Tag Archives: Critical Questions


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.

Negotiate or Flight-or-Flight II – Emotional Traps

Last week, I described a framework for making a decision to either negotiate or to flight-or-fight. This framework was developed by Robert Mnookin and detailed in his book, Bargaining with the Devil. His framework is meant to be used totally rationally, without recourse to emotion or intuition. But that is silly. Recent research has proven that nearly all decisions are made emotionally, then justified using logic and reason. Continue reading Negotiate or Flight-or-Flight II – Emotional Traps

Negotiate or Fight-or-Flight I

It has been observed that one of the differences between the “street-wise” and the rest of us is that we often negotiate our way out of difficult circumstances while the street-wise rarely negotiate and will choose to either fight or flee.

Robert Mnookin has written a book, Bargaining with the Devil, that gives a formal framework for the negotiate or else decision. He is the chair of the Program on Negotiations at the Harvard Law School, so he is a pretty good source.

His basic framework is that you need to dispassionately (emotions always get in the way of logic) think about five points:

  1. What are my interests and what are my adversaries interests?
  2. What are my alternatives to negotiation and what are my adversaries alternatives? [Understand your, and his, BATNA’s.]
  3. Is there a potential deal that is better than the BATNA for each of us?
  4. What will it cost me to negotiate? Not all costs are in dollars. Time, emotion, reputation, and self-image are also factors.
  5. If we reach a deal, is there a reasonable prospect that it will be carried out? You can always put penalties for nonperformance from third parties in the deal.
Think about these before you make a fight or flight decision.
The Thinker

5 Critical Questions for Leaders

This summarizes Bill Hybels’ August 2011 presentation at the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit. This summary comes from notes taken by Matthew Sherman and posted on his Website. Click here.

Bill Hybels discussed five critical questions a leader should ask himself or herself regarding their organizational leadership.

1. What is your current challenge level at work?

Hybels warned about being under-challenged and dangerously over-challenged for too long. If leaders allow themselves to be under-challenged, they will suffer from atrophy; physically, mentally, and spiritually. If an employee (especially an upcoming leader) is allowed to be under-challenged for too long a time, they will eventually leave.

Being dangerously over-challenged for too long a time  will eventually lead to burnout. There are periods where being over-challenged is inevitable, but it’s important to gear down as soon as possible. He told a nearly tragic story from early in WCCC’s history where an employee attempted suicide.

2. What is the plan to deal with the challenging people in your organization?

Hybels introduced three other questions to address the critical question.

  • How do you handle bad attitudes? Hybels said WCCC addresses a bad attitude as soon as it is seen to have become a trend. Once the attitude has been seen as a trend, the employee is addressed (“So what’s going on with your attitude lately?”, “Is there something going on that we can help with?”). After the employee has been addressed, they are given a 30-day pass. If the employee’s attitude has not been resolved after that period of time, further action is taken. A bad attitude can be poison for an organization. He also recommended if an organization does not have a method of dealing with an employee’s bad attitude, one should be discussed and developed.
  • How do you handle under-performers? Again, Hybels said WCCC addresses an under performer as soon as it is seen to have become a trend. As before, the employee is addressed and a solution to the situation is attempted to be reached. Willow Creek gives an under performer three months to correct the situation. In his experience, most people who have traditionally been a good performer and slide into underperforming have a personal issue that needs to be resolved, which is why more time is given to resolve the situation. Again, Hybels recommended if an organization does not have a method of dealing with an employee’s under performance, one should be discussed and developed.
  • How do you handle replacing a person who once fulfilled their role, but can’t keep up with the growth of the organization (the organization’s needs have surpassed the employee’s talents)? This is the hardest kind of challenging employee. This is a person who does not have any negative issues (attitudes or under performance), with the exception that expectations for the job tasks they have performed well on in the past have risen to the point they can no longer perform their job adequately. Willow Creek addresses this sort of issue and tries to resolve the problem over a six- to 12-month period. WCCC will do their best to relocate or accommodate the employee, but they will ultimately handle the issue if necessary. Even at the cost of a, “generous severance” package.

He described an exercise where department heads would draw a horizontal line and list their staff members in order of “keep” priority. The scenario presented was, in the event of a layoff of 50% of your employees, in what order would you list the employees of your department in order of importance to the team (highest importance on the left)? “The point of the exercise”, Hybels says, “is not to be cruel. It should first force management to think about the reality of a possible downsize due to economic situations, and second force them to think about the strengths and weaknesses of those on their teams.” If an employee is weak, why? How can these team members be encouraged in the areas they are weak in?

My Note:
The authors of Strengthfinders would disagree with this last statement. Should you focus on building strengths or repairing weaknesses? Their research shows that you are further ahead if you focus on building strengths, without totally ignoring weakness.

3. Are you naming, facing, and resolving the problems that exist in your organization?

Hybels asked if there were problems that were keeping the organization from achieving their goals. What are those problems? Are the leaders in the organization admitting that these problems exist? Are the leaders taking action to address and resolve the problems?

Hybels presented another exercise WCCC has used to address problems within the organization.

He presented a bell curve where the bottom left quadrant represented an idea or goal that was just starting (accelerating), the top left quadrant represented an idea or goal that had taken off and was rapidly growing (booming), the top right quadrant represented an idea or goal that had become old and worn out (declining), and the bottom right quadrant represented an idea or goal that had completely fallen off the radar (tanking).

The task of organizational leadership is to honestly and accurately assess the different ideas, goals, and missions of the organization and place them on the continuum. If goals were declining, or even tanking, what could be done to renew and revive those goals? Hybels said Willow Creek had made the commitment to never let a goal fall into the “tanking” quadrant. If it is a goal the organization wants to continue, the goal would have to be revitalized and renewed through planning and new implementation to return it to the “accelerating” quadrant.

4. When was the last time you examined the core of what your organization is about?

He presented a blank list with 5 spaces and asked, “What are five words that describe what your organization is about?”

Hybels stated that he and his team had spent months working on the five words for WCCC, but they were continuing to work on it. He challenged the audience to continually return to their organizations’ purpose to think about and renew the organization’s vision, mission, and goals.

My Note:
If your organization’s vision and mission are changing, you need to rethink your entire organization and why it exists. They should never change.

5. Have you had your leadership bell rung recently?

Has anything you’ve read, seen, or heard made an impact on your leadership lately? Are you making excuses instead of creating bold, new solutions?

“A leader who is not continually growing and learning cannot remain a leader for long.”

Hybels ended on a positive note, “Make your next five years your best five years.”