The Success of Your Strategy May Lie in What You DON'T Do

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The Success of Your Strategy May Lie in What You DON'T Do

I know a nonprofit that holds an annual fundraising event. For years attendance has declined and financial results have disappointed (and numerous attempts to reverse the trend were not having much success). Their new strategic plan was developed within which they decided that a different path to raising money was in their strategic interest. This new direction was expected to utilize fewer resources and raise more funds. However, several years later they were still putting on the same event. And, lo and behold, they were increasingly frustrated that their financial condition hadn’t chnged. They talked about changing direction, but were not mentally prepared to actually follow-through. An important lesson. 

Perhaps the most difficult part of the strategic plan is changing your mindset.  It’s not just about the things you will do to achieve your strategic goals; but also maybe more importantly the things you will NOT do. Often there are plenty of things that we do just because we’ve always done then that way or because it is just ingrained in us as the way that work is done. But if we truly want to put on a new face and achieve that big, bold set of strategic goals, the way we’ve done things before often just won’t work anymore. We need to allow ourselves to STOP doing what we often need to think about something new.

Here are some ideas to consider as you plan and implement your strategic change.

Bring everyone aboard

I know it sounds weird, but sometimes I’ve seen organizations that treat their strategic goals as top-secret…even from employees. Yup, the employees who are integral to achieving those goals. Or I’ve seen organizations that have a culture of “just do what I ask (or tell) you to do” without sharing the bigger picture. In my opinion that’s a huge mistake. Bring the team on board. Let them know where the ship is heading and their role in helping row. Get them excited about the future and their place in it. 

Another thing not to overlook is your leadership team. Needless to say, they have to be on-board with the organization’s strategic direction, and they need to model the right behavior to your staff. Employees first look to leadership to determine whether these strategic goals are real or just talk. Should they really change behavior or just keep doing what they are doing to ride out the “flavor-of-the-month”. They need to understand that things are changing, they are positive, growth-oriented, exciting changes – and that the organization’s leadership is totally behind the effort.

Assess activities

Having everyone on board with the organization’s direction will make this next par smoother. Have your teams and individuals evaluate their main activities and identify which ones do and don’t clearly “fit” within the organization’s strategic goals. They should be able to tie significant activities to a strategic goal. If they are spending a lot of time and/or resources on something, it must be able to be tied to a strategic priority. And if they understand the strategic direction and goals, they won’t feel threatened by this exercise. They will understand it’s being done as a realignment or priorities toward a more exciting future. 

Keep in mind that invariably there are activities that we still must do (at least short-term) – even if they no longer serve our strategic direction. We want to keep our customers happy; even as we transition to the future. Planning important changes (and their implications) in advance and introducing them carefully is critically important.

Signal that it’s OK to change

For any significant activities that don’t make strategic sense, encourage your staff to look for ways to unwind from them. Give everyone authority (as long as they openly communicate as appropriate) to change these activities – to better align their work with your strategic goals. No I’m not saying to immediately just drop everything that isn’t a clear fit with the future direction; but they should identify those activities and come up with a phase-out plan. Your team will be looking at you and watching for your support as they implement change. Make sure you give it to them.

Align incentives with the NEW priorities

It’s hard to deny that financial and other incentives work to help shape behavior. So, another part of your strategic plan has to be to step back and look at the organization’s incentives. Ask yourself whether your incentive and promotional plans are aligned with your strategic goals. You don’t want to incentivize someone to do things that will NOT help your organization achieve its goals.

Again, this won’t be (shouldn’t be) rolled out overnight. For most organizations that’s just too jarring and disruptive. Help employees see that this is part of the longer-term plan. 


One the biggest things working against your team achieving your strategic goals is the inability to GIVE UP activities that are not moving you toward your goals. Boldly moving in a new direction is often exactly what our organizations need. But we need to allow ourselves to unload the things that are holding us back. It’s up to you to making a commitment to NOT allow your organization to get pulled backward.

And make no mistake about it; it can be unnerving and uncomfortable. At times you might feel the urge to retreat back to the safe and familiar. Be bold and overcome it. Your future success may depend on it.



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