Tips for Strategic Planning

Whether your organization has used a facilitation process for strategic planning in the past or would like to give it a try for the first time, you’re probably aware that strategic planning requires planning! In fact, the more planning that goes into the process, the better the outcomes are likely to be. Here’s a general framework to help guide the process:

  • Plan ahead. A full strategic planning process will typically need to be scheduled a couple of months in advance to ensure all the necessary stakeholders can be at the table for each session.
  • Budget accordingly. Northspan works with a variety of clients with different sizes and capacities. Even on a smaller budget, we can set realistic goals in order to achieve satisfactory results, but we might not be able to execute the full process. If your organization can budget and set aside a couple thousand dollars a year, this should set you up for a solid three- to five-year strategic planning process.
  • Get everyone in the same room.
    • The more background information we can gather, the more we’ll succeed in getting everyone on the same page, so that we can all pull together toward your goals. 
      • Give an overview of what the organization has done in the past three years or so. 
      • Highlight accomplishments in recent years or since completion of the last strategic plan. 
      • Give area demographics & economics to help everyone get a sense for who your customers or clients are, who’s using your programs, and so forth.
    • Pieces of information like these help ground the conversation and give a clear picture of organizational makeup, including who you’re serving. This will also help get rid of preconceived notions and convey a good sense of what the organization actually does.
  • Identify organizational issues. One step of the strategic planning process is what we call “blocks,” or “underlying contradictions.” We explore this area by using the following general framework: 
    • The idea is to gain an understanding of your organization’s obstacles and any root causes that are preventing vision realization.
    • We ask, “What is blocking us from moving toward our vision?” The key is to dig past the surface issues, which are usually symptoms of deeper problems that the group may or may not be able to solve.
    • For example, perhaps we identify a lack of funding as an issue. Why is there a lack of funding? What are the deeper issues? The first step to solving an issue is to accurately identify it—and that means going straight to its root cause. 
  • Set strategic directions. Strategic directions are the heart of your strategic plan, and they’re informed by your vision and the blocks your organization faces. 
    • Strong strategic directions tackle an issue head-on, so refer to the root problems that you identified as organizational issues. Then ask: What innovative, substantial actions will deal with the underlying contradictions and move us toward our vision?
    • This enables the group to create focused and empowering strategies that will deal with the contradictions and set the course for the group. The goal is to generate excitement about collaboration within the group and renew commitment to practical possibilities. 
  • Create opportunities for followup. Too often, an organization will set strategic goals, only to print off a report that sits on a shelf gathering dust for the next three or five years while nobody does anything about it. It’s vital to create a timeline of actions. 
    • Each one should be assigned to a person who’s responsible for moving forward on the task within a specific timeframe. 
    • Build in 90-day check-ins to find out how things are going and keep a pulse on progress. Northspan can provide facilitation and useful templates for these quarterly meetings. 

Are you interested in doing some strategic planning? We help clients of all sizes with facilitation for strategic planning. If you’d like more information, reach out to Northspan President & CEO Elissa Hansen at or (218) 481-7737.

You can also view/download a PDF with details on our full strategic planning method here: Northspan Preferred Strategic Planning Method