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Turning Strategy into Action

BoardConnect – Arts Victoria Workshops: Session 2

Wednesday 17 November, 5.30-7.00pm
Grainger Room, Arts Victoria, Level 6, 2 Kavanagh St, Southbank
Presenter: David Fishel, Director, Positive Solutions & BoardConnect

This workshop was presented as part of the Pilot Program run by BoardConnect on behalf of Arts Victoria.  The material below represents a brief summary of issues raised by presenter and participants and is not intended to be a full guide to the topic under consideration.

Summary Dot Points:

  • Start with a plan for the Strategic Plan so the process doesn’t take too long
  • Ensure the organisation has the resources to cope with the process
  • Strategic plan needs to cover not just services provided but also organisational issues such as professional development, fundraising etc
  • Brainstorm the plan with stakeholders including staff, audience, friends, associates etc
  • Develop 8-10 KPIs, not necessarily one for every strategy
  • Assess risk strategy regularly (twice yearly)
  • Strategic planning to happen separately from board meetings – different process, harness skills of different people, ideally with an external facilitator
  • Involve the staff in process to ensure buy-in and ‘ownership’
  • Start with an issues paper to which board members can respond
  • Summarise the Strategic plan in a one-page document: mission, vision, a few goals & KPIs
  • In smaller organisations with no paid staff, beware of board meetings being overtaken by operational matters.  Consider subcommittees as an alternative.

DISCUSSION:
Principles for a Strategic Plan

  • A strategic plan is a board document and a necessary requirement of funding applications and agreements.
  • If you have a good relationship with government, discuss your draft strategic plan with them and ask for their feedback.
  • Consider government’s priorities when writing the plan if you intend to seek out government funding.
  • Ensure it is underpinned by an organisational plan, so you don’t “bite off more than you can chew.”
  • Process can take too long if it isn’t done well. Need to have a “plan for the plan” e.g. This will be a six week planning process, this is when the board will meet to adopt the plan, etc. Ensure that the organisation has the resources to go through the process.

How do you ensure the plan has impact and is used?

  • Make sure it’s a good plan.
  • Do the job thoroughly.
  • Be rigorous in your questioning of what goes into the plan.

Qualities of a good plan

  • Vision/Mission Statement – how will the city/country/world be different in the next, for example, 5 years, because of the work the organisation will do?
  • Also need to include a second statement that outlines how the organisation itself will have changed/evolved, including reference to finances and human resources, and how it will look different. Make sure this is addressed before jumping into “what we do”.
  • What are the key strategic issues facing the organisation?
  • The board is responsible for everything in the organisation, including performance and delivery externally, but also the internal health and strength of the organisation. If strategies aren’t outlined in the plan regarding professional development, fundraising targets, financial targets, etc. those things most likely won’t happen. Deal with the organisation itself, not just the services it provides.
  • Consider the external market.
  • Ensure the plan is realistic. Include ‘core’ work as well as new initiative ideas, and ensure it is achievable.
  • Example: Federation Square Ltd has a strategic plan directly linked to its performance appraisal systems. The strategic plan provides departmental and individual staff targets for a 12 month period. In addition to this, the board should have clear targets as well.

Gathering ideas and information

  • Brainstorming is good and can gather lots of thoughts. This can be informal and can focus on whole organisation, or one or more parts of the organisation.
  • Talk to audience members, friends of the organisation, associates, etc and gather feedback.
  • Consider gathering feedback and keeping records of the data. Perhaps a focus group twice a year asking for thoughts on all aspects of the organisation, or surveys.
  • Reflect on recent results – be honest.
  • Be dispassionate in this process. Take a “cool look” at the organisation.
  • Consider external perceptions.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

McKinsey Article ‘Measuring what matters in the not for profit sector’ outlined the concept of Key Performance Indicators being considered under the headings of Impact, Activity and Capacity:
Impact: Are we achieving the impact/effect/benefits that we intended to?
Activity: The work we do (workshops, performances, tours, etc).
Capacity: How we’ve built our organisation.

  • Don’t put KPIs against every strategy. Aim for 8-10 KPIs.  
  • KPIs should be reported against at least quarterly (apart from compliance KPIs, which may need to be reported against at every meeting).
  • Can measure with ‘traffic lights’ approach: Green: KPIs that are on track/achieved. Amber: KPIs at risk/with issues. Red: Immediate attention required.

Risk Assessment

  • Need to discuss regularly.
  • At least a couple of times a year, board should consider a risk register. Even just the most significant risks. Also consider if a significant change, such as potential loss of funding or competitors entering the market, is on the horizon.
  • Weight the risks: Which are most likely to happen? Which will have the most negative impact if they did happen? Multiply one by the other to find the ‘risk score’. Those with the highest scores are the risks to be most concerned about. 
  • Can any of the risks be insured against? Can risk be reduced through staff training?

Strategic Thinking - how to have a good strategic planning day

  • Organisations rarely take the time out to think and plan strategically. It can’t happen in the boardroom, it has to be a separate session.
  • Find the direction-givers and harness their leadership. Sometimes there are untapped strategic or thinking skills on a board that aren’t brought to the fore in the structure of board meetings. Some ‘consultant tricks’ can help these to come forward. Some of these are listed in David Fishel’s The Book of the Board or a consultant may come to part of the planning day to kick start discussions and open up new ways of thinking. 
  • Some people aren’t naturally strategic thinkers. This needs to be considered – is there a need to engage a facilitator for guidance?
  • Staff
    • Senior creative staff must be in the room for these strategic discussions. These are the people with ideas, knowledge and the ones who have to do the work. Ensure that strategic planning jargon doesn’t negatively impact on creatives being involved in the process. 
    • Ideally all staff should have some level of involvement in the process, even for a couple of hours, to give them ownership and the ability to communicate their input. 
    • Staff can find some of these discussions threatening. Need to be careful with how they are engaged in the process to ensure the board’s direction is followed. 
  • Best to have an external facilitator where possible, so the day is taken seriously and for neutrality
  • If the organisation doesn’t have the expertise or financial capacity to bring in experts, there is potentially free access through AbaF’s AdviceBank program, make sure board members don’t have these skills, or know someone who does.  
  • Form a structure/agenda for the day that will guide discussions, and not just carry on with what the organisation has always done.
  • The best way to get a board to have a strategic discussion is to give them something to respond to. Have a staff member or board member write a 1-2 page document outlining the issue/s, pros and cons, etc. Circulate a week before the meeting to allow board members to think about those things and have something to respond to.

A one-page-plan is a powerful document

A one page ‘executive summary’ plan, with just vision, mission, goals, few KPIs and how we will change the world, should be written to summarise the strategic plan. It can be a powerful document that can focus the board and share the organisation’s plan through the company website.

Making the decision to end a program (or organisation) through the planning process

Is it bad for an organisation to reach a point where they should wind up and have become irrelevant? How does an organisation know when it’s time to finish up?

  • This is the board’s responsibility. This is where there is a grey area, because as a board it’s the board’s fiduciary duty to protect the organisation, and therefore leads them to try and keep it going, where as the artistic side may be going in an entirely different direction and in the name of good art it might be wisest to close the company.

General discussion

  • Board meetings can review strategic plan progress, but are not the right environment for proper strategic thinking and planning.
  • 70-80% of NFP organisations have no paid staff, therefore the board takes on a lot more hands-on tasks. Board meetings then run the risk of focusing on operational rather than board issues. Consider having subcommittee meetings for that purpose, and keeping board meetings separate.
  • Periodically review certain aspects of the organisation. Perhaps invite a staff member to talk to the board about the progress in that area. This not only allows the board to measure performance/outcomes, but is also a board education tool.

 

Download a pdf of the Powerpoint Presentation.

  Need to discuss regularly.

  At least a couple of times a year, board should consider a risk register. Even just the most significant risks. Also consider if a significant change, such as potential loss of funding or competitors entering the market, is on the horizon.

  Weight the risks: Which are most likely to happen? Which will have the most negative impact if they did happen? Multiply one by the other to find the ‘risk score’. Those with the highest scores are the risks to be most concerned about. 

  Can any of the risks be insured against? Can risk be reduced through staff training?