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Look Forward. How Far?

Most organizations have a strategic plan. How far into the future should it look?

It would be wonderful to have a general response. However, the answer must be based upon the individual organization. There is a formula that can be used by every organization.

The formula depends on one of two variables. One variable is the complete cycle for a client plus 1 year (Client Cycle Model). The other is the time necessary to create the desired systemic changes (Systemic Change Model).

A kindergarten through 8th grade parochial school makes a good example of a client cycle. The child enters the school in kindergarten and graduates at the end of the 8th grade. The cycle takes 9 years. Therefore, the strategic plan should look out 10 years. It should be a rolling 10 years. Each year another year should be added to the plan.

Recycling is a good example of a systemic change. In the past 50 years, it has gone from a poorly understood concept to a social imperative. The next step is to make it an ingrained habit. How long will that take? The answer to that question becomes the end date for the strategic plan. When it becomes a habit, it also becomes a systemic change both for the individual and for society.

Some will argue that looking out more than 5 years is impractical. Technology is changing rapidly. Society is changing rapidly. The economy is unpredictable more than a few months out. It is impossible to see 5 years into the future, never mind 10, 20, or more.

The foundation for their argument is that business conditions are constantly changing. It is easy to agree with them. However, the strategic plan is based upon the mission and clients, which rarely change.

Because we agree with the assessment of the business environment, we urge our clients to develop their business model with a 5-year perspective. We also encourage them to do a complete review of the business model at least every other year.

The business model defines how one organizes their business systems to serve the mission and realize their strategic goals. Changes in technology, society, and the economy might make it possible to achieve your strategic goals sooner or easier or both.

The business model is a tactical element. Tactical components should be limited to 5 years or less. Strategic thinking needs to look beyond the tactical.

In the case of a system change, the external changes probably will make it easier to achieve the goal. Therefore, shorten the time required for success. That is wonderful.

In the case of a Christian school (K – 8th grade), it is unlikely that any amount of technology, societal, or economic changes are going to change the cycle time required. The content of what is taught will change but maturation rate of children is unlikely to change.

Next Step:

Determine how far into the future your strategic plan should look by using either the Client Cycle Model or the Systemic Change Model

Clearly define what success looks like and how you will measure success at the endpoint as well as important milestones along the path

Separate the tactical from the strategic when developing the strategic plan

Develop the tactical plans and business model for the next few years after defining the strategic plan

A strategic plan is an important part of having a sustainable funding stream. When one looks out into the future and defines a goal in the future, the donors realize that their support will be needed for years. They realize a one-time gift is insufficient.

Having a sustainable funding stream is an important part of having a sustainable organization.

Does your strategic plan look far enough into the future to create the sustainability you want for your organization?

As always, contact Mission Enablers if you want help. We use a special process that offers a guarantee. For more information about our process and guarantee, you can click here.

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