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Turning Strategy into Action Workshop

 Workshop date: 9 September 2009

Fifteen participants from eleven organisations participated in the event, hosted by the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, QUT, presented by Gavin Nicholson, Senior Lecturer, School of Accountancy, QUT, and co-facilitated by David Fishel, Director, BoardConnect and Positive Solutions.

Overview of discussion:

  • what is strategy
  • the role of the board in strategic thinking and planning
  • indicators of success
  • inhibitors to implementation of strategy

Gavin Nicholson opened the discussion with a brief analysis of the differences between non-profit and for-profit organisations and how that affects strategy and board behaviour.· He noted the importance of board members understanding how the business works and the tension that can arise when an experienced business person joins a non-profit board.

Strategy was defined as:
how an organisation intends to create value for its stakeholders

Encouraging strategic thinking in the boardroom

  • getting board members into the right frame of mind to contribute at board meetings
  • the value of independent directors on a board challenging assumptions and asking fundamental questions such as “why do we do that?”
  • the paradox of governance: the drive for efficiency (short meetings), opposed to the time needed to tease out the important issues - some boards conduct discussions via email in between meetings
  • the importance of circulating board papers at least several days before meetings
  • using sub-committees to help keep meetings on track – also short-term task groups who take on a specific project that has a specific end time (also helps to engage directors and improve their understanding of the organisation)
  • recognition that strategy and governance are both processes of an organisation, not ends in themselves

The Engaged Board

  • discuss and agree the nature of the board’s engagement
  • time for reflection is when things are going well (e.g. strong trust between board and management; but this is also a time when oversight is not as strict, bad habits creep in)
  • in determining strategies apply the “Purpose” test (Do we have capacity? Do we have support? Does it advance our purpose?) during strategic planning, but also at other times
  • board members have different interests and will often engage with different areas/tasks according to those interests

Indicators of Success

  • recognition that success is more than just numbers and percentages
  • suggestion that evaluationis more useful: e.g. What are we aiming for?· What would we look like if we got there?
  • disjunction between measurements required by funding bodies and the quality of outcomes
  • importance of clearly defining indicators of success, leading to the ability to articulate a solid business model and benefits to community, shareholders etc
  • success should be defined by multiple criteria (a number of “ands” rather than “ors”)

Overall Strategy

  • is as much about defining what the organisation doesn’t do as what it does;
  • board needs to resist natural staff tendency to want to do more than resources will permit;
  • board can set a statement of “strategic priorities” that are explicit, but not set in concrete;
  • need to be open to adaptation, so that if new ideas are tested against the mission and found to be aligned, new opportunities can be seized;
  • some organisations have programs but no strategy. Need to be specific about what is success, which will then point the direction for the strategy

Strategy Into Action

Some inhibitors are:

  • unclear strategy and/or no assessment
  • resistance to strategy from board members or staff
  • reality check: what is achievable? Attach financial forecasts and link strategies to operational plan
  • reports to board should be against strategies, not just operational areas

Indicators of failure:

  • no capacity to implement the goals identified
  • goals identified but not aligned with the strategy
  • no follow-up

If management meetings are discussing things that are not part of the strategy, then the strategy is wrong.

  • financial forecasts = strategy with numbers
  • many organisations choose strategy around the people and skills they have, others choose people/skills around strategy

Download these notes incl selected slides from the workshop here.