An Interview with Bespoke Chief Operating Officer Laureen Jensen

Developing a strategic plan doesn’t happen simply by sitting down and making decisions (if only it were that easy!). Creating a plan that will truly move your organization towards achieving its goals requires the support and participation of all your key stakeholders, including your staff and board. But what are the most impactful ways to involve your internal teams, and why is staff and board engagement so important? We sat down with Bespoke Chief Operations Officer Laureen Jensen, 25-year social profit industry veteran and strategic planning expert, to find out.

Why is it important to have staff and board buy-in to the planning process?

LJ: Without buy-in from your staff and board teams, there’s just no way your strategic plan will reach its full potential.

Your board, in partnership with your CEO, is responsible for setting your organization’s strategic direction, so they need to play a large role in driving the planning process. And, if you expect your staff team to put your strategic objectives in to action, you need to get them on board right from the start. If they understand the power of the strategic planning process, they will buy in to the product of the process.

In addition, a successful strategic plan incorporates ideas from your staff and board around the aspirations, needs, challenges, and strengths of your organization. Their enthusiastic participation is key to producing a good product. 

When in the process should we engage our staff and board?

LJ: Different groups should be engaged at different times. Alongside the CEO or Executive Director, your board, or a board sub-committee, should be involved right from the start, mapping out what the process will look like, the goals, and what stakeholders should be involved and how they will participate.

Once the planning roadmap has been created, your staff will be some of the most important stakeholders you engage. Depending on the size of your organization, you may choose to engage your entire staff team or a select group that represents the core operating functions of the organizations.

What approach do you recommend for staff and board engagement?

LJ: Once again, it’s important to take different approaches with different groups. For board members, facilitated sessions, or guided conversations, are most effective. Your board is unlikely to be familiar with day-to-day operations the way your staff is, so they may need more context and information on what is going on in your organization.

Key staff members should be included in exploratory sessions that will help inform your organizational Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats (SWOT) analysis. A staff survey is a great way to engage a larger employee group and can help you understand the current status of your organization and its needs moving forward.

Strategic planning can be boring and dry, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Think outside the box, be creative, and consider what would motivate your teams to engage wholeheartedly in the process. One big difference maker that is often overlooked is finding the right facilitator for your board and staff sessions. Match the facilitator to the personalities of the people you’re engaging and find someone who can bring ideas to the surface in a non-confrontational and non-judgemental way.

How can you keep staff and board engaged in the plan as you move into the execution phase?

LJ: Communicate, communicate, and then communicate again! Your board and leadership team need to clearly lay out your newly established strategic goals to staff so that they can create operational plans that support those goals. Those operational plans should include metrics that allow staff to measure themselves against the objectives you have created. There should be a continuous feedback loop, with leadership regularly restating your strategic goals and staff reporting back on the progress they are making towards them.  With everyone in the organization pulling together, you’ll soon be on the road to maximizing your impact on the communities you serve!