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Strategic visioning: an investment in re-engagement

It was only last September when the organization's "new" strategic plan was printed. Months of meetings, hours and hours of work -- all of it had culminated in this glorious full-color document. Leaders, stakeholders, consultants alike, were all excited to be done -- and more excited about the future the plan imagined.

Then, of course, COVID-19 hit. A global pandemic has a way of shaking loose our assumptions, exposing camouflaged weakness and highlighting our vulnerabilities.

The chief development officer who called Saison Consulting had just re-read their strategic plan and realized that it was no longer all that useful. It had been written for a world that, in a few months in the beginning of 2020, had been taken away.

They're not alone. Every corporation that held a board retreat before February, every nonprofit whose board identified annual priorities and strategies in the first weeks of the year, every congregation and community of faith that determined long-range goals in the first quarter ... all of them will begin that work over again starting as soon as possible. Some of them already have.

Though it may not feel like it, this is a gift.

Oh, it is not a gift to start over. But it is a gift to share a conversation about "where from here." These conversations are an important investment in re-engagement. These conversations are a way of inviting our boards, stakeholders, members, and staff, too, to recommit to the missions of our organizations by dreaming together about a new future -- one that is harder to imagine but important to imagine all the same.

Strategic visioning conversations are an important investment in re-engagement after this season apart.

I hear leaders across industries worrying around the edges. Time at home has given our members, volunteers, donors, customers and employees time to re-evaluate our commitments. We are assessing and reassessing our priorities, and some of the causes to which we gave time, effort, energy, and money just weeks ago now seem decidedly less important. We might say that week-on-week of physical distancing has led to an emotional distancing from organizations that we once held dear. It’s amazing what weeks of balancing doing our jobs, teaching our kids, and worrying about our parents can do! This means that leaders now have to be strategic about reinvesting our people in our work.

Imagining the future together is an exciting way to begin. While so much about the future is, of course, unknown, when we invite people to picture the future, we engage them in a hopeful exercise. As they picture our organization's future, they are putting themselves, however subconsciously, into that future.

The other gift of this time is that we now have the opportunity to do the work better than we did the first time. In talking with that chief development officer, it became clear that his organization's strategic plan had been a rather inflexible document. In this way, it's a kind of classic strategic plan -- written under and for a set of circumstances that, when they change, leave the plan ineffective and unworkable. Now, as they imagine redoing that work, they want something that is more nimble and adaptable for the sake of their future.

This is part of why we at Saison Consulting believe so strongly in writing a strategic direction before writing a strategic plan.

Now more than ever, write a strategic direction document before you write your strategic plan.

Though these activities are similar and mutually informing for sure, a strategic direction document is more compass than map. It is more concerned with orienting us than offering us a tactical turn-by-turn guide of the way ahead. It is more expansive and ambitious than our mission statements, less burdened with detail than our strategic plans.

Ideally, of course, our organizations would have both a compass and map, both a strategic direction document and a strategic plan. But, when the landscape we are crossing isn’t the landscape we imagined, the compass may serve us better.

If your strategic plan has now been made irrelevant by COVID, if your priorities have shifted because of COVID, if you are wondering how a visioning process can be part of your organizational re-engagement strategy, call Saison Consulting.

We are here for you -- in this season and for the next.

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