What Is Your Winning Strategy?

In Strategic Planning by Shelli Bischoff

Strategy, Not Planning

“Do we have a strategic plan?” “Do we need one?” “Is this really the time for planning?” In these uncertain times, it is difficult enough to keep our (organizational) heads above water, none the less engage in a time-consuming, prescriptive planning process. The typical three-year strategic plan is no longer a useful tool. However, being clear about organizational strategy is more important than ever.

Strategy making is uncomfortable; it’s about taking risks and facing the unknown…A detailed plan may be comforting, but it is not strategy.

The Big Lie of Strategic Planning, R. Martin, Harvard Business Review, Jan. 2014

Are You Positioned to Win?

Strategy is an integrated set of deliberate choices that are fundamental to who you are and how you operate. It is your unique organizational approach that positions you to win: to have impact towards mission and to serve constituents. Think about your strategy as your well thought-out, data-driven game plan. Strategy is what keeps you grounded, yet nimble. It is the touchstone by which you evaluate opportunities, recognize distractions, and adapt to ever-changing external dynamics and constituent needs.

A great example of strategy is from a recent client, a New Mexico-based nonprofit dedicated to “protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West.” (www.wildearthguardians.org). Their strategy is uncompromising in pursuit of wins that bring about lasting system change. The statement is not just a nice slogan. It unquestionably guides their decisions about what projects they take on, who they partner with, and how they work. It distinguishes them from others in the field, defines their necessary competencies, and guides resource allocation. It permeates their culture—the organization has a fiercely passionate and dedicated group of staff, volunteers, and activists. Everyone knows what a win is and what it means to be uncompromising (and still gracious!) Their track record of wins is unmatched, even by those bigger and stronger and better funded!

The Three Steps of Strategy-Making

Strategy-making starts with the end in mind: the clearly articulated, precise definition of impact. Lafley and Martin in Play to Win, How Strategy Really Works, call this the “winning aspiration.” From there, strategy making is book-ended by analysis and action.

Rapid Analysis

We’ve adapted the research and analysis phase to be highly focused and expedient. Rather than the typical compilation of stakeholder opinions and key informant input, we compile only the most pertinent data and information necessary for strategy-making. We might analyze data related to key metrics of success. In public health, for example, we track prevalence data. We also research relevant industry trends. For example, for a professional association dedicated to advancing women in the energy sector, we analyzed the percentage of women in the energy workforce by state, relative to opportunity. For conservation organizations, we plot distinctive competence and competitive advantage relative to comparable organizations.

The analysis, in the form of a leadership briefing packet, provides the data and facts to inform decision making.

Decisions About Strategy

Executive leadership is responsible for defining and articulating the organizational strategy.

Decisions about strategy typically include tradeoffs and difficult choices; being all things to all people is not a strategy. Decisions might include defining your niche or distinct role, selecting the target markets, or identifying the few unique programs or services for impact, and which ones to terminate. Strategy also requires knowing the core systems necessary to be effective and efficient. What are you willing to give up to invest in the essentials?

The sum of these decisions is your winning strategy.

Executive Leadership

> Chief Executive Officer or Executive Director
>Board executive committee
>C-suite, Vice Presidents or Directors
>May include the full board or board committee chairs
>Public agencies, may include a hierarchy of unit, department, division, or agency leaders


Obviously, strategy without deployment is useless. The exciting task of leadership is to utilize the strategy to build a stronger, more resilient organization or agency. It is also challenging. A clearly defined and articulated strategy could mean change: how programs are designed, how services are delivered, how staff skills are utilized, or how results are measured.

From where you are (the analysis) to where you are going (the decisions), there is usually a right (most direct, best practice, innovative) way to get there (action). The resulting strategy document needs only to be as detailed as useful. We have used one-page diagrams and 40-page business plans; something in between is usually best!

NOW is the time for Strategy

Uncertain times demand organizational leadership, unequivocal direction, and steadfast focus. Strategy-making is necessary for strength and resilience. What is your winning strategy??

Call Me

For a free webinar on strategy making, or for more information on how you can engage in an expedient strategy making effort, call or email Shelli@nonprofitimpact.com 303 223-4886 x 1.