processes. The evening after I was introduced to the ORID process, I was able to use it in 17 conversations with my wife without her noticing.

The first step calls for objective observation. “Just the facts, ma’am.” No opinions. No speculation. Just what we know to be true. “What happened?” “What has been your interactions with our board [or agent or support or representative?” “What was said?” “How did you come to that conclusion?” “How did the events unfold?”

The second step calls for reflection. You want them to express their emotions and mental associations. The first step asked for external data. This step probes the internal responses. “How did you feel about that?” “What was your reaction?” “What surprised you the most?”  Many people, eager to get to the point, skip this step. No. No. Nothing happens until the emotions are expressed. Dig them out.

The third step is interpretive. This is where we analyze what is going on. We select our decision criteria. We consider choices and implications. “What is important here?” “What is the central problem here.” “What is the root cause of our experience?” “Which criteria are more important than others?” “What are the options?” “How have others handled this problem?” “What decisions will we have to make?” Note that we now have a commonly held set of criteria before we make decisions, but only after expressing our emotions and feelings.

We make decisions in the final step. This is where we look at the options and make choices based on our decision criteria and values. This is where we make commitments to one another to take actions.

The McKinsey Pyramid

Barbara Minto developed the Pyramid to explain a logical analysis and presentation process. I discussed this process on a prior blog. Check it out.

The Six Hats

The Six Hats is a technique designed to reach group decisions on a proposed course of action. It involves six steps, also called hats. The first is explaining the process, then find the facts, then state what is good about the proposed, then discuss the risks. Now we get to venting emotions. The group discusses possibilities and actions in the sixth step. Of course, there is a recap of the process. I discussed this process in detail in a prior post.

There are more processes using this framework. In the next post, I will talk about using ORID in strategic planning, starting conversations, making tacical decisions, and possibly, like a lawyer.

Talk with you then.


Strategic Planning in a Nutshell

Here are some questions that your strategic planning process should answer:

  1. What is your vision for the future? You should have this memorized before you even start. This vision rarely changes because it is the reason for your existence. It is usually stated in vague terms. It should contain no strategies, goals, nor values. This is a view of the outside world, not a description of your organization.
  2. What does the future look like in three to five years? This is specific. This is your practical vision. These comments represent the criteria you use to judge the rest of your plan. What do you expect to see, hear, feel? What is taking place?
  3. What are the roadblocks that keep you from achieving the practical vision? What are the kinks in the hose, the dragging brakes? What must change to achieve the practical vision?
  4. What innovative, substantial actions will deal with the underlying contradictions (the roadblocks) and move you toward your vision? These will give you your broad strategic direction. They typically build on your strengths.
  5. What will be your specific, measurable accomplishments in the first year? What will you accomplish in each quarter?
  6. What will you do in the first 90 days? Who will do these actions? When will they do them? What resources will they have? Who is responsible for tracking progress?

Now you have your strategic plan. Document it. Add it to your Operating Plan.

Now go do it.
Strategic Workshop Overview

The Thinker

Do You Really Want to Update Your #Nonprofit Strategic Plan?

It seems that about every three years nonprofits get an itch to update their strategic plan.

But do they realize what they are asking?

They are asking to scan the external environment for changes that impact their approach to achieving their vision. Then they review their current strategies to see if they are accomplishing their mission efficiently and effectively.

But this is worthless unless they put into place some Strategic Actions that are innovative and substantial.

Strategies without strategic actions are just paper weights.

Strategic actions that are not innovative are just the same old thing. Innovative means new and different. Not just what you are doing now.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
– Attributed to Einstein, Mark Twain, an old Chinese proverb, and Benjamin Franklin

But most, if not all, nonprofits are already over-busy and over-scheduled. How do you fit in something new? You start by taking out your eraser and deleting something you are doing now. Hopefully, that will the be the least effective activity…or the least efficient. You may have to delete your favorite activity, or as author guides say, “Kill your darlings for the greater good.” This is really tough.

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
– Stephen King, stolen from William Faulkner,  Oscar Wilde, Eudora Welty, G. K. Chesterton, “the great master Chekov”, and originally from Arthur Quiller-Couch.

Strategic actions that are substantial are those that have an impact. If they don’t have an impact, they must either be killed or not started. Why do them? Your vision is the reason why your nonprofit exists. Having an impact is another way of saying they are effective.

There are many good things to do, but not all of them advance you towards your vision. Doing good things that do not move you towards your vision is a common problem. See the Stephen King quote above.

The impact, however, does not have to happen immediately. Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, uses the image of a flywheel that gets many small pushes, but builds up tremendous momentum over time.

So, before you embark on a strategic plan, think about some of the changes you must make and your willingness to make them.

How to Use the Cause Effect Chain

Nonprofits start with the recognition of a problem, a vision of the problem solved, and a mission to achieve the vision and solve the problem. This is basis foundation for strategic planning and is the key to winning donors, grants, and volunteers. One of the biggest problems in grant applications is not properly stating the problem, or, more commonly, not stating the right problem.

Everything is driven by the definition of the problem. Once you get that right, the rest comes much more easily. But defining the problem is more complex than it looks.

I frequently see grant applications for funding to provide additional reading interventions for early elementary students. They will state the problem as x% of third grade students reading below grade level, and the goal is y% (y > x) of third grade students reading at or above grade level. but as a potential donor, funder, or volunteer, I want to know why that is important.

They will respond that reading proficiency is an important factor in high school graduation rates. OK, so why is that important?

High school graduates have higher earnings as an adult. So economic well-being increases.

So we have a chain of causes and their effects (problems):

Low reading proficiency ⇒ more high school dropouts ⇒ fewer graduates  ⇒ lower incomes  ⇒ more crime and dependency  ⇒ lower GNP & GDP

But the chain also goes the other way. Why is proficiency low? It could be because there are too few teachers for close attention. It could be because most do not have reading opportunities at home, or they have english as a second language, or reading is not valued at home, or they don’t have breakfast in the morning, or any of a hundred other reasons.

Understanding the causal factors is important. Remember the old illustration of the townspeople who saw a baby floating in a river. They rescued him. Then there was another, and another, and another. They were very busy rescuing babies. Finally, they sent someone upriver to find out why the babies were in the river in the first place. (Usually the answer is something like a troll was grabbing them off his bridge and throwing them in the river.)

In the long run, it is better to address the root cause than to just keep addressing the immediate issue over and over again.

Some people will attempt to solve a problem by  prohibiting the problem.  This usually makes the problem worse or creates new problems as the root causes still exist.

For example, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the sale of liquor without removing the root cause. People with a thirst quickly found many ways around it and crime gangs arose to meet the needs.

Looking at the reading score example, some people have suggested that we just require everyone to graduate from high school, ignoring the fact that many people don’t have the necessary skills…and there are reasons why they don’t have the skills. Mandating the expected outcome just does not work. You must address the root cause to permanently solve the issue.

Private versus Public Outcome.

Note in the reading example that outcomes related to the initial parts of the cause and effect chain provide an benefit to the individual client, such as a higher reading score. This is called a private outcome.

The outcome related to the final effect impacts society as a whole. This is a public outcome.

To be effective, the ultimate public outcome should always be clearly defined.


Always focus on the root causes to achieve a permanent solution.

Always state a clear public outcome.