Levine Partners

Be the change you want to see – Gandhi

Planning is a Mindset and not Just a Process Marty Levine — November 18, 2014

Planning is a Mindset and not Just a Process Marty Levine

Much of our work is focused on helping organizations effectively plan.
We can easily chart out the steps we think are important in planning effectively. The work of planning starts with ensuring that there is clarity about the organization’s vision and mission; these are the things that define what each organization is in existence to accomplish and express what success will look like. Vision and mission are the things that do not often change, if they change at all.
What follows clarifying mission and vision is the challenging work of examining the organization’s current situation; what it does well and what it struggles to do effectively; defining its strengths and weaknesses. If there are previous plans in place, this is the time to look at how the organization has fared in their implementation and what they may have learned along the way. Included at this point would be a look at the organization’s reputation from relevant stakeholder groups. Building a good picture of the factors that are affecting or might affect the organization’s operations is important.
Good and plentiful data is the material that builds effective planning. The cost of effective planning lies heavily in the work and difficulty of collecting and analyzing the information that fuels the analytic process. For many organizations the difficulty in developing quality information is great and the effort can be painful.
But the real challenge of effective planning lies not in the quantity, quality or breadth of the data that is brought to the table. Effective planning requires an open and inquisitive organizational culture that is ready to take a dispassionate look at who they are and how they are doing. It requires the ability to step outside the day to day work in order to look at the organization from a larger and more distant perspective. When done effectively it demands being willing to look at oneself in a manner which can expose issues and ask questions that can be difficult and uncomfortable. When done effectively it will ask for choices and decisions that can be exciting and hard and which can often create significant disruption in the organization’s status quo.
Often there is a sigh of relief as a planning effort is completed. Gathering the needed data is hard; working effectively with good data is hard; and the plan that emerges may be challenging to implement.
But the results of an effective planning process can become a millstone around the organization’s neck, preventing the organization from moving forward and fulfilling its vision. How can that be?
In the real world nothing remains frozen in time. That plan that was so on target when it was completed quickly becomes outmoded. The information that was gathered as part of the planning process quickly loses its relevance. The assumptions that were made about how our internal and external realities would progress are quickly replaced by new realities. The initial steps that the Plan set out will give us new learnings to consider.
If the plan becomes the organization’s bible, if its recommendations MUST be followed under any and all circumstances, the Plan quickly becomes a real obstacle to success.
More critical that the plan itself is the process of planning!
The effectiveness of an organization will reside in its ability to balance a commitment to a strategy with an ability to change course when conditions merit. The effectiveness of an organization will rest on its ability to create a culture of question, reflection and constant challenge.
If investing in planning is to be truly beneficial it will leave behind both a plan and a culture of ongoing and continuous planning. It will it provide knowledge, data, strategy and direction AND it will strengthen the organization’s ability to be innovative, brave and nimble.

Finding Your Way: Lessons from Alice and Your GPS — November 10, 2014

Finding Your Way: Lessons from Alice and Your GPS

 Carole Levine, Principal

Levine Partners LLP

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Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

“I don’t much care where

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.

― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Finding your way is not easy, even with an updated GPS or a good roadmap (if you can find a roadmap these days).  The advice given to Alice by the Cheshire Cat has great meaning, especially for the nonprofit world.  Knowing where you want to go and caring about your direction can make the difference between success and failure…between being sustainable and fading away (as the Cheshire Cat did).  So, how does an organization determine direction?  Experience suggests that it should be done thoughtfully…strategically…and wisely.

Organizations need to know where they want to go…and at the same time, they need to be prepared to get there via different routes.  Perhaps this is why my GPS offers me three choices in determining the best way to go.  In some cases, the “.quick” route is best.  Organizations can take a fast track toward their goal and bypass some of the distractions along the way.  But sometimes, the “direct” route is better.  It may take a bit more time, but allows for some flexibility in what is seen and done along the way.  And, I always ponder the third option – the “alternate” route.  It is often the longest (but not always), but it clearly is the most interesting.  It offers the option of new paths and interesting places.  This is true of organizations as well. Of equal importance, is the GPS’s ability to warn you of problems ahead (usually traffic congestion) and it then gives you the option of re-routing. Nonprofits often sense that problems lie ahead, but wait until they are in the “congestion” before they take action or make changes. There is a powerful lesson here.  If we can re-route before we come to a complete halt, nonprofits have many more opportunities for success.

Organizations, via their leadership, most often state directions in which they want to go via their mission statements.  They may want to cure a disease, or wipe out poverty, or raise the graduation rates, or other worthy goals.  They generally set out to achieve this via some sort of plan (usually a strategic plan) that sets goals and objectives to achieve their direction. The problem with this, in our fast-moving, ever-changing environment, is two-fold.  First:  What is perceived as the “right” direction may need to shift (and shift quickly) due to changes in leadership or board makeup, or due to new, innovative techniques for this work, due to competition, or due to the recognition that the current path is not getting you where you want to go.  Second: A plan is only useful if it is a living, growing document and many strategic plans are not.  Implementation of a strategic plan is most often the greatest stumbling block.  And, once implemented, a plan may have gaps and inefficiencies that could not be anticipated until it was in effect.  To find the right direction and be effective and sustainable, organizations need to commit to being flexible and nimble.

To be thoughtful, strategic and wise in setting an organizational direction takes thoughtful, strategic and wise leadership.  It takes leadership that is not afraid to tell the Cheshire Cat where it wants to go.  It takes leadership that is aware of all of its options and the various risks and rewards that each could bring.  It takes leadership that is ready to re-route when change is needed and when new information presents itself, or when a roadblock appears.  Finding direction matters.  And setting an organization on the right path (even when it is that “alternate” route) is the means to a journey that will get you to a sustainable, effective and worthy direction.