Starting Planning with Attention to Mission Statement (and Brainstorming Goals) — Is that Best?

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    It still seems common that many facilitators start strategic planning by having planners attend first to the wording on the mission statement, and soon after to start brainstorming strategic goals.

    While that approach often can be done in a half-day or full-day of fun and creative “planning,” it has many drawbacks. Here’s a list of my concerns about that process:

    1. Most strategic planning researchers, educators, writers and practitioners would agree that the strategic thinking is the most important part of strategic planning. While there’s probably different perspectives on what “strategic thinking” is, I’m sure that most would agree that it includes the process of taking a wide look outside and inside the organization and then deciding how best to position the organization to work toward its mission, as a result of that looking around. I fail to see how focusing on exciting words in a mission statement and then brainstorming associated goals actually achieves that critically needed strategic thinking.
    2. The word-smithing and brainstorming are based on a usually invalid assumption – the assumption that all of the knowledge and wisdom that are needed for strategic thinking are already in the minds of the planners. Unless the planners have regularly been considering the overall strategic situation of the organization (rarely the case with very busy Board and staff members), then that assumption is an invalid one that can significantly cripple the value of strategic planning. It can build a beautiful ladder – to the wrong roof.
    3. The word-smithing and brainstorming propagates the major misconception, especially among facilitators, that there’s one way to do strategic planning – when there’s actually many different models of strategic planning (vision-based, issues-based, real-time, alignment, organic, etc.). The model should be selected, based on the purpose of the planning.
    4. The word-smithing and brainstorming of exciting goals propagates the myth that “strategic” means only forward-looking considerations, and not considerations of the major current issues that the organization might be facing now.
    5. The word-smithing of the mission statement can propagate the misconception that the mission statement is the mission. The statement is the map, it’s not the journey. A very useful mission would clarify, e.g., what’s the social need that the nonprofit is aiming to meet, what results/outcomes are needed to meet that need, what services/programs are needed to achieve those results, what group(s) of clients do we aim to serve, etc. If the discussions about the mission consider these questions, then it’s not word-smithing. Otherwise, discussions about “are we transformational” or are we “transcendental” are not sufficiently attending to the journey, rather they’re attending too much to the map.
    6. Finally, it propagates the myth that great planning can be done in an exciting half-day or full-day session, without much preparation, discussion, debates or research.

    What do you think?

    Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD – Authenticity Consulting, LLC