June 02, 2021
Imagine yourself walking into the kitchen of a new home and turning on the faucet, and nothing happens. You then go to the bathroom and it’s the same. Beautiful fixtures but no water. When you ask about the problem, you are told that to cut costs, the homebuilder did not include the plumbing. Consequently, you have a house in which all the right parts are in place but there is no system to ensure that water actually flows throughout the house.
I use this absurd example to illustrate an important point about strategy execution. To be effective, strategic thinking must flow throughout the organization. And for this to occur, organizations must have the structures and processes in place. Said another way, effective strategy execution requires good organizational plumbing.
The Strategy Plumbing
By default, most nonprofits will have the right strategy parts in place. The fixtures of strategy include a CEO, a board of directors, maybe a strategic planning committee, and some form of a strategic document. Yet, the strategic thinking does not always lead to the alignment of efforts among the individual parts. Why is this? What is required to have good strategy plumbing throughout the organization?
To move towards an answer to this vexing question, I conducted focus groups with about twenty nonprofit CEOs and board members. The focus group participants identified a number of conditions that facilitated the steady movement of strategic thinking throughout the organization.
Clarify the board’s role in strategy. Board members from different organizations engage in the continuum of strategy development, implementation, and evaluation at different levels. In some cases, members of the same board engage in strategy at different levels. The following steps are recommended for clarifying the board’s role in overseeing strategy.
Create the tools and processes that foster strategic discussions. Strategy does not conform to the rhythm of board and committee meeting schedules. Like water through the pipes, strategic considerations should seep into all aspects of the organization and be accessible upon demand. The following suggestions are offered.
We take for granted that water will pour from our faucets at home when we turn the handle. Likewise, nonprofits should expect that the difficult work that goes into developing a sound strategy will shape thought and behavior throughout the organization. The only way to ensure this is to connect the various components into a system of positions and processes.
Need Additional Assistance?
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