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  • Mary Mattson

Beyond strategic planning: Influencing mindsets and culture

Updated: Jan 30


Strategic planning means a lot of things to a lot of people. Some view strategic planning as critical to an organization’s vitality, and some view it as a waste of time. Here’s where we stand: strategic planning has the opportunity to create momentum and coherence if the process is dynamic, participatory, and integrated into the organizational culture. So what’s our approach to create this process?

In strategic planning we work alongside nonprofits to develop an internal culture of learning and improvement through self-assessment, planning, hands-on skill building, and individual coaching. This process ultimately empowers participants to integrate data-driven decision making throughout their organizations, engaging staff at all levels. We take a mixed methods approach to ensure that the strategic planning process is participatory and inclusive of all stakeholders. At the conclusion of our process, our aim is that staff and organizational leadership consider the final strategic plan as an adaptive and living document.

Understanding the context and history of our partner is one of the most important tasks we have as consultants. A recent partner in Southwest Detroit has a long track record of serving individuals experiencing homelessness, addiction, and abuse by addressing their physical and spiritual needs. For most of their staff, participating in a strategic planning process was an entirely new experience. To create a meaningful process for our partner, our team first had to invest time getting to know them. We gathered information about the history of the organization, the context in which they work, group norms, and current challenges facing staff. To help our partner create a useful strategic plan, we needed to respect and understand the knowledge and history of the organization as well as its community.

What makes our approach unique is the front end investment in relationship building and understanding context. We don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ methodology. Instead we customize the process to exactly what our partner needs, leaning into a very participatory approach. Here are a few examples of what this looked like for our partner in Southwest Detroit:

  • We intentionally tailored our language, activities, and processes to fit the organizational context.

  • We hosted interactive strategic planning sessions with organizational leadership, staff, and program participants.

  • We coached staff to build a toolkit for keeping the strategic plan present and actively guiding decision making.

  • We incorporated team check-ins to establish priorities and progress toward goals.

By the end of the process, our partner had a three year strategic plan, specifying focus areas and yearly initiatives, as well as accountabilities for team members leading each initiative. The process led the team to adopt shared language for discussing strategy and decision making. Far beyond developing the plan itself, the team made significant strides toward changing how they think about strategy and planning, ultimately leading to positive changes in their organizational culture.


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Based in Michigan. Working across the country.

©2020 by Emergence Collective. Home page photo by JFL on Unsplash.