Field Notes

How Organizations Can Leverage Design to Build Powerful Strategic Plans

Written by 
Coeuraj Insight
December 2022

For any organization, a strategic plan serves as the guiding path and tool that will lead its team to success. Regardless of what it's called, or what the output might look like, the strategic planning process is something leaders across the board have experienced.

Because it’s such common practice, strategic planning can become a fixed routine, with little evolution or iteration to the process. While it can be hard to break the nature of cyclical planning, there are several design principles and tangible activities that leaders can begin to implement in their processes to yield better plans and results.

We asked members of our Transformation Design team to provide different tactics, approaches, and considerations for organizations developing their strategic plans.

What principles and activities should organizations consider when designing their strategic plans?

Connect strategic plans to the communities they intend to impact

“A community-driven approach to strategic planning connects stakeholders’ perspectives on key issues and challenges with the way things currently are and their hopes for how they could be. To approach planning as such, organizations need to identify key groups that their work intends to serve, and collaboratively design engagements so that their input informs and validates the overall planning process.

This allows organizations to develop connections to those impacted by their work and ensures that related communities see themselves reflected in the organization’s direction. It also fosters a sense of accountability from all parties involved, which helps to increase participation and engagement as a strategic plan is rolled out.”

-Dani Prapavessis, Senior Designer

Identify ways to enable inclusive participation in planning processes

“Across all organizations, there is a diversity of intersectional experiences, ways of belonging, and expressions; an inclusive approach to strategic planning gives voice to the unique expertise and perspectives that individuals can bring to the table. 

By proactively removing barriers to participation, we create a space for open collaboration. In turn, this prevents strategies from embodying the biases and assumptions of a few leaders and mitigates the risk of subsequent, reactionary solutions.

Furthermore, as the landscape of the organization and the context of its system changes, the strategic plan must be robust and adaptive enough to respond to the changing needs of the organization, its workforce, and the wider community. To do this, the strategy development process must learn from those not yet included and areas not yet served. In this way, strategic plans can grow and evolve toward an inclusive and meaningful future.”

-Nikkie To, Senior Designer

Build in evaluation phases within planning to make dynamic strategies

“For all types of organizations, strategic planning happens in a number of ways. Organizing strategy at the program or service level, department or organization wide, or within systems context may occur annually or in longer cycles—typically three, four, five, 10, or 25 years.

Somewhere between 6-18 months before a strategy expires, a decision is typically made to restart the strategic planning process. Too often, this reuses the same tools, voices, and templates as the previous cycle.

Embedding ongoing evaluation throughout a strategy’s lifecycle creates important learning throughout the start, end and within the ‘overlap zones’ between planning and implementation. A continuous learning cycle supports people and processes to evolve with the strategy.

To ensure planning is responsive and evolving, and not just a ‘tick of the box,’ tactics such as scenario-based planning can help build capacity and dynamic ability within organizations. It can also align an organization’s strategic vision with its operations, making plans more practical and relatable to both administrators and executives.”

-Tamara Kerr, Head of Project Management

Consider how strategic plans are mobilized within the organization

“Strategic plans are one of the biggest drivers of an organization’s current state, the direction it’s moving in and overall vision. While many plans consider the external execution of tactics, what’s often lost in the shuffle is how plans are communicated internally.

Due to the significant role a strategic plan can play for an organization; how team members are proactively informed about the plan and process are equally as important as the content itself.

Leaders must effectively communicate the direction of an organization to its employees. A lack of clarity around this can cause chaos, anxiety and decrease motivation. In order to ensure that employees feel part of the mission that will drive their place of work forward, this communication must occur. Employees are more energized, effective and committed when they are made aware of the goals they’re working towards; using a strategic plan to illuminate that path keeps everyone moving forward, together.”

-Cynthia Oliver, Design Lead

Reach out to learn more about how Coeuraj can support your organization during its next strategic planning cycle.