The year 2022 was focused on strategic planning in my work. Leading two strategic planning processes for nonprofit organizations, I did not think I would find strong connections with creativity and innovation. Strategic planning is meant to define objectives, right? Innovation is what you do to achieve those objectives – or so I thought. Yet looking back, I realize that creativity and innovation can become interwoven into a strategic plan in ways I did not foresee.
My training in Creative Problem Solving taught me tools such as brainstorming and visioning practices, all of which are useful for generating ideas, but what about when new ideas are not called for?
Organization A: An established, highly impactful non-profit faced the challenge of what might be adjusted or added to its community goals in the planning process, given the amount of work already merited by the existing goals.
Organization B: An organization already in the process of significant change driven by the intensive work around Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility. The major challenge for this organization was how to align the Strategic Plan with this philosophical shift without adding new initiatives.
I was happily surprised to emerge from each process with a plan that included meaningful new goals, each in their own way charting a different path for change.
How did we get there? By applying 3 key principles:
- Reserve time to explore different approaches.
- Ensure flexibility to adjust as a process unfolds.
- Be open to different ways to measure impact.
Having a mindset with these principles at top of mind allowed us to realize that taking a “pause” from action – prioritizing learning itself – is in fact a legitimate strategic goal. Boards naturally focus on creating plans that focus on clear, concrete action items and deliverables. Yet taking this approach restricts the organization from assigning resources- time, talent, and treasure- to undertake the learning and generative conversations that are critical to ensuring long-term relevance and impact.
We also spent time thinking about looking at how the organization is doing its work. Culture change – assessing the diversity of perspectives used in decision making, assessing how board and staff work together, and taking each element of a plan to see how these two areas interact, is both strategic and innovative. While measuring success around these changes will be challenging, the impact has enormous potential to further the organization’s work.
This was quite a happy surprise – finding connections between Innovation and Strategic Planning!