In "The Strategic Plan is 'Dead' — But the Wheel Spinning Continues," I made a point that most contemporary strategic planning debates rigidly position the conversation as either/or.

You can read that here. I always say reframe the conversation, because it's not plans or planning that's the problem: It's the language between what people want, and how they intend to get there.

1. Be aware of everyday capability

You may spend all your time crafting strategy on paper, what you're going to do, but don't overlook the capabilities to carry it out: the how.

Leaders need to be very clear on what's going to help them continuously implement their plan.

They also need to be aware that there are practices today that are assisting with exactly that (hint: strategic planning is not the focal activity to achieve it).

Capability is what's going to mend the rift between culture and strategy. These are skills, processes, and other mindsets that will enable people to cut across silos, form ad-hoc teams, and do their best thinking and teamwork together to solve problems and crises along the way. Example problems:

  • competition
  • lack of funding
  • lack of resources
  • service delivery processes
  • buy-in
  • business model issues
  • audience engagement
  • information flow

    This might trigger vivid imagery of expensive consulting sessions, jargon, and massive plans that never get read. Fortunately, even if you're a nonprofit upstart, domestic or afar, you can learn a few things that you can apply on-the-field that can help you do things a little better. (I'll introduce some later)

Drucker is often quoted to say "Culture eats strategy:" It just doesn't matter how amazing your strategy is or how excited you are about it, although good vibes and positive energy count.

But does collective belief connect with collective practice?

In a recent private discussion, nonprofit consultants weighed in and there was nearly unanimous agreement that culture had to be crafted to execute on their vision, or else any forthcoming strategy is doomed.

But despite widespread acknowledgement, how exactly do you craft culture? How exactly do you change behavior?

How do you craft culture?
The chasm is best bridged by building up capability.

You gotta have them connect new skill sets to real business needs, and then have them experience success from their own efforts.

I'm just not a believer in just planning for change, or passing around templates and worksheets, and then expecting change to just happen. No matter how you slice or dice the language on paper, it's all theory until acted upon.

When leaders vie for collaboration skills, creativity, and agile teams, you're really asking for lifestyle changes especially if the cultural environment is anti-all-of-that. You're asking for a complete paradigm shift in repertoire and in the way they handle their daily affairs.

You can't rely on just a plan, either.

Business thought leader John Kotter is also often cited in strategic planning essays. Despite the circular debate on strategic planning, what's often overlooked is that any real change begins with changing the behavior of people first. That plays well into Peter Drucker's culture eats strategy tidbit.

Well, Drucker also had some hidden wisdom that I'd like to introduce that ties into training for capability.

Back in 1988, Peter Drucker predicted that companies using smaller teams and flatter hierachy were going to be more agile and innovative. In fact, he predicted 20 years out the now self-evident trend that knowledge specialists needed to cut across traditional silos and form cross-disciplinary task forces. The time was coming when we needed to get things done faster, and old command and control management styles would not cut it in the 21st century:

Traditional departments won’t be where the work gets done.

This change is already under way in what used to be the most clearly defined of all departments—research. In pharmaceuticals, in telecommunications, in papermaking, the traditional sequence of research, development, manufacturing, and marketing is being replaced by synchrony: specialists from all these functions work together as a team, from the inception of research to a product’s establishment in the market.

How task forces will develop to tackle other business opportunities and problems remains to be seen. I suspect, however, that the need for a task force, its assignment, its composition, and its leadership will have to be decided on case by case. So the organization that will be developed will go beyond the matrix and may indeed be quite different from it. One thing is clear, though: it will require greater self-discipline and even greater emphasis on individual responsibility for relationships and for communications.

There's more to it and you can read the rest here.

Drucker couldn't predict how exactly future practices would unfold, but this trend is already self-evident in design thinking and innovation conversations online. Participatory design, agile teams, and cross-sector collaboration is now the name of the game.

Where changemaking leaders get stuck

It's not uncommon to see that expensive companies are hired to help do strategic planning only to see that nothing actually changes for the organization.

Does this sound familiar? An expensive strategic plan gets constructed, but people recede to their old routine. The classic "plan sits on shelf collecting dust, RIP plan" scenario. Then blame is placed on the organization. Because they failed to "execute" it.

Failed to implement it? Failed to execute it?

So goes the mantra. Too often everyday collaboration, capability, and teamwork issues are blamed on the lack of a good plan, or the lack of a good planning process, when it's a far cry from the actual epicenter.

a. What if the organization just solved the wrong challenge?
b. What if the organization was lead to ask the wrong question about itself?
c. What if there are other ways to look at this problem?

2. Clarify language

In addition, we can also help nonprofit leaders and their staff by clarifying what we mean by the language we use. To give precise meanings and to give a real face to loosely used vocabulary.

I'm not trying to say people don't know what they're talking about, because ultimately they're right. They've captured the essence of what we need to do to prepare organizations today.

But my point is that whatever buzzword and platitude is out there, you can bet that there are skills and processes which can be taught to make it happen.

We often cite uncertainty, volatility, ambiguity, marketplace dynamics, environments being shaky and in rapid flux. No one is exactly spared from constant change. But everyone's got their own ideas behind teams, creativity, and collaboration: They know all three are important, but they're not sure how it fits into their context.

That also means changemaking leaders on the receiving end have to spend lots of their time filtering signal from noise (sometimes even spending years) trying to understand
what these new skills sets are, and how they can immediately apply it.

By the way, rather than spending years, I got something to help you get up to speed as soon as possible: Three days to clarity.

In the next finale post, I'll expose some alternatives to strategic planning.



Drucker, Peter. "The Coming of the New Organization." Harvard Business Review. N.p., 01 Jan. 1988. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.

Flower, Noah Rimland, and Dana O'Donovan. "The Strategic Plan Is Dead. Long Live Strategy" The Strategic Plan Is Dead. Long Live Strategy. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 10 Jan. 2013

Alison, Michael. "Strategy Needs a Plan." Strategy Needs a Plan. Stanford Social Innovation Review, n.d. Web