January 11, 2012

Timeless Questions, Timely Tactics

One of the challenges with strategic planning sessions is that once the vision, goals, and objectives have been identified, the good thinking that created them often stops. Almost in unison you can hear the sigh of relief from planning session participants: "Whew, glad that's over with. Now we don't have to think strategically again till the next time one of these sessions rolls around."

And, of course, that is one of the reasons why strategic plans often do not yield the commitment, action, or results they are meant to produce. Any answers identified during a planning process are temporary by nature.  While the objectives and tactics already identified for each goal are being implemented, continued contemplation of the questions should be an ongoing endeavor.

Most organizations can probably identify a handful (say 6-12) of what I call perma questions. A perma (nent) question is one unlikely to ever go out of style. In other words, it is one so fundamental to what you do that regularly exploring it and identifying new ways of answering it will always produce value.  Nonprofits frequently turn to Peter Drucker's infamous five questions as a starting point: (1) What is our mission? (2) Who is our customer? (3) What does our customer value? (4) What are our results? (5) What is our plan?

Over the years, I've developed a dozen questions to draw on during strategy conversations, ones that while timeless in nature almost always can generate new and timely responses.  They are listed below.  You could draw on my list and Drucker's five questions, as well as identify some of your own.  Once you've finalized your organization's list of perma questions, you should (1) incorporate them into regular meetings, brainstorming sessions, etc., (2) establish a process for screening the ideas such discussions produce and (3) add them as desired into your strategic plan.
  1. How can we be more of who we say we are … as defined by our core purpose and core values?
  2. What do our members (current and future) most value and how can we increase the benefits and value they associate with our efforts?
  3. What infrastructure ($, time, people) is required to produce the future we are trying to create and the results we want to produce?  How might we better engage our community in creating and producing these results?
  4. What are the most significant issues on the horizon that will affect how we do what we do and how we will do it? How should we address them?
  5. How can we further enable connections, facilitate community, and strengthen relationships among our members?
  6. How can we better disseminate information so that captures members’ attention, interest, consumption, and application?
  7. What processes and systems could we implement to more efficiently and effectively do our work?
  8. What current successes, it they were to diminish or disappear, would have the most devastating consequences?
  9. What efforts do we need to begin to retire or let go of?
  10. What are the biggest obstacles to people realizing their potential and how can we remove those obstacles?
  11. What is most holding us back right now, and what might we do about it?
  12. What one thing, while seemingly impossible, would make a tremendous difference it was achieved? 
What is a perma question you'd add to the dozen I've suggested?  How does your organization keep strategic conversations occurring while still executive on current priorities?

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