By Shaun Lee

Dust Bunnies (real or electronic)

When working with new clients, we ask them to share any previous strategic plans with us.  Most of the time they send us a PDF that is 60-120 pages long.  My instant reaction is to close the PDF just as quickly as I opened it. I’m not alone in my lack of patience for digesting such long and complex plans.  A Harvard Business Review article states that 95% of employees are unaware of their companies’ vision and strategy. The consequences of employees not understanding or being aligned in the overarching strategy of their organization can’t be understated.  They include time wasted on non-essential work, loss of profit due to inefficiencies, cultural and organizational health issues, and much more. The reality is that these long plans that took so much time and effort to complete end up sitting on a shelf or in a file folder that rarely gets reviewed.

A Better Way

All too often as we scroll through these long plans, we find ourselves wondering: what is true north for this organization?  Where are they headed in the next 3-5 years?  What is their focus in year 1 and how will they know they’re successful?  What tools will they use to communicate, collaborate, and ultimately execute their plan with fidelity? In response to these issues, we developed a tool called The Compass.  When your most important visioning and strategic document is over 50 pages, that’s getting close to the size of a short book.  Where do books usually sit? On shelves.  Leaders need tools they can carry with them and apply in any situation.  They need a compass that can orient them to the way, the why and the how. 

When your most important visioning and strategic document is over 50 pages, that’s getting close to the size of a short book.  Where do books usually sit? On shelves.

Compass Components

The core components of the Compass are the Mission and Theory of Impact Statement, Organizational Beliefs, Core Values, Top 5 Vitals (metrics), 5-Year Vision, 1 Year Focus.  When completed the Compass is a 2–3-page snapshot of your organization’s essentials: identity, direction, and strategy.  The first page, which consists of the Mission and Theory of Impact, Beliefs, Values and top 5 Vitals, defines the foundational identity of an organization.  The next 1-2 pages which consist of the 5-year vision and 1-year focus define the direction.   

Developing a Shared Vision in Nonprofit Structures

Due to the way nonprofits are structured, its critically important to think about how the Compass needs to be developed and who must be part of the process.  Creating the Compass is not an exercise exclusive to an organization’s leadership team.  It must be completed collaboratively with the board.  We have found the process that works best is for board members to create a small ad hoc strategic planning committee of 3-5 people that meets for 3-6 months.  This small team works with the leadership team to go through the process of developing the Compass.  Completing the Compass takes about a quarter. Teams should set aside six 3-4 hours blocks in the quarter to in order to have enough time to get to a solid draft place.  Once its completed, teams should then use the next quarter to socialize the Compass throughout the organization and with close stakeholders, updating it as appropriate based on feedback they receive. 

But Don’t Stop Here…

Creating a Compass is an incredibly important step in getting employees, board members and other key stakeholders to begin rowing in the same direction.  From this firm foundation, organizations can now begin implementing their Vision and the goals they have identified in their 1-year focus.  To begin making progress towards the Vision, the next step is for nonprofits to adopt an organizational operating system consisting of tools and rhythms required of continuous mission delivery.  Stay tuned for our next blog where we highlight what it takes to develop this operational muscle within your own organization.