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Strategy when the Stakes are High

Uncategorized Jul 26, 2020

Who could have anticipated all the big decisions you've been making lately?  The sand feels like it's constantly shifting beneath your feet.

Who'd have figured it would be a crisis that would catapult your organization's mission to essential status? Your people need  you walking alongside them now more than ever.

Who wants to imagine even the possibiity that the ministries that mean the most to you might not survive the times?  No one.  But people much smarter than me are predicting nonprofit closure rates - best case scenario is  7%, worst case is half, and most probable is 1 out of 4.

The stakes are high.

Think about the big decisions you've had to make since March.  Are they intentional choices about your ministry's future? Or have you just been reacting to every new emergency? Are you making strategic choices? Or are you plugging holes in a dam? 

Chances are, few of the major choices you've made in recent months were informed by your strategic plan.  That strategic planning document is largely irrelevant now. 

If you feel the need to update your strategic plan, think again. The traditional process is pretty useless.  The past is no longer a good predictor of the future.  And the speed of change makes any static plan quickly obsolete.

Learning how to make real-time strategic choices will be key to your organization's survival.  

The work of making strategic choices is not an occassional retreat for your board.  It's a continuous process that gets built into the day to day, week to week, month to month life of your ministry.  It's executed by the whole of your organization - board, executive leaders, staff, and volunteers.

The Strategic Choices process integrates: 1) continuous scanning, 2) adaptive planning, and 3) testing and learning.


Think about Continuous Scanning as the replacement for the old SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). You need to develop the ability to identify new information and understand dynamic situations.  But instead of a preliminary exercise like the SWOT, this is your sustained process for reading the environment. 

Continous scanning involves:

  • the careful selection of your most reliable sources of relevant information,
  • the identification of a small, trustworthy team of people to continuously interpret this information, and 
  • naming the internal realities and the external obstacles and opportunities that signal the need to adapt 


The Adaptive Planning part of the process is where the strategic choices are made.  The framework keeps you focused on 4 overarching questions:

WHY?  Why does our ministry exist? What is its purpose? What is our aspiration? What impact will we have? The answers becomes the 'true north' against which every other question in the process needs to be considered. 

HOW?  How will we make the difference we've just defined? What program(s) needs our prioritization at this time? Who will we offer it to?  Where will we offer it? The answers narrow the focus to the most critical current priorities.

WHAT? What is needed in order to succeed? What adaptations are required? What innovations are required? What economic model is needed? What will we measure and monitor so we know if in fact we are succeeding?

WHO?  Who is needed in order to succeed?  What collective capacity is needed across the organization? What capabilities are required? What individual skills are needed? The answers lead to delegation and execution.


Every strategic choice you make as a part of this process will be an experiment. As you implement your plan, you'll monitor your metrics for patterns and learn how well your methods are working. You'll make real-time adjustments and adaptations. On a regular basis, you'll come back to the framework to clarify or revise your choices. 


"The only thing certain right now is that the future is uncertain."  I'm weary of hearing it. Yet this truth must inform our strategic choices.

But God is faithful. Of this we can be certain.  I'll stake my future on it.


PS  I can coach you through the Strategic Choices process.  Because some organizations are financially challenged by COVID-19, I'm offering a discount through August.  CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE.


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