Planning Can Be Deadly: Keep It Light and Quick

Closeup of ballpoint pen on sales growth graph (very shallow dof; focus on pen tip).

Strategic planning is a fundamental tool to moving your library or support organization forward. This is truer than ever, as libraries face so many community and technology changes and choices. But let’s face it, most people dread strategic planning.

If you haven’t done strategic planning before, you are likely to have heard unfavorable stories about it or even possibly perceive it as a waste of time that results in a notebook sitting on a shelf. For people with longer institutional histories, they are likely to have gone through a strategic planning process that took forever, didn’t address the critical issues, or ultimately didn’t make a difference. Plus, sitting through an endless string of meetings (particularly planning meetings) can be anyone’s worst nightmare.

How do we change these negative associations regarding strategic planning while having a successful process resulting in a useful and meaningful plan? There are a number of fundamental approaches to making the strategic planning process work – and even fun (well, as fun as this sort of thing can get):

  1. Do it quickly. A good, comprehensive strategic planning process from beginning to action should take no more than four months. Sometimes they take a bit longer because of difficulties in getting decision-makers together. But it is more important to move through the process and into action than getting bogged down in assuring that every word or approach is perfect. Action is the goal, not a 3-ring binder.
  1. Keep it fun. Instill as much fun and humor into the process as possible. Food and chocolate may be essential. Make light of the fact that planning can be deadly. Have fun with it yourself – however that works best with your style.
  1. Keep it short. Yes, the whole process should be done quickly, but each planning team meeting should be well structured, organized, and short. One-and-a-half to two hours maximum should be the rule for planning team meetings. If possible, limit the number of planning team meetings in the entire process to three or four and conduct much of the detail work remotely. Longer retreats or sessions – which are sometimes a necessity – should always end on time, and ideally ahead of schedule (people will be grateful!).
  1. Focus on folks. People involved in the planning efforts are your most critical resource. Pay attention to their personal interests, needs, directions. If they like you as a facilitator or project leader, they are likely to appreciate the process and embrace the final plan.
  1. Process is all important. A successful effort results in needed organizational changes or shifts, not pieces of paper. Thus, how the planning process is conducted is vitally important in getting the people who will carry it out buying into the plan. A weak plan with energized individuals is better than a strong plan with no one willing to carry it out.

There are many styles and approaches to strategic planning, and the approach chosen needs to match the library’s, foundation’s or Friends’ needs. Library Strategies’ method – Rapid Results Planning – is designed to be flexible, and incorporates all of the above approaches, in order to meet the needs of today’s libraries and support organizations. Don’t hesitate to contact Library Strategies if you are considering strategic planning process in the near future.