Should I Use Goals-Based or Issues-Based Planning?

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    Far too often, organizations choose the wrong approach to strategic planning. As a result, strategic plans sit untouched on shelves and planners become even more cynical about the strategic planning process. This occurs especially with 1) new organizations, 2) organizations having many current issues, and 3) organizations having very limited resources. Here’s how to fix the problem.

    What’s Goals-Based Planning?

    Goals-based (or vision-based) planning works from the future to the present. Planners pick some time into the future and then suggest specific goals to be achieved by that time. Often, goals are specified in terms of specific accomplishments, for example, achieve to 1 million in sales revenue or a 20% profit rate at the end of the next three fiscal years.

    Hopefully, planners also associate actions plans with each goal. Action plans clarify who is going to do what and by when in order to achieve the goal. The planning process might also include clarifying the mission statement, and even scanning the environments external and internal to the organization in order to identify priorities to address in the plan. Goals-based planning is usually based on a rather long-range plan, at least 3-5 years into the future.

    What’s Issues-Based Planning?

    In contrast, issues-based planning starts from the present and works to the future. Planners identify major issues facing the organization right now. It’s best if issues are described as questions, for example, “How will we activate our Board of Directors?” or “How can we manage our finances much more effectively?”

    Then planners specify action plans about who is going to do what and by when in order to address each issue. They might scan the external environment, but they focus especially on the internal environment of the organization in order to ensure the organization accomplish strong internal systems. Issues-based planning usually produces a plan with a short time range, for example, one year.

    Which Approach to Planning Should I Use?

    If your organization is 1-2 years old, has many current issues and/or has very limited resources in terms of people and funding, then you should strongly consider doing issues-based planning for now. Then, after a year or so, after you’ve implemented your issues-based plan, your internal systems will be much stronger and ready for doing more future-based planning.

    An added benefit of issues-based planning is that it usually gets much stronger buy-in from planners because their minds are not ruminating on current major issues, while they’re being asked to fantasize far-reaching goals that might result in even more issues to address very soon.

    What do you think?

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    Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD – Authenticity Consulting, LLC – 800-971-2250
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