Putting Off that Planning Process? Relax—It’s Totally Doable

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Planning is a great opportunity to re-energize organizations. But it’s an “opportunity” that many leaders put off, because they think it’s too complicated or takes too much time or doesn’t yield much in the way of results.

With the right approach, however, a successful planning process is doable in a reasonable time frame and highly beneficial. Four factors are especially important in any planning process:

Involve those who will be affected by the plan.
This includes staff, those served (parishioners, students, health care providers, dioceses, school systems, the marginalized, etc.) and the stakeholders (boards, leadership teams, councils, benefactors, etc.)  There are many ways to invite people to be part of the process, like focus groups, town hall meetings or online surveys. Many successful groups use a combination of on-line processes and group interactions.

Collect and analyze data.  
Effective planning for the future involves understanding past efforts and using what is relevant to today’s realities.  Building on quantifiable data going back 3-5 years is essential to successful planning.  It is important to collect data about those served as well as those doing the serving.

But the data itself does not tell the story; it is the analysis of the data that contributes to planning efforts by answering questions like:  What are the trends indicated by the data?  What is increasing, decreasing, remaining stable?

Use the data to understand the strategic issues facing the organization.
Strategic issues often arise from the analysis of data.  They may involve environmental factors which we have no control over–changing demographics, the rising use of technology, conditions of property, political factors in the church and world, etc.  They often call for us to make changes “in the way we do things.”  They challenge us to be bold.  Sometimes the issues involve growth; sometimes diminishment; sometimes total disruption; sometimes a windfall of opportunities.

Use the planning process to deepen bonding and cohesiveness.
The “extra rational” added benefit to involving many participants in planning is that people have the opportunity to develop or deepen relationships. Conversations about the data help us imagine a preferred future, to dream things we never thought possible, to truly be innovative, and to “try on” what it might look like, if we were 10 times bolder.

A process which maximizes the power of planning involves opportunities for storytelling, for faith sharing and for visioning.  Planning gives rise to loss, to “letting go” and the need to grieve together.  It challenges people to see what they value most.  In dealing with limited resources, groups prioritize their actions based on their mission, values and vision.

Don’t put off the planning process—embrace it as the opportunity it is to revitalize relationships as well as the organization as a whole.

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