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Creating a Highly Relational Culture of Ongoing Strategic Planning and Execution

A strategy is most simply “what we do.” So we all have a strategy, whether it’s unintentional or an intentionally planned one. This article is about the importance and practice of creating a culture that is both highly relational and at the same time practices ongoing planning and execution of those plans.

If you set out to drive from New York to LA would you leave without a roadmap, GPS, and trip plan because that would feel too results-oriented and not relational and loving? Or would you plan the trip utilizing all the tools available to you and in the planning and execution make sure the entire experience fits your relationship values?

I have facilitated many organizations on this strategic planning journey, and I make it clear that we will DEEPEN relationships AS we experience the process. In fact, my preferred way to proceed is to spend the first day together building the planning team’s relationship, trust, and team cohesiveness with a “Team Workshop” that grows understanding of how a healthy team works, builds understanding of our own and each others’ God-designed strengths and struggles, draws out the team’s strengths and struggles, and deepens our real knowing of each other.

I have seen this process really bring a team together, whether they were in relational stress coming in or felt that they had great relationships already. At the end of a recent workshop, the CEO commented that he had known everyone from 15 to 29 years and yet he learned significant things about several of the team through this interaction. After a day like this, you strategic planning team is so much better equipped to do the hard work of planning together.

So here is what that planning process looks like. Although I define the terms in one specific way, what’s important is that you are clear on your definitions of terms. Each of the elements in this visual plays a critical role in strategic planning, so I recommend that you utilize all of the elements in your planning, no matter what you call them in your organization.

There are 3 ongoing practices that make up the process:




You can discover each element of your strategic plan by asking 11 Key Questions:

1. Purpose – WHY does this organization exist? This is the broadest and most fundamental statement. It will not necessarily differentiate you from others, although you may choose to state it in a unique way. Two examples of how examining and defining your Purpose makes a radical difference were when, in the face of a technologically changing world, a railroad company re-identified its purpose as moving people and goods from one place to another vs. when a watch company continued to see its purpose as making mechanical watches rather than helping people tell time. You can imagine the difference in the outcomes.

2. Core Values – How do we behave? These are those constant, non-negotiable characteristics of who we are that we should never, ever violate in all that we do. They in a sense describe the boundaries within which we operate, like the left and right guardrails of a roadway that we must stay within. And, taken together, they describe a lot about the culture of our organiztion.

For more on the critical role of values, see my articles Understanding Organizational Culture and Changing Organizational Culture).

3. Vision – WHERE are we going? This is the inspirational future that you should always strive for, constantly make progress in moving toward, but never fully attain. It is lofty, usually not directly measurable, memorable (ideally by the entire organization), and constant. It’s your target.

Your Purpose, Vision and Values together make up your “core” that Jim Collins (in his book Built to Last) says you must preserve. They should never change, and everything should be aligned with them.

4. Strategic Anchors – How will we succeed? What are the major things your organization does now to survive and thrive? These are still not at the tactical level, but, in a real sense, they are the highest level or “big rocks” of your strategy. These should be reevaluated and adjusted from time to time, because “what got you here won’t get you there.” Typically these are in the form of a few bullet statements.

5. Current Reality – Exactly where are we now? To create a strategy, you must also know the real state of the organization today. Until you know where you are you can’t clearly see the gap between that and the Vision, or where you are going, so you can’t know what steps to take to get there. Making an honest assessment of your Current Reality should be done regularly as a part of your ongoing strategic planning culture.

6. Ten Year Target Picture -- What will we look like in 10 years? This is a picture you will paint, balancing vision and faith with wisdom.

7. Key Focus Areas -- What is most important right now? If you are going to make the 10 Year Picture happen, what is absolutely most important to tackle over the next 3 years?

8. SMART Goals – What exactly will we do? To answer this question we develop SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) and Action Steps necessary to accomplish these goals. This sounds simple enough, but establishing truly SMART goals is rarely done, and developing the concrete steps that will absolutely accomplish those goals is even more rare. Every goal must be assigned to and owned by a leader and team.

The final 3 questions lead you to Align for Execution:

9. Organizational Plan – Who will do what? How should we organize and define roles in a clear way that will best facilitate our reaching these goals? This might occasionally require serious restructuring of the organization from the top down, but we may just need to make clear assignments of goal teams and team leaders. But a part of organizational alignment is also asking how we can ALIGN every ministry with this entire strategic plan.

10. Operations Plan -- How will we do things on a daily basis? This includes meetings, metrics, accountability to execute, building teams, and developing leaders. And what procedures and policies are we missing?

11. Communications plan – How will we tell people about this? Who are the key stakeholders in these changes and how should we communicate with each group? How significant are the proposed changes and how can we orchestrate the adaptive (values- based) changes and manage the technical (more known) ones? Don’t underestimate how crucial this step is.

So the Strategic Plan will consist of all of the above elements. Practicing it as an “ongoing” process as opposed to an occasional major effort will develop planning and execution into part of your church CULTURE. Doing all of it in real, vulnerable, Biblical relationship will actually deepen your relational culture over time. And doing it in total dependence on God and prayer will build your culture of faith, as well.

© 2018, John Purcell



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