A frequent question we hear from strategic planning clients is: How often should our organization revise its strategic plan?

Here at Funding for Good, we believe successful strategic planning is an active process, not just a static product.

Which means that organizations should be reviewing and updating their strategic plan on an ongoing basis.

If a strategic plan is a roadmap for your organization’s future, then it should be used like a roadmap! Imagine you’re on a road trip without GPS or a cell phone. How often do you look at your roadmap? At every turn. Which is exactly how you should treat your strategic plan.

 

Review vs Revision

There is, of course, a difference between reviewing your strategic plan and revising your strategic plan.

  • Reviewing your organization’s strategic plan means consulting it as part of the ongoing work of leading an organization. This could be an informal activity or a formal process. For example, you could pull out your plan weekly to check upcoming benchmarks. Or more formally, you could organize quarterly sessions with your board to review and evaluate progress (something we highly recommend).
  • Revising your organization’s strategic plan means making updates to reflect new realities or lessons learned. The level of revision can range significantly, from small updates to reworking major goals. For example, you might discover that a key program is exceeding expectations, so you want to update that initiative’s three-year goals. Or your organization could experience a major shift—such as receiving an unexpected windfall grant—that necessitates more substantive revisions.

 

How often should a company REVIEW its strategic plan?

At minimum, an organization should review its strategic plan quarterly, with at least two of those sessions involving the board of directors. This enables organizations to learn, evaluate and course-correct in real time.

Let’s go back to our imagined road trip. You’re driving across a state you’ve never been to and your strategic plan is your only roadmap. You arrive at an intersection. You don’t remember off the top of your head which way you’re supposed to turn. You could go left, right or straight ahead.

Do you consult your roadmap? Of course you do.  

You should be using your strategic plan the same way. When you get to a fork in the road and need to make an important decision, review your strategic plan. When you want to assess how much progress you’ve made, review your strategic plan. Your strategic plan is there to support your organization—and it’s an incredible tool to jumpstart strategic decision-making.

 

How often should a company REVISE its strategic plan?

An organization should revise its strategic plan when the conditions under which it was written have materially changed.

Conditions that can trigger the need for an organization to revise its strategic plan include:

  • Based on real-world outcomes, your organization’s goals and/or strategies have changed significantly. This could be a positive—a new strategy that outperformed expectations—or a more negative outcome—a strategy underperformed so dramatically it needed to be rethought entirely.
  • External circumstances have changed in unexpected ways that affect your organization. For example, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations had to make rapid strategy shifts that ultimately needed to be integrated into their long-term plans.
  • Over time, your internal implementation has shifted significantly from your original plan. For example, you may have planned to build out your communications team in order to increase press coverage. But you’ve struggled to get the right people in the right roles, and the consulting firm you used was a disappointment. This may call for a strategic plan update. You’ll want to reassess whether that press goal is still a priority and, if so, if there are other ways to meet it.

Sometimes an organization needs to do more than revise its strategic plan. It requires a wholesale update and revamp. At the point where your strategic plan no longer makes sense for your organization, it’s time to get a new one.

Since a strategic plan generally covers 3-5 years, you should also start planning to update your organization’s plan in the same timeframe.

 

Revision is Part of Running an Organization

It might feel frustrating to think that, after spending time and energy to finalize a strategic plan, you might need to revise it within a year or two. But it’s worth remembering that revision is part of running a business. A Forbes article that goes behind the scenes of Shark Tank reveals just how often business leaders revise strategies, investments and partnerships.

Luckily, revising a strategic plan doesn’t have to be a laborious process. The more you use your strategic plan as part of your day-to-day work, the easier it will be for your team to revise it when needed. And you can always ask your strategic planning consultant to assist. For example, a facilitated board and staff retreat after the first year of implementing your plan could turn a strategic plan revision from a chore into an opportunity to tighten your strategy and reenergize your team.

 

Strategic Planning: The Process and the Product

What is an Annual Plan vs a Strategic Plan?

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