Thinking & Acting Strategically

Plans are great but they don’t do anything by themselves. And having a strategic plan is no guarantee that your organization will act strategically.

It is encouraging to see numerous organizations recognize the need to think deeply about where they want to go, the resources they’ll need to get there and how they want to acquire those assets to do what they want to do. Sometimes this recognition leads to a comprehensive strategic planning process that results in a unifying, coherent and even galvanizing plan; and sometimes these questions are tackled less formally. What ultimately matters, however, is not the size or shape of a document, but an organization’s ability to follow through on the actions it believes are vital to its success.

That ability to follow through is almost never guaranteed and it certainly is not automatic.

And, to make things even harder the actions called for in a plan must take into account that the world is not standing still for them to make their move. As organizations implement multi-year plans invariably key people come and go; external stakeholders enter and exit the scene and sometimes the governor in your state eliminates arts funding, then its restored and still it might be all gone!

So, the Peter Drucker axiom that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” doesn’t mean that having strategy is unimportant, but rather that the ability to think and act strategically is essential.

Learning, and practicing, these skills will empower executives, directors, managers and administrators to be more efficient and confident in applying plans to the macro and micro decisions they make all the time. Moreover, leadership teams that commit to acting strategically have a greater chance of moving forward together and collectively staying focused on their key priorities and mission than they do if they stop talking about strategy once the ink on their latest plan is dry or if they delegate ‘strategy’ to one person or unit and let everyone else off the hook.

Thoughtful organizations should question the value of a strategic plan. They should not accept an off-the-shelf model for their unique institution. By the same token they should assess their own capacity – and willingness – to train up and foster an organizational culture that can think and act strategically. If they do that, then culture won’t eat strategy for breakfast, but will sit down beside it and ask what’s on the menu.