Deciding What Comes Off the Plate

In Management by Shelli Bischoff

One of the most important steps in strategic planning happens after you create your strategic plan. If you used your planning process to actually make strategic decisions, then you must ask:

“Based on what we do now and our plans for the future, what comes off the plate?”

We have had hundreds of strategic planning clients over the years and only a handful could answer this question! Asking what comes off the plate means that if your organization is doing something that does not contribute significantly to your strategic goals, you stop doing it, transition out of it, or modify it to better align with new goals and objectives.

For example, if your organization sponsors an education program, but education is not included in your strategic goals, then it may be time to end the program. And if you think, “But that education program is a key strategy for engaging members or recruiting volunteers” – then it will likely need to be redesigned to achieve a specific membership or volunteer goal.

Here are some techniques to help decide what comes off the plate.

Direct Match to Plan

Have one group write down all the activities/ tasks your organization is currently engaged in. I like to use one piece of paper or sticky note for each activity/ task so I can combine items and move them around. Organize these by program, project, or objective. This exercise also provides a good visual of where any overlap and duplication exist.

Have another group write down all the activities/ tasks necessary to carry out the strategic plan. Match up the sticky notes. The “what we do now” notes that don’t match up with one of the “what we need to do in the future” notes represent what needs to come off the plate.

Red Light, Green Light

Make a list of all the activities/ tasks on a large sheet of paper. Give everyone red, yellow, and green markers. Ask everyone to vote:

  • A red mark = does not contribute to the strategic plan (stop)
  • A yellow mark = could fit with the strategic plan with some change (slow down, consider or change)
  • A green mark = a direct fit to the strategic plan (go)

Activities/ tasks that garner only red votes need to come off the plate and those that receive votes of a combination of colors should be discussed.

Forced Ranking

Forced ranking prioritizes all of your organization’s activities/ tasks relative to their fit to the strategic plan (i.e., the more significantly an item contributes to the accomplishment of strategic goals, the higher it ranks). Consider each activity/ task one at a time. As each item comes up, ask where it falls among those already listed and place it above all items which are less important and below all items which are more important. Continue doing this so every activity/ task is ranked relative to the strategic plan. Items at the bottom of the list are less important.

Of course, if all else fails, it is leadership’s role to make the decision – with or without input!

What techniques have you used to take items, “off the plate?” What does it take to make these kinds of decisions stick in your organization?

Image by Roman Volkov.