Strategic Direction: The Heart of the Matter

Capacity Partners has a unique and successful approach to strategic planning with four key phases:

  • FOUNDATION:  Mission, Vision, Values
  • CURRENT SITUATION:  External trends, opportunities and threats; internal strengths and weaknesses; understanding of constituent needs
  • STRATEGIC DIRECTION:  Short-term vision, goals, strategies and timeframe
  • IMPLEMENTATION:  Annual objectives, budget, work plan

The heart of strategic planning is strategic direction, but what is strategic direction? More than just another planning term, it paints a compelling vision of the future and addresses the key questions “where are we going and how are we going to get there?” Incorporating your mission, vision, and culture, ideology and values, it is an essential part of reaching your grand and important goals.

Strategic direction includes:

  1. A one to two-year strategic plan statement (i.e., strategic vision) that describes where the organization wants to go and what it will look like at the end of the plan period and how stakeholders will be affected. It is a word picture that energizes your stakeholders and describes what you expect to achieve.
  2. Five to seven broad goals that articulates the top critical priorities and what needs to be accomplished to realize the vision.
  3. Strategies, to explain how the organization will achieve each goal.

Together, these components form the strategic direction that will guide your organization for the upcoming 3 years.

For example, in its recent strategic plan, the Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MCAEL) set a bold goal of “21,000 by 2021” with this strategic vision statement: “While the coalition of adult ESOL providers remains committed to maintain the quality of programs and instruction and the number of adult learners it serves has increased over the past 6 years, there continue to be tens of thousands of learners who are limited in their English proficiency. By 2021, MCAEL will increase the number of learners who are on a pathway to proficiency from 15,000 to 21,000.”

This ambitious three-year vision drove goals related to increasing numbers of new highly-trained instructors, training new staff, expanding partnerships to enable access to a range of new workplace programs, and enhancing other types of instructional opportunities for English learners.

MCAEL Executive Director Kathy Stevens said, “Capacity Partners is key to our planning and implementation process since the expert help we receive helps us translate the big strategic direction into tangible action steps.”


Embrace Conflict and Get Creative

Nobody likes conflict. Some people are even proud to say they are “conflict averse.” But if you are in a for-profit business, or a non-profit business, or a family, or any business that includes other people, you are in the conflict business. In fact, being happy and successful is a matter of deciding that a conflict is an opportunity to get smarter and more competent. Anger is a natural reaction to behavior that offends, but getting mad is literally crazy. Don’t get mad; get creative.

Terry, the board chair of a medium-sized nonprofit, had started to worry about whether they had made a mistake putting Quinn on the board. In each of the last three board meetings, he had disrupted discussions with long arguments that were, at best, peripherally important. It was beginning to be bad for morale.

Even as she drove to the next meeting, Terry still hadn’t figured out what she would do about Quinn. The agenda included a decision to launch a capital campaign. Terry needed it to end with high enthusiasm.

Luckily, Quinn arrived early to the meeting. Terry smiled, offered him a cup of coffee, and said, “Did you have a nice weekend?”

“Yes. We watched ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ again.”

“I love that movie,” said Terry. “I’ve watched it three times.

“I know. I have, too.”

Then, with a big smile, Terry said: “You’re a lawyer, aren’t you?”

“Well, no. I wanted to be a lawyer, but my parents pushed me toward banking, so that’s what I did.”

“Still, I do see a lawyer in you.”

Then other people started to arrive.

Early in the meeting, Quinn made a short, constructive observation, and Terry said, “Excellent argument, counselor.” They both smiled.

A few minutes later, Quinn interrupted another trustee and began to take the discussion off track. With a smile, Terry cut Quinn’s pontification short with, “Contempt of court, counselor.”

Quinn participated constructively with no more interruptions for the rest of the meeting. They launched the capital campaign, and in the course of the next three years, they became close partners.

Every relationship is either a conflict or an incipient conflict. Our success or failure depends on continuing to build our conflict repertoire. Conflict aversion is a disability.

So, if you find your hand clenched in a fist, remember five things …

1) Pre-forgive the person.

2) Find common interests.

3) Provide feedback that is hearable, seeable and doable.

4) Think creatively together.

5) Go into a conflict knowing your best move if your adversary is committed to being your adversary.

...and your hand will be open, ready to shake hands.

Guest columnist Rick Ackerly is a nationally recognized educator and speaker with 45 years of experience working in and for schools. With a master’s in education from Harvard University, Rick has devoted his career to building thriving learning communities.  He has served as headmaster of four independent schools and has been a consultant and coach to teachers, school leaders and parents for many years.