By Maggie Corry
Implementing organizational strategy effectively is crucial, but rarely easy. Crafting a thoughtful strategic direction requires diligent work but bringing that plan to life and aligning people around it takes even more effort.
In Spectrum Nonprofit’s recent webinar, “How To Build a More Strategic Culture” I was joined by two nonprofit executives, Maggey Oplinger of the Florentine Opera Company, and Mike Mitchell of CelticMKE, who shared their learnings from their strategy implementation. They each provided insights on what it means to execute a successful strategy that goes beyond words on paper.
Below are the key takeaways from this conversation that can help your organization foster a strategic culture.
Simplify your strategy.
To make your strategic direction more accessible and actionable, distill it down to a brief summary or playbook that includes your desired impact, methods and strategies for achieving impact, and organizational priorities for the future. This concise guide will serve as a framework for your staff and board, helping them understand and recall the key elements driving your strategy.
Maggey Oplinger said, “Over a couple of months, we came up with a single page that’s kind of like our cheat-sheet game plan for what The Florentine is trying to do. [It] goes perfectly with our mission, vision, and value side. I give this to almost anyone who wants to know what The Florentine is trying to do.”
Regularly share updates, successes, and challenges in implementing your strategic direction, in meetings and other communication channels. Celebrate success and progress that are directly linked to the plan. By keeping people informed and engaged, you’ll continue to build understanding, alignment, and momentum around your organization’s strategy.
Take an incremental approach.
Instead of overwhelming your team with a large amount of information all at once, introduce the strategic direction gradually through interactive sessions. This gives people time to absorb and understand the ideas and allows for better buy-in and implementation. It also continues to provide feedback to incorporate different perspectives and improve the process.
Develop rising leaders.
Involve emerging talent in ongoing strategy discussions to bring fresh thinking and diverse perspectives. By including these individuals, you will benefit from their insights and invest in their growth and development as future leaders of your organization.
Mike Mitchell expanded on this idea, “I want to have one historian, [a] person who can talk about what your organization has done over the past 40 years. I want to have the future leadership, the young people that you want to carry forward for the next 40 years. I want them to be a part of defining what the strategic plan is. I want them to feel ownership in it and feel that they can carry it forward.”
Create a “parking lot.”
Not every idea or suggestion will align with your current goals and priorities. Instead of dismissing these ideas outright, create a visible “parking lot” to table them for later revisit. This demonstrates that all input is valued, and ideas are not immediately discarded, but rather considered in the future, if appropriate.
Revisit and refine.
Regularly check in on the progress of your strategic direction and implementation process, celebrating wins and addressing pain points. Solicit feedback from your team to identify what’s working well and what needs improvement. Use this feedback to evolve and refine your strategy while staying true to the core direction. When encountering resistance or skepticism, take the time to listen to concerns and critical feedback, maintaining openness to input. Engaging with different viewpoints can lead to better decision-making and more inclusive strategies.
By inspiring rather than mandating alignment, you can create a culture where your teams are united around strategy and actively working to make the organization’s strategic direction come to life. Building a strategic culture requires continuous effort, open communication, and a willingness to adapt. By following these key takeaways, nonprofit leaders can ensure their strategic direction becomes an actionable plan, owned and advanced by the entire team, ultimately driving impact and success.
A special thanks to Maggey Oplinger and Mike Mitchell for their insight and participation!