According to Wiktionary, the above proverb is used to describe "a disappointing or mundane event occurring straight after an exciting, magnificent, or triumphal event."
Now it's a stretch to call any strategy process magnificent or triumphal - I love strategic planning and even I wouldn’t go that far. But you can probably remember a time when you saw a new strategy launched with much fanfare, the product of many exciting conversations about the future, and then…nothing. The strategy goes to its final resting place in a dusty drawer or the dark recesses of your shared drive, and everybody goes back to their daily business as if nothing has changed.
This is a huge waste of time. Everybody knows it, but it still happens more often than most people care to admit.
At Lime Green, we try to make any strategy process as collaborative and inclusive as possible - I'm a firm believer that the conversations are as important as the final document. You need to involve people from all levels of your organisation, rather than entrusting a senior leader or consultant to sit in their ivory tower and write your strategy alone. But this alone isn't enough to avoid the pull of the strategy graveyard.
There are loads of resources out there about how to create a strategy, but very little on the all-important topic of what to do after you've finished it. So here are some tips for making sure your published business plan or fundraising strategy remains a useful and relevant guiding document…
Organise launch sessions for all staff
Expecting everyone to independently read and engage with a new strategy is a tough ask. Even if they want to, the realities of their job may get in the way, and words on a page are rarely that exciting or inspiring.
This is where a strategy launch session - for the whole organisation or your particular team - can work really well. Ask people to read the strategy in advance, but be prepared to summarise key points at the start. Encourage staff to ask questions, voice concerns, and think creatively about what they need to start doing differently to turn the strategy into reality. While this absolutely isn’t a substitute for involving people in the planning process, it's a great additional step.
Providing a space to discuss concerns is important, because a new strategy can inadvertently make people worry about things like job security or underinvestment in their area of work. Dealing with these worries head-on will reassure people and make them engage more positively with what you want to achieve.
Update your budget, plan and other resources to reflect your strategy
If a strategy is meaningful and well thought out, it should ultimately result in you changing the way you work - but it's not the strategy itself that does the heavy lifting.
It’s highly likely you’ll need to update your budget and re-write your operational plan. Job descriptions and even job titles may need to be changed. Regular meeting agendas will need updating, so you can monitor and discuss the things that you’ve decided are most important. Forget to do this and your strategy quickly becomes irrelevant, because people won’t have the resources or permission to start doing things differently.
Shout about your strategy to service users, partners and funders
A good strategy, with a bold vision and clear direction, should build confidence and trust in your organisation and improve how you work with others. If that’s the case, you want it out in the open. So make sure that everyone you work with knows about your strategy, understands how it changes things, and holds you to account for turning it into reality.
But you can’t expect your strategy to be important enough to external people that they’ll sit down and read it in full. There may also be parts of it that are for internal eyes only. This is where a well-written executive summary or eye-catching infographic, which summarises key information in a concise and engaging way, can be hugely helpful.
Make your strategy visible
I don’t just mean saving it somewhere easy to find, although that helps.
If you've created a clear list of strategic priorities, milestones or values, make these impossible to miss. Print them and stick them up in your office and meeting room. Add them to login screens, backgrounds and screensavers. This makes your key messages impossible to forget and ignore, but it also shows pride in your strategy and promotes accountability - because someone, somewhere is going to look a bit silly if the whole team gets a daily reminder of all the things that the organisation changed its mind about doing.
Show how your strategy is helping to achieve success
If colleagues are wrestling with a tricky decision, remind them to refer back to the strategy and consider how it could guide them. If following your new strategy has enabled some kind of success - securing a new grant, forming a new partnership or receiving positive feedback - shout about it from the rooftops.
In my experience, there are enough badly-planned and painful strategy processes out there that a lot of people approach this type of work with a big dollop of suspicion and scepticism. Showing the value of a good strategy, and vindicating the time spent on it, can help to change attitudes. You'll be grateful the next time you need their time and input.
Commit to a strategy review
No strategy gets everything right or accurately predicts the future. But that’s never a reason to hope everybody quietly forgets it ever existed.
To get real value out of a strategy, you'll need to review it part way through the strategic period, say after 12 or 18 months. Committing to this in the strategy itself, and scheduling a review process well in advance, makes it far more likely it'll actually happen.
Just before you publish a strategy is a great time to identify anything that will particularly merit a review. If you've faced a particularly tough decision, or committed to a direction that some staff are worried about, then promise to revisit this. Thinking like this may give you a list of natural questions to work through later. This again builds confidence and accountability, and might persuade doubters to give something a try for a bit.
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