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Strategy Is About Action

Without action, a strategy is useless.  A strategic plan is wasted effort if the plan is never executed.

A vision for the community is the starting point for the process.  Without a vision, it is impossible to determine the role of the parochial school in the future of the community.  Strategy is the guiding principles for a school’s necessary actions.  The strategic plan should be the logical series of steps that lead to the fulfillment of the principles outlined by the strategy.  Tactics describe how to take each step in the strategic plan.  The operational plan defines what actions will produce the desired results.  Finally, nothing happens without taking action.

For many parochial schools, this process breaks down because they start the process in the middle.  They start by creating a what they refer to as strategic plan.  The strategic planning process is usually driven by an outside force (the plan is needed for a grant application, upcoming accreditation, etc.).  Since the outsider never asks for the strategy, the strategy is never written down or adopted.  Because the authors of the plan never discuss the strategy, even though it should be a strategic plan, the plan is never driven by a common strategy.

Instead of the strategic plan covering years of activity, it is usually limited to the lifespan of the outsider’s request (life of the grant, length of the accreditation, etc.).  In addition, it is inconsequential if the plan is never followed because the parochial school can provide a list of reasons for limited implementation and it is too late for the outsider to take action (grant has ended, it is time for reaccreditation, etc.).

The strategic plan receives official status to satisfy the requirements of the outsider.  However, because it was never connected to a long-term vision, driven by a strategy that everyone understood and endorsed, and served a purpose that was important to the leadership, mission, and students, the plan will suffer from inaction.

For many schools, receiving the grant or being accredited justifies the effort needed to create the strategic plan.  However, other benefits behind a strategic plan are the reasons schools should create them.

Donors care deeply about the impact a school intends to have on its community.  The vision tells the donor what the impact will be.  A long-term vision has a much bigger impact than meeting a short-term need (100% college graduation in 10 years versus every student performing at grade level).  The long-term vision has more value to the community and donors, which means both are more generous today.  They are also more loyal because they know it is going to take a long time to achieve the desired results.

Most schools have very few collaborators.  One of the reasons is that it is hard to recruit a collaborator if their role is unclear (How will their mission fit with your vision?), know the principles that govern decision making (What is your strategy?), or know how to work in synergy with your school (What is your strategic plan?).

When the whole package (vision, strategy, strategic plan, tactics, and operational plan) fits together, it is a more compelling argument for support.  It sends a message to everyone that you want support for a higher purpose than money, time, referrals, students, or advocacy.  Your supporters will understand that they are providing a pathway to the future (a future they want) rather than providing operational support to meet a current or near-term need.

Next Step:

Create your strategic plan because of its value to your mission rather than its ability to fulfill an outside requirement

Start with a vision

Use your vision, strategy, and strategic plan to attract supporters (donors, volunteers, referral sources, students, and advocates)

Use the feedback from supporters to alter the wording of your vision, strategy, and strategic plan to increase the perceived relevance

A ‘strategic’ plan written to fulfill a grant serves an operational need (money), which implies that it is an operational tool rather than a strategic plan.  Once the tool has served its purpose (you receive the grant), it is usually discarded.  Likewise, if the grant is never awarded to your school, the plan is discarded.  That explains why most plans are never referred to after they are written.  Since the purpose of a strategic plan is to guide the actions and activities of a school, most plans are strategic in name only.  Put another way, most strategic plans never contribute to the sustainability of a school.

Sustainability is fragile when one is going alone.  Sustainability is robust when you are traveling in a group.  When your whole package fits neatly together, you will find that your supporters are numerous, loyal, and generous.  You will find the collaborators you need to take on an inspiring vision.  The next economic downturn will test the sustainability of your mission and the strength of the team you formed.

Now is your chance to lay a foundation that will ensure you have the support to comfortably meet both your internal and external needs.  Create a true strategic plan.

Take It Further:

Invite stakeholders to help you cast your vision and develop your strategy

Recruit board members who truly understand the value of a vision, strategy, strategic plans, and strategic thinking

Encourage your board to promote the disciplined implementation of your strategic plan

Revisit your vision, strategy, and strategic plan annually to ensure they remain relevant and effective while our society evolves

Support your strategic plan with a draft budget for the next three years including capital expenditures

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