Moving Strategy Forward During Leadership Transition: Good or Bad Idea?
Earlier this year, the Vantage Point board confronted a challenge many organizations face: should we press forward with renewing our strategic plan, or should we hit the pause button until we have a new executive director in place? With Denise’s planned retirement on the horizon, it would have been easy for us to hit pause. After all, wouldn’t we want to wait and involve a new executive director in developing the next phase of Vantage Point’s future? And, more practically, we were already going to be dealing with an executive director succession process, did we really need to add strategic planning to our agenda?
In spite of these concerns, we decided to move forward with our plans for a strategy renewal. I hope sharing our rationale may provide some learnings to those of you facing a similar choice. These were some of the key reasons we decided to renew our strategy ahead of a leadership transition.
1. We were on a solid strategic and operational footing. Denise’s retirement comes at a time when the organization is thriving. Our strategy had served us well, and we found ourselves in a position of mission growth and organizational evolution. In many respects, it made our strategic planning process quite straightforward as we looked at renewing and advancing, rather than recreating, our strategic focus.
2. We needed a framework to help us make strategic and operational choices. We were increasingly being confronted by opportunities and choices that were pushing us outside our existing decision-making framework. Should we expand our geographic presence? Should we invest more in advocacy? Should we grow our internal consulting staff? A renewed strategy would help both the board, and staff, choose and invest wisely.
3. We had an engaged staff team that was chomping at the bit to understand where we were going next. We are blessed with a group of super-smart professionals, passionate about growing our mission impact. We risked losing that energy and enthusiasm, and leadership, by hitting the pause button. Involving our senior staff in our discussions and decisions helped to ensure we aligned around a shared vision of the future and gave us all a renewed passion for our cause.
4. We have a board of directors who will take us into the future, most of whom were not around for the last strategic plan. As a director, it is hard to really connect with the strategy of an organization if you have not participated in its development. This provided an opportunity to engage all of us in shaping our future and deepened our commitment.
5. We wanted to give our new executive director a running start. While it is tempting to wait until a new leader is in place to embark on strategy, we risked delaying forward progress as he or she gets up to speed. Unless an organization is in crisis and the new executive director is charged with leading significant change, there is good reason to ensure a strong strategic plan is in place to guide decision-making.
Having a renewed plan allows us to look at executive director candidates with a clear view as to where we want to go, and ensures we select someone who can help take us there. Having a solid strategy in place, at all phases of an organization’s life cycle, is one of the very few critical responsibilities of the board. For us, that meant embarking on renewal at the same time as we are working through a significant leadership transition. Now that we have gone through the process, we know it was the right decision.