Keeping the Plan and Planning Alive
by Gregory Kandel
We've all heard over and over again the lament that planning processes don't lead to anything of
lasting value. In fact, well known management author Tom Peters is said to have offered $100 to the
first person who could prove that a successful strategy had come from a planning process; he has
apparently never had to pay! But a good plan should be a living, breathing document. Many plans are
stillborn -- perhaps a rushed effort to respond to a grant requirement, or a mandated effort
undertaken with little enthusiasm. In these cases, and others like them, the plan will have no
life, will likely have little impact, and will make people be skeptical of the power of planning.
Though this chapter is placed near the end of the Table of Contents, in fact the fate of a plan
is determined at the very beginning of any planning process. There are many exceptions to any
generalization, but I will offer a few key indicators that correlate with an
effective plan that comes to have profound impact over an arc of time.
- I'll begin with an indicator that has no exceptions; it is an absolute requirement for the
successful plan of all cultural organizations: The impulse to plan, and the context in which the
planning occurs, comes from the art or program of the organization. How can we do what we do more
effectively and for better impact upon people?
- Successful planning begins at mission level and then is re-tested periodically against mission.
Mission is what draws the people of the entire enterprise together. It's the touchstone for all
efforts. Mission can hold stakeholders together to keep the plan alive after it is written.
- The planning process is inclusive. A team, or teams, of trustees, administrators, and
artists/programmers work collaboratively to develop best thinking. All sectors in the organization
are made to feel valued and have a chance to respond meaningfully.
- Those driving the process bring an attitude of curiosity and openness that becomes infectious.
- In fact, an environment is created in which creativity flourishes and spontaneous insights
- Debate is not only permitted, but actually encouraged, and even provoked.
- There are multiple points throughout the planning process when ideas become more crystallized,
and participants have a chance to affirm a direction.
- The thinking is rigorously specific to the organization's needs and dreams, as well as the
environment in which it operates. The plan cannot have been written by any other organization.
- The plan document is written in the voice of the organization and reflects its personality and
If most of these indicators are in place, then the plan will, in fact, have a future life.
Symptoms of that future life are many.
- The plan will be provided to all new employees and trustees. Some organizations make it a part
of the employee manual, as well as the trustee orientation packet.
- Its executive summary will likely be submitted to donors, the media, and community leaders.
Often, press coverage is garnered in response to some powerful plan initiatives that are shared
with the community. This also helps in later efforts to raise funds.
- There will be marks on everyone's copies as adjustments are made based on changing
circumstances; this document should definitely not be merely gathering dust on a shelf.
- Perhaps detailed operating plans were drafted whose progress is being checked upon monthly.
Many organizations put these operating plans on the walls and check off their progress.
- Key meetings of the Board of Directors will have discussion of plan progress to-date during
which possible major adjustments are considered. A number of boards have devoted one special
meeting a year to a discussion of that progress. Generally this begins with an assessment of the
then current environment and the changes that this compels in strategies, if any.
- Staff meetings will have planning benchmarks as a regular part of the conversation. Have we
achieved what we anticipated? Why and why not? Are we heading in the right direction given the
rapidly changing circumstances, or are we stuck obstinately on the wrong course?
In sum, the plan will be referenced often as a set of signposts on the journey into the future.
And the fact of the matter is that this constant consideration of the plan through all aspects of
the organization's life instills a way of strategic thinking that is valuable all the time.
One of the major benefits of a strong planning process is the fact that the very art and act of
planning is inculcated into the organization's culture. We are always planning, whether we know it
or not. The planning process merely provides an organized framework. As the planning process
challenges the participants to think strategically, and as the power of that thinking stimulates a
hunger to do that more often, it is this way of thinking that lasts.
It's also true that a good plan shows the result of many people focused on a common purpose -
the best overall interests of the organization. This gives all participants an overview that is
very healthy as initiatives are considered, affirmed, and then acted upon. When this happens, that
elusive "collective will" is established throughout the organization. This is the will that says:
"We will succeed. We believe in this plan. We will carry out its major initiatives."
And that means the plan is alive and well.
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