Five Answers to Successful Strategic Planning

One of the hardest parts of doing strategic planning is just getting started. Where to begin? What approach should we use to pursue strategic planning for my library? Do I just tell the staff; “Next Monday we will have a managers meeting to begin our next strategic plan.” BOOM There it is. We’ve started! Sure. Go ahead and do that – IF YOU WANT TO ENSURE FAILURE.

If you stop to consider what all is in involved in conducting strategic planning, you’ll realize that it may not be the most complicated process, but it does take some deliberate organization and preparation. Expecting your staff to know what needs to be done to pursue a new strategic plan is expecting a lot, unless you have a highly motivated, highly collaborative, visionary and experienced staff. Those dozen or so libraries that meet this description have no worries. For the rest of us, we need to think about what we’re getting into BEFORE we open that can of worms.

Strategic Planning does not just “happen” as a normal part of staff activity. Not that it shouldn’t, we just never have embraced that approach to doing it. And another reason we don’t do strategic planning well is because we don’t start off well prepared. There are a few fundamental questions we should answer before we simply begin.

These questions need well thought out answers in order to begin effectively with high expectations for success. The sequence in which you answer these questions is also important because the answers at each step will influence the answers to subsequent questions.

1. Why do we want a new strategic plan?
That may seem like a nonsense question to begin with, but you might be surprised at some of the reasons why libraries develop a new strategic plan. Sometimes it’s as simple as a mandate, either from the library’s jurisdiction, or the board, or some other regulatory agency, like the state library, or to get funding from a grant. If this is your reason for doing a new strategic plan, save yourself and your staff a lot of time and headaches and just do it yourself. Use your own best judgment about who your library is and why you exist and create a reasonable mission, vision, goals and objectives and get back to work. Put it back on the shelf where it’s always been until next time you need a current plan.

If you want a new strategic plan because the library wants to be better, wants to be more, and wants to be relevant to its community, then you want to make significant changes in your library operation and organization. You MUST recognize that going into this process. You are talking about change from a business as usual, status quo posture to a 21st Century Library – something not yet envisioned by most libraries. If you – the library director and person responsible to make this strategic planning process result in a successful strategic plan – want to instigate major change, you must be prepared to face obstacles.

2. What are the obstacles to achieving a successful strategic plan?
There is not a single worthwhile effort that does not have to overcome some obstacles. Creating a successful strategic plan is no different, so it is important to consider what those obstacles are before you begin. Each of your potential obstacles should be addressed extremely realistically. This is not the point at which you can afford to whitewash anything.

How much support or resistance can you expect to get from your own staff? It depends on your organization’s culture and whether the staff experience is very positive or very negative toward strategic planning. How much support or resistance can you expect to get from outside stakeholders? This depends on whether or not the stakeholders have been included in past strategic planning, or might welcome being included now. How much change do you want to accomplish with this new strategic plan? Depending on the past experiences, and whether strategic planning for change is something new for your library, you may be considering something radically new for your organization. In this case you can certainly expect more obstacles. More changes = More obstacles. When you determine what likely obstacles you face, you can better answer the next question.

3. Who needs to be involved?
Why is this issue important? Because, you want to ensure that the people working on this project actually accomplish something. You can choose to begin with everyone, or you can begin with a few select individuals. What you want is a core group of people – from where ever, either internally or stakeholders from outside the library organization – who will understand what you are trying to accomplish and work toward that result. You cannot accomplish anything with people who only want to talk and not do, or only want a venue for their agenda instead of doing the work, or who get bogged down in making everyone feel like a valued participant. Getting the correct group of people involved from the beginning will ensure you actually accomplish your planning process.

It is entirely likely that this beginning group may change over time and as the process progresses. That is as it should be. Your intent in getting the planning process started is to begin with as much potential for success as possible.

4. How well do I intend to resource this strategic planning process?
As we all know, any project or effort that is not well resourced is not likely to achieve as much as it otherwise could, or more likely to fail completely. Assuming that you are attempting major changes, the rule of thumb is that the more change there is the more resources will be required – whether fiscal or personnel – you must commit adequate resources to be successful.

As the director, how much of your own time and energy do you intend to devote to making sure the strategic planning process is on track and moving toward a successful conclusion? How much of your library’s resources do you intend to divert to this project? How much political capital might you need to spend? How much training might be required? Do you need the services of an outside consultant?

This is a major resource consideration because many library directors and boards believe that strategic planning is best done internally. But, that assumes several factors exist about your organization – from top level leaders to bottom level employees, including stakeholders. First, that everyone fully understands the planning process, and knows their part in it. Second, it assumes that leaders are familiar with a proven strategic planning process, and have the time necessary for shepherding the process to a successful conclusion. Consultants are expensive, but consider your staff capabilities before you decide which process to use.

5. What strategic planning process format should we use?
There are many planning processes to choose from. Should we use a very analytical approach and assess everything from Mission to SWOT to operating environment to marketing plan thoroughly using scientific analysis? Should we take a “customer centered” approach where we view all operations and programs from the customer’s perspective? (Remember when that approach to everything was popular about five years ago?) Should we use a highly detailed and elaborate process to ensure as many aspects as possible get included?


Should we use a process that is compatible with our staff, expertise and experience? Undoubtedly, the answer to this question is YES! Regardless of what format that may be, like the one in the illustration below, you need to know where your strategic planning process is taking you, and it needs to be one that you can effectively implement and that everyone understands.


The key to success for any project is to begin properly. Strategic Planning is important enough to warrant an excellent beginning. Give your next Strategic Plan the best chance for success and consider these five fundamental questions before you begin.

[For more information about Strategic Planning visit: KD Matthews Consulting. ]


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5 responses to “Five Answers to Successful Strategic Planning

  1. Pingback: My Managerial Weaknesses | missmacslibrary

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