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Doing What You Do Best: Wise Selection of Strategic Directions

Part 4 of our 4-part series on Strategic Planning in a Rapidly Changing Environment

Co-authored by Galen Ellis and Selma Abinader (www.abinadergroup.com)


Looking ahead, what BOLD MOVES will move you toward your organization’s Vision?

Welcome back to our 4-part series on Strategic Planning.

In Part 1 we recommended and gave an overview of Strategic Framework planning versus traditional long-term Strategic Planning; in Part 2 we outlined methods for developing your Values, Vision, and Mission statements; and in Part 3 we described methods for conducting an Environmental Scan.
Let’s bring this baby home. Here in Part 4 of our series, we offer some insights into the wise selection of Strategic Directions that will remove road blocks and drive you to the ideal future you have envisioned for your organization and those you serve.

Strategic Directions (sometimes referred to as “focus areas” “bold moves” or “strategic priorities”) set the course for your organization. They are focused, yet broad, innovative and empowering. Your “strategies” are part of your tactical planning. Strategies are a coherent collection of actions which have a reasoned chance of achieving impact in a strategic direction area. Here is an example from our client working to address chronic disease and obesity:

Strategic Direction: Expanding access to and consumption of healthy food and beverages

Sample Strategies:

• Reduce unhealthy food and beverage marketing to children

• Improve the food and beverage retail environment

• Support the adoption of food and beverage standards

As you can see, strategic directions indicate “what” you will focus resources and attention on in the long-term, while strategies define “how” you will use those resources to achieve the greatest impact. Strategies are oftentimes displayed as measurable goals, objectives, and activities. But let’s not take a detour. Back to the Strategic Directions.

Here’s a journey a county health department took as they considered their bold moves for the future:

Department staff discovered in their environmental scan that their vision of “healthy people with strong social connections working together for a better community” was hampered significantly by having over-extended and under-trained staff. The department identified a strategic priority area of enhancing organizational excellence. They selected other more external strategic directions as well, such as moving the organization boldly toward improving the county’s quality of life and building community partnerships. However, they knew that addressing the internal (organizational) resisting forces by addressing the organization itself was critical to realizing their vision. Two of the strategies they developed in their tactical planning included:

• Strengthen operational efficiencies (i.e., fiscal, information management, operational infrastructure)

• Create a premiere workplace (i.e., workforce development, recruitment, promoting a culture of health, integrate quality improvement and performance management)

Tips for working with strategic directions:

1. Often our tendency is to focus on “how” we’re going to solve a problem, so be careful not to jump to tactical planning in this phase. Strategic directions set the direction of where you are going and are meant to be few, but bold, actionable, and BROAD. Your tactical, action, or implementation planning will go on to define the strategies, measurable goals, and objectives to get your where you want to go.

2. Strategic directions are NOT the latest good ideas detached from your force field analysis. Strategies need to be relevant to the community, situation, or setting that you are trying to impact. For example, a county tobacco prevention program may be aware of a trending strategy of working with property owners and managers to develop smoking policies in multi-family housing units. Yet, in a community with few apartment buildings, this strategy probably won’t boldly address driving or resisting forces affecting exposure to secondhand smoke.

3. Strategic directions are NOT so much about existing mandates and programs that you already know will continue, regardless of your force field analysis. For example, if this same tobacco program is mandated to provide cessation services to county employees, it may show up in their on-going work plan, but it isn’t necessarily one of the bold moves that will drive them toward their vision.

In this current environment of uncertainty, we have to look at strategic planning differently. We recommend that you keep your eyes on the horizon, even while you may need to put out today’s fires under your feet.

Don’t chase the latest thing. Create a strategic framework that is nimble, flexible and adaptable.

What BOLD MOVES will drive you toward your organization’s vision?

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