Thursday, July 31, 2014

Strategy in Uncertain Times

“How am I supposed to create a strategy for the next three – five years, when I have no idea how the environment is going to change in even the next three months?”

This was a very astute question asked during the Breakthrough Strategy seminar I taught earlier this week for nonprofit executives in Columbus, Ohio.  In an environment that has been called “permanent white water”* how can we effectively plan for the future?

Here are three specific suggestions.

Keep Focus on Mission.  Remember that there are some key aspects of your organization that won’t change often – especially your commitment to accomplish your mission.  If you are swimming in the ocean with the waves tossing you one way and another, keep your eyes focused on a specific spot on shore where you want to go.  If you don’t do this then you will end up going where the tide wants to take you, rather than where you really want to go.  Keep readjusting your actions with a focus on Mission Impact.

Specify Your Assumptions.  Once you have set your goals, identified your SWOTs, and set your strategy, then specify the most important of the assumptions that your strategy is based on.  Keep an eye on these.  If they change dramatically, then you may need to adjust your strategy.  This usually does not lead to changing your goals, but to changing the types of strategic actions you will take to achieve the goals.

Do Scenario Planning.  If you are in an environment in which you can expect two or three potential changes ahead, then take some time before these things happen to decide what alternative actions you will take in each case.  By doing this calmly, before the big changes happen, you can be better prepared to effectively pivot and implement new action plans.  This is especially helpful in a political environment.

By Keeping Your Focus, Specifying Your Assumptions, and Doing Scenario Planning, you can not only survive – but even thrive in a permanent white water environment.  Remember, change often brings about new opportunities as well as challenges.

*Peter Vaill, Learning as a Way of Being: Strategies for Survival in a World of Permanent White Water,1996.

For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.

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