Strategic Planning Questions for Board Members

Nicholas J Price
Formulating a strategic plan requires more than following a template or just reworking a previous strategic plan. It requires asking endless questions of board members about the organization now and in the future, the competitors, the staff, the board, the business model and the board management tools that can help lead your organization to success.

One of the greatest things that can come out of a strategic planning meeting is the fact that it often brings many brilliant minds together where knowledge, expertise, and various perspectives ebb and flow like a river. After a strategic planning meeting, the board doesn't get to rest on its laurels and let management implement the plans. For strategic planning to be effective, the board has to think carefully about how they can support and encourage management as they carry out their plans.

Board members should spend a fair amount of time thinking about the strategic planning meeting before the meeting begins and bring their questions to the meeting.

Questions for Board Members to Ask at Strategic Planning Meetings

Nearly everything the board does revolves around the organization's vision and mission. For this reason, the first issue that boards need to review is whether the vision and mission should remain the same. For most boards, there's probably no need to make a change. Many internal or external changes can cause an organization to need to adjust and adapt. Economic, societal, environmental or other changes can have a major impact on how organizations progress. Those changes can cause a misalignment of operations with the mission and vision. Boards need to evaluate carefully when or if it's time to make a formal change in their vision or mission statements.

As part of evaluating the organization's vision, it's important to consider whether the current vision fits as it stands. In addition, it's equally important to consider the factors that could change the vision in the near or distant future. What will the organization's vision look like over the next year, and in the next five or 10 years?

A SWOT analysis is part of nearly every strategic planning meeting. There are many ways to do a SWOT analysis. Boards can choose to do a quick review of the previous SWOT analysis and make some updates to it. Periodically, it's a good idea to do a more in-depth SWOT analysis. At least every few years, boards should take extra time with the SWOT analysis and ask deeper, probing questions in each area of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

The process of setting new goals and objectives can be an eye-opening project. Often, a list of new goals calls into question whether the board is structured properly to achieve their goals. In light of new goals and objectives, does the board have the right types of committees? Do they need to add committees? Do they need to reassign and rearrange responsibilities within the current committee structure? What changes will the board need to make to ensure that committees can reach their objectives within the projected timeframe?

Strategic planning time is also a time when the board needs to evaluate themselves. What should board directors expect from themselves and from each other? Does the current board have the necessary skills and experience to help the organization progress and remain in alignment with the vision and mission? Another way to look at this is to ask, 'If we created a new board from scratch to meet the needs of the organization right now, what would that board look like and what skills and abilities would the collective board have?' While the answers to questions for board members may indicate a mismatch, it also creates an important opportunity for the board to make new decisions about board member recruitment, composition and succession.

Small or weak boards can compensate and compete with their peers by relying heavily on their strengths. As part of the SWOT analysis, boards should be looking for core strengths that give them a competitive advantage. What are some of the key strengths that got them where they are today? What strengths set them apart from the competition? What strengths allow the board to address issues that competitors can't. Digging deep in evaluating strengths means that the board needs to ask what they know about their competition and how they can use it to build a strategy around their competitive advantage. Future trends can quickly and easily alter competition. Evaluating strengths also entails trying to anticipate how future trends may affect the current strategic plan.

Another crucial step for boards to take is to evaluate whether the new strategic plan works with the current business model? How well will the current business model integrate with the plans for reaching new goals and objectives? Should the board consider reviewing alternative business models?

Setting new goals offers an opportunity to review staffing needs. Will making strides toward the new goals require additional staffing? Will efficiency signal the need to decrease staff or maintain the current team? Once again, it's important to ask if management hired exactly the staff they needed to meet the new strategic plan, how many people would they need, and what skills and abilities would those people need to have?

As important as it is to consider the strategic plan in relation to management and operations, it's important to consider how the strategic plan will affect the budget. Will the current budget allow the board to meet its goals and objectives? Does the board need to obtain additional funds to meet the objectives? Is there a fundraising or investment plan to meet those objectives? Will new funds arrive in time for the board to fulfill their objectives?

Strategic plans may also alter the current marketing plan and communication efforts. This is the best time to consider who the target population is and whether new goals and objectives will change or alter the target population.

Once your strategic plan is completed and approved, how will the board monitor it so that it doesn't sit on a shelf or find a resting place in a drawer? Has the board assigned action steps to various individuals so they can start working toward goals? Who will hold those individuals accountable for making progress toward the goals? It's a good idea to dedicate some board time at every meeting to reviewing progress against the goals as a means of monitoring the strategic plan.

Board Management Software as a Tool for Strategic Planning

Diligent Corporation provides all the software solutions that boards need to do an effective job of creating a strategic plan. The survey tool is an important tool for asking all the crucial questions that lead to a realistic, viable plan. Boards can take advantage of the board portal system and the communications platform to ensure that all their activities take place within the strong security of Diligent's board management software system.
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Nicholas J. Price
Nicholas J. Price is a former Manager at Diligent. He has worked extensively in the governance space, particularly on the key governance technologies that can support leadership with the visibility, data and operating capabilities for more effective decision-making.