Creating a strategic plan can be overwhelming. How can we step away from the pressing needs of today to think about five or ten years from now? It can feel impossible to plan just a few months ahead, let alone several years. And the way we do it isn’t always effective. Oftentimes it ends up on a shelf, quickly forgotten.
We think there’s a better way. At People Rocket, we draw on the tenets of human-centered design to ensure that the ideas, strategies, and values of the impacted stakeholder group or end user appear in the strategic plan. By involving constituent groups and using a co-design method, we create space for multiple perspectives and mutual learning. In the process, we help you bring equity and inclusion into a plan that is actionable, relatable, and motivational.
This might sound different, daunting, or possibly difficult — but we combine a number of tools with your specific context to generate new and exciting solutions.
We like to kick off strategic planning work by talking to as many people as possible. Using qualitative interviews and landscape analysis, we gather themes and ideas. Our priority is to include the voices of end users: the folks most impacted by the organization and its work.
In our work with one organization, we spoke to direct service providers and triangulated those conversations with other secondary data to uncover areas to focus on for the ensuing workshops. We saw firsthand the importance of these conversations: many of the direct service providers perceived the mission of the organization to be something completely different than the senior leaders and executives. Without the interview data, the leadership team would have remained unaware of a crucial disconnect.
Stories inspire change
When working on a strategic plan with another organization, a number of employees shared the struggles and frustrations they experienced due to the low wages associated with their physically and emotionally challenging work. By giving these employees an opportunity to share, senior leadership was exposed to an unanticipated area for improvement. The data led to a decision to increase the hourly minimum wage — before we even finished drafting the strategic plan.
Interviews also create a safe space for interviewees to challenge organizational leaders. In our work designing a strategy for an organization that provides technical training, we were tasked with redesigning their training programs. But their existing M&E structure focused on enjoyment, not learning. Many stakeholders in the organization didn't see a need for the project. In our interviews, we found that people had a hard time answering many of our questions. This data helped us collectively see why a redesign focused on learning was necessary.
After we’ve completed the research phase, we dive into workshops with a diverse group of stakeholders. Key to this process is creating space for everyone to share — and disagree — freely, irrespective of their position. Then we synthesize these insights into a set of concrete ideas, do an equity check, and eventually, formulate a strategic plan. While it may not include all ideas, the process ensures that the ideas that have the most consensus are present in the plan.
Hearing all voices
We often limit our workshops to groups of 20-25 people. This creates a more intimate setting and allows for more voices to be heard. But it’s equally important to think about who should be in the room. Including a diversity of perspectives across levels is critical, as well as designing a safe space for folks to share without repercussion.
Bringing different perspectives into the room
It may not always be possible to bring everyone physically into the room so we rely on storytelling to represent absent voices. This can involve providing anonymized quotes from the interview process or creating personas that reflect the needs and insights of a relevant group.
With one organization, we did video interviews with users. Many shared stories that inspired the group to better acknowledge their pain points in the process of defining the organization’s mission. It helped reset the purpose of why the organization was doing the work in the first place, grounding it in something concrete.
Thinking big — and prioritizing
Imagining a different future can be challenging. Many people feel stuck, but change can’t happen that way. To get one team brainstorming potential futures, we asked people what keeps them up at night and combined those answers with findings from our landscape analysis. We used this data to expand our thinking and open up possibilities that the team had never thought of before.
Yet at other times, the hardest part is deciding what to leave out. In one workshop, we helped participants make choices by providing “virtual coins.” Each person had to choose where they wanted to “spend” their resources, illuminating priority areas while maintaining an even playing field. Where the CEO chose to spend her resource was equal in weight to the direct service provider.
In our view, the best strategic plan accurately and equitably embodies the needs and voices of those it seeks to serve — and is actually operationalized. There are countless ways to do strategic planning and the most appropriate method (and end result) will depend on the type of organization and its goals. But for us, there is one golden rule, regardless of who you are or what you hope to achieve: include the voices of all stakeholders in your process.