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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

3 Things That Derail Strategic Planning

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

This is a guest blog post and is posted with permission from Ann Quinn of Quinn Strategy Group.

Organizations have high hopes for the annual strategic planning process. After all, this is the time when exciting new goals are set, challenges are tackled head-on and everyone is inspired to achieve the next level of success.

But no matter how much anticipation there is for a fresh start or upping the ante, a strategic planning session can be derailed in mere minutes if any one or more of following shows up in the planning room:

Turf Wars: People have a natural desire to “protect” their point of view.

Emotions: To expect emotions to stay tucked away during a time as intense as strategic planning is simply not realistic.

Lip Service: Nothing is as frustrating as an organization that doesn’t walk its talk.


Think about each strategic planning de-railer separately and follow my tips on the best way to address each:

Prevent or Get Past a Turf War: The magic word here is “inclusion.” As a leader, you need to:

  • Make sure those who have a big stake in what’s being discussed and the organization overall are at the table.

  • Take charge! Don't allow any single group or viewpoint to dominate.

Manage Heated Emotions: The key here is recognizing that emotions will arise and that not all of them will be comfortable or helpful. As a leader, you need to:

  • Set ground rules about hot-button topics.

  • Reframe comments and discussions so that they are objective, rather than personal.  

  • Diffuse conflict further by actively separating emotion from fact and by using data over “passionate” delivery to get a point across.

Stop Giving Lip Service: During strategic planning, you’re asking your team to invest a lot of time and, believe me, they can tell if it’s not a genuine effort. As a leader, you cannot afford to wing it so it’s your job to:

  • Avoid a glitzy process that has no substance.

  • Be thorough in your approach.

  • Follow through with action.

The bottom line: If you’re going to engage your organization in strategic planning, do it right. If you need to, hire an expert who already has a proven process and experience facilitating in high-stake situations. Your organization’s future direction, either up or down, is riding on it.



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