This Is Not The World We Planned For

When the topic of strategic plans is discussed, there is often an admonishment actively reference the planning documents throughout the plan period rather than drop it on the shelf until it is time to create a new strategic plan.  The organization is supposed to be measuring itself and its success against the plan.

I recently read a piece on Medium that suggested an organization should scrap parts, if not the entire plan, and create a new one if the operating environment has changed so much that assumptions upon which the plan is based are no longer valid.

Laura Weidman Powers, writes that when she was CEO of Code2040, the organization sat down during the early part of 2016 and underwent a pretty comprehensive process to develop a strategic plan.

And then Donald Trump was elected president. Our core communities (Black and Latinx people) were and felt threatened and silenced as white supremacists were emboldened. Tech companies who had been publicly pro-diversity in the Obama years clamped up. And as the winds continued to shift, my heart sank.

We had created a beautiful, functional, coherent, inclusive, actionable strategic plan — for a world we no longer lived in.

She writes that they knew there would be a need to make some course corrections throughout the life of the strategic plan, but had no sense that things would change so quickly and radically and moot most of their strategic plan.

In hindsight, she says she would have made sure that the assumptions upon which the plan was based were specified in the plan. If those environmental factors no longer existed, it would be time to scrap the plan and start over again. She is careful to specify that constantly challenging a strategic plan can lead to organizational paralysis. At the same time, if the ground beneath your feet is no longer stable, efforts to make progress become increasingly futile.

If I were doing it again, I would have had a section up front that enumerated the 2–3 key assumptions that needed to hold true for this plan to be valid. I would have kept an eye on those and empowered anyone on the team to throw up a flag if they thought they had evidence that the assumptions were no longer holding. Outside of that, our goal would have been to execute against the strategy as written.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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2 thoughts on “This Is Not The World We Planned For”

    • Exactly! I didn’t want to use the “no plan survives first contact with the enemy” quote given the political nature of their issue so the Tyson quote is a good alternative.

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