The One Thing Strategic Plans Forget

We are pleased to bring you this article from Susan Detwiler, Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultant. 

calendar delete

Ahh, the glorious feeling of looking at the month after next on your calendar and seeing whole empty days. How easy it is to be magnanimous and say “yes” when asked to take on a job that isn’t due for two mcalendar deleteonths. So we say “yes,” and put it on the calendar. When another someone asks us to do something in the future, we again check our calendar, see that it’s still pretty empty, and again say “yes.” This happens a few more times, and all of a sudden, the 1st week in December starts looking pretty full.

Then as December 1 approaches, all the things we want to accomplishlong term projects, researching new programs, reading for professional developmenthave to get squeezed into the unscheduled times, alongside putting out the inevitable fires that weren’t anticipated, calling our parents, and taking our kid to the doctor.

If we’d scheduled the projects, research and professional development, then that week wouldn’t have looked so free. We might have more carefully evaluated the request, and said ‘no’ to some of them, in order to have time to accomplish our own long term goals.

Almost everyone experiences this phenomenon. Dan Ariely, the behavioral economist who wrote Predictably Irrational, found it so common that he created the mobile app Timeful to help manage making time for the important things in life and work. In Ariely’s words,

Mixed up dates

“Because of the ways calendars are created, people actually take more meetings than they should…  We have this satisfaction of having our calendar seem busy. We have the satisfaction of not saying ‘no’ to things. But at the same time, we’re chasing away things that are important to us for things that are unimportant.”

When you add together the many individuals on a board or in a department, the problem gets compounded. We all know whole departments and companies that fill their time with tasks and meetings, leaving all the workers wondering if they’ve actually accomplished anything.  Similarly, nonprofit boards of directors are often left wondering why their strategic plans are never accomplished.

A strategic plan without concrete, timed, scheduled milestones is a wish list.

Several organizations I’ve worked with want to build a stronger board. The sequence goes like this:calendar deleteIn 2012, they stated that by the year 2015 we’ll have a stronger, more diverse board, representative of the community.

In 2014, they determine that by 2017 we’ll have a stronger board, representative of the community.

In 2016, are they going to say that by 2019 we’ll have a stronger, more diverse board, representative of the community?

Probably. Unless they schedule the time to think through what it will take to make that shift. Thenschedule the time to execute each step on that newly planned path.

We all have the best intentions in the world to accomplish our strategic plans. Yet without putting them on the calendar, those planned goals are going to get squeezed out by the so-easily scheduled meetings, the inevitable fires, and the daily tasks that we take for granted and therefore forget that they take time.

Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence and A Passion for Excellence is famous for the dictum, “What’s measured gets done.”   Back in business school, I learned this phrase as a component of Managing by Objective or MBO, which requires that these critical questions be answered:

What are you planning to do?

Who will be in charge?

By when will it be accomplished?

The problem is that MBO leaves out the step of scheduling the time to actually work on it. There is still room for procrastination. Even if the objective is accomplished, nothing keeps it from being done at the last minute or squeezed into inconvenient half-hour chunks of time around scheduled meetings. Theresult is frenetic or burned-out workers and volunteers.

After a recent strategic planning session, a participant approached me and said that it was one of the most intense sessions she’d ever been part of. She really felt that they had the path forward. She said the biggest difference was that they actually set completion dates for every activity, and scheduled when they would work on it.

On the two hour drive home, I remembered Ariely’s column about personal planning. In an aha moment, I realized that while setting milestones may get activities accomplished, it’s:GANTT chart

acknowledging that those milestones exist,

keeping them in front us, and

scheduling the time to accomplish them,

that makes the plan realistic.

Scheduling the time in which to accomplish the milestones forces you to acknowledge that accomplishing these goals will take time. It makes it a lot easier to say ‘no’ to another idea that would divert your time away from the agreed upon goal.

What gets measured gets done. True. What gets scheduled gets done more sanely.

If we don’t plan our own future with things that matter to us, then we relinquish our future to the obligations of others.

Will your plan be accomplished on time? Will your board and staff stay sane in the process? Let me know what you think! Post them here or you can reach me at sdetwiler@detwiler.com.

The post was originally published by the Detwiler Group.  Susan Detwiler is a Standards for Excellence® Licensed Consultant who specializes in strategic planning, governance, board excellence and facilitation. Located in the MidAtlantic, she works with agencies across the United States. For more of Susan’s posts, or to learn more about Susan Detwiler or The Detwiler Group, please visit www.detwiler.com.

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About susandetwiler

26 years for-profit work; 7 years nonprofit; and I see a lot of overlap -- and differences. Let's explore them! Currently consulting to nonprofit organizations in fundraising, strategic planning, leadership development and marketing. Currently also considering how to help people become better philanthropists with their time and money.
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