“We’re undertaking a strategic planning process.”
How many of you just groaned or rolled your eyes?
Have you ever been involved in a “strategic planning” process that was lacking in real purpose, or seemed to be about chasing funding, or about nothing more than saying it’s done? If you’ve ever had anything to do with Sustainable Waterloo Region (SWR), you can predict these scenarios are the opposite of what would happen here.
As both a board member and a Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI) member, I’ve experienced many sides of what makes SWR unique. And it’s that uniqueness that we wanted to capture as we entered the strategic planning process.
Let’s take stock: It’s been five years since the launch of SWR. The Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI) comprises 60 member organizations. Beyond the RCI, SWR is a partner in TravelWise and ClimateActionWR—and it’s spawning Sustainability CoLab, to expand the RCI model to other communities. Quite a journey since the SWR mission, vision and values were written as part of Mike Morrice’s undergrad project, back when SWR existed as little more than a concept in a business competition.
So yes, we embarked on a strategic planning process.
Our purpose? In a nutshell, to clearly articulate what has made—and will continue to make—SWR so successful. We set out to undertake a process to develop a strategic plan that will position the organization to scale its impact over the next three to five years; leverage the strengths of individual programs; ensure everyone has a clear, shared understanding of where the organization is going. Importantly, we weren’t trying to fix something that was broken; we were trying to capture precisely why it was working so well. We also weren’t going to pretend we had a crystal ball that would give us all the answers about what specifically to do next. Rather, we wanted a strategic plan that would provide enough direction to empower, and not restrict, SWR teams in developing their operational plans. So, more about how we continue to be relevant and have an impact than about what, specifically, we’re going to do next. It’s not a typical strategic planning approach. But it feels like the right one for this organization.
We started in the fall, with support from the Sustainability Network’s Good to Great program. We’re looking forward to reuniting with our peers at the next Learning Network in May. There we’ll be working towards finalizing our plan for presentation to the Board in June.
I think I am still objective enough to say without bias: when SWR decides to do something, they do it all-the-way. No cutting corners. No half-hearted efforts. It was important our planning process be no different. So over the last few months, we’ve had lots of engagement with staff, volunteers, board members, and external stakeholders, and we have lots of material to work with. We’ve had some pivotal conversations. We’ve gone back to the drawing board with our mission…more than once. We’re starting to write the plan. And we’re thinking about how to communicate it… effectively. Creatively.
What would you expect to see in our plan? What makes a strategic plan useful? What’s the best strategic plan you’ve come across? What’s the biggest flaw you’ve seen—the thing that makes a plan sit on the shelf, collecting dust, rather than serving as a compass the organization uses to ensure it’s headed in the intended direction? Have you been involved in a strategic planning process from which you could share some “lessons learned”?
We would love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to comment on this post, or e-mail me your thoughts.
Susan Jantzi is the Director of Corporate Affairs & Sustainability at SunLife Financial. She is also a member of Sustainable Waterloo Region’s Board of Directors and chair of our strategic planning subcommittee.