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Aligning Structure to Strategy: a Values-Centered Method

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Guest post by BOARDS WITH BRAINS “Strategy & Planning” session trainer Edward R Gray, of GRAYMatter Solutions 

Throw out your Strategic Plan!

I imagine two reactions to this headline: “Yes, why didn’t we think to do that sooner?” and “How could we toss something we spent months writing?

Obviously, I have nothing against strategic planning. In fact, I love it. I do have something against how it’s typically done, and how a strategic plan is typically written and organized. I want to see less time and energy spent on guessing what the future holds, and more time and energy spent aligning your organization to your envisaged future and your values-driven strategy needed to achieve it.

I’d like to urge you to devote time and resources into aligning your organization now so that forecasting, planning, executing, and evaluating strategy becomes the purpose of every board meeting. Make sure that your values drive and inform your strategy.

Strategy as function, not event.

So first, stop using the term “strategic plan” and start doing strategy. Strategy should be a feature of your board and the senior leadership. Strategy is not an event, as the term and practices of strategic planning imply. Strategy includes forecasting, execution, and evaluation as well as planning. Make sure that the board of directors, in its policy-setting role, establishes the strategy for the organization and supports the executive, in her chief executive officer role, as she executes the strategy.

Values drive your strategy, your plans do not

Largely permanent and unchanging, your organization’s values may be personal ones (such as humility) writ large or organizational traits (such as transparency). Values have merit on their own and they stand on their own. For most organizations, its values are the principles and standards it honors and practices at all times, with little or no regard to particular circumstances or consequences.

Make sure that your strategy starts with an understanding of your organization’s lived values. These aren’t just your aspirational values, but the ones actually practiced each day. Make sure they are valid and reliable. Your strategy has valid values when the description is precise and accurate and includes concrete indicators. You have reliable values when you find agreement to them across the organization.

Strategy drives structure

In 1951, Kurt Lewin declared organizations as “force fields”. They are comprised of both driving forces and restraining forces. Driving forces (like environmental factors), push for change within the organization while the restraining forces (like organizational factors; e.g., limited resources, poor morale), act as barriers to change. In order to align your structure to your strategy, you have to first identify and understand these forces.

Strategies are about empowering driving forces and checking the restraining forces change. You must align your organization structure to your strategy. Alignment refers to the fit between the structure and administration of an organization and its strategy for success. Two key alignment activities are:

  1. Clarifying individual roles and requirements in supporting the strategic goals – and to understand how roles are interlinked across the organization.
  2. Providing clear, timely, and regular feedback on goal attainment and the performance of the drivers of those goals.

Summing Up

  • Strategy is a verb, a governing duty
  • Values drive strategy
  • Strategy drives structure in a properly aligned organization

So, throw out your old way of writing your strategic plan! Spend time and energy on planning and executing your values-focused strategy.

Tease out your lived (real) organizational values.

Spend time and energy on enabling the board, executive director, and staff to make the envisaged future that you want for the organization and the world a better place!

About Edward GrayEdward Gray, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Thailand

Edward R. Gray Is principal at GRAYMatter Solutions for Nonprofits, a consultancy working to improve nonprofit impact through greater stakeholder engagement.  He teaches organizational leadership and ethics courses at several institutions including The University of the Rockies, Walden University, and The University of Maryland.

He was senior program officer at the Gill Foundation responsible for a $1 million grant portfolio in human services, arts, and education.  Gray founded The Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Community Foundation and grew YouthPride into the largest LGBTQ organization in the Southeast during four years as executive director.

Gray was the inaugural director of academic affairs, editor of Religious Studies News, and principal researcher for the Lilly Foundation funded census of departments at the 9,000 member American Academy of Religion. He is co-editor of Gay Religion, a groundbreaking collection on the religious practices of LGLBT individuals. Gray has also published essays on catastrophe as a transcendent event, several op-ed pieces, and studies of nonprofit best practices. He holds a doctorate from Emory University.

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