The two basic duties of boards are oversight and strategic planning. Depending on the size and type of the board and the organization, boards have a few options on how to organize their strategic planning process. Boards can delegate the task by setting up a standing strategic planning committee or task force.
The alternative is for the entire board to work on strategic planning during board meeting time, which works especially well for smaller boards. There’s no right or wrong approach. The important issue is that boards consider strategic planning a work in progress and that they have a designated process for continual work.
According to the Governance Institute, about 50% of hospital and health system boards rely on a standing strategic planning committee to develop their short- and long-term planning strategies. By contrast, almost 90% of the companies reported having a finance committee.
Reasons to Have a Strategic Planning Committee
Strategic planning is one of the board’s fiduciary responsibilities. The board provides the direction that sustains the organization for the upcoming 12 months. Looking beyond the coming year, the board is responsible to develop strategic plans for two to five years.
The average size of a corporate board is about nine members and the average size of a nonprofit board is about 17 members. Boards that have larger numbers of members may be too large to provide the necessary focus for forming important strategic directions. Smaller groups have the time to vet issues thoroughly and come to conclusions quickly. Boards that choose to delegate strategic planning have standing committees do the legwork on planning and bring a draft to the board for consideration. This process saves the board time because they have a base of information to use when asking questions and making requests for revisions.
What Is Strategic Planning?
Strategic planning first accounts for clarifying and solidifying an organization’s purpose and mission. Clarifying the purpose is especially important for charities. Nonprofits are legally required to operate according to their purpose and to benefit the public accordingly.
A strategic planning committee must also consider where the organization is currently; what they want to see happen over the next three to five years; and formulate a plan for how to achieve their goals. Planning includes identifying the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. By analyzing the internal and external environments, a strategic planning committee can help the board identify risks and challenges. This information will help the board establish priorities and set goals. A strategic planning committee memorializes their strategic plan in writing so the board can refer to it regularly to monitor their progress toward achieving their goals.
Strategic planning committees that wish to keep their work safe and completely confidential should be using an electronic board portal by BoardEffect, which includes a highly secure email communications platform.
What Do Strategic Planning Committees Do?
If it’s your first position as a member of a strategic planning committee, a quick internet search will yield lots of information on how the process works. Most committees have their own preferred way of dealing with the details.
Generally, strategic planning committees will begin the process by identifying the strategic issues they need to address. It’s also common to do an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, which is also commonly known as a SWOT analysis. Other information that’s helpful in strategic planning is looking at market opportunities and threats, assessing customer satisfaction and demand, and getting input from employees about their perceptions of strengths and weaknesses. These exercises will help the committee members to determine their starting point.
The next phase of the process typically consists of developing the strategies. At this point, the strategic planning committee reviews the mission, vision and values statements to determine if they want to recommend any changes to the board. Working together, the committee then develops the three- to five-year plan, along with a three-year financial projection.
Using the SWOT analysis as a reference point, the committee should be able to set some solid priorities. The next part of strategic planning is to set some short- to mid-term goals.
Any time an organization sets goals, it’s prudent to set SMART goals. The acronym SMART stands for:
A-Achievable or attainable
R-Realistic or reasonable
In other words, each goal should be specifically worded and be something that can be realistically achieved. Strategic planning committees should be able to put a timeframe on achieving the goals and should be able to measure the outcomes.
The committee will also need to identify key performance indicators and plan to use them to track the board’s progress against their goals. To ensure that there’s adequate funding to support the new objectives, the committee will need to develop a one-year budget for the short-term plan. The final step in this phase is to assign organizational goals to the responsible departments. They will then be able to get started planning their action steps so they’ll have much to report to the board at the designated periods.
The steps listed above compose the bulk of the work that a strategic planning committee needs to do, but there is one final, important stage in the strategic planning process, and that entails monitoring the performance of the strategic plan.
Upon finalization of the strategic plan, the committee should get a final approval from the board before pursuing implementation. The committee then needs to communicate the strategy to the whole organization, so that everyone feels invested in their responsibility and is contributing to the overall plan.
To keep strategic planning on track, the committee should be careful not to overlook creating a schedule for progress reviews. Most boards find that quarterly progress reports are sufficient for monitoring and follow-up. This gives the board a chance to review the strategic plan and to ask for modifications if they’re necessary. Taking these steps should ensure that boards are seeing specific and measurable progress in multiple areas.
At the end of the year, it’s time to review the committee’s achievements and success and schedule time to build on that success by conducting strategic planning for the next year.