Arlene’s insight and thoughtfulness were a spectacular gift to our organization. She has a unique ability to frame dilemmas and opportunities in a way that helps focus conversations and clarify organizational intent. Arlene also has the gift of active listening, and was able to not only absorb what we were saying but also mirror it back to us in a way that deepened our understanding of our own strengths and opportunities. Every time we work with Arlene, we’re left wanting more!Chloe Kline, Education Director, Community MusicWorks, Providence, RI
I ran into a well-established planning consultant at a meeting. We talked a little shop before the agenda got underway. His latest project was a challenge, he confided. “Most of the groups I work for, you just change the names in a strategic plan, but here, I really had to think.” I don’t think this reflects individual laziness or laxity. Instead, it describes a field that is tightly constrained by templates, “best practices,” and other reductive ideas about how organizations, communities, and businesses ought to develop.
I’ve been working with communities and organizations for decades and this I know: despite common challenges, no two are alike. There’s no standard formula for success. There’s no template that fits everyone. Just as with individuals, each group has its own character, strengths, difficulties, aspirations, fears, and quirks. Just as with individuals, thriving requires each group to find the particular factors that enhance well-being and expand possibility. Add in the fluid nature of our times—with funding, communications, social conditions, and the organizational landscape constantly morphing—and adopting a cookie-cutter plan becomes even more pointless.
In this climate, making meaningful plans for an organization, community, or business is more like devising a large, collaborative work of art than building something from a blueprint. This is good news, because if you think of responding to challenges and opportunities as an art, planning can be both satisfying and fun:
- You get to try things out, learning from experience without feeling that you’ve failed.
- You get to find out what everyone does best and enjoys most, then reap the benefits.
- Instead of starting with limitations—what can we do that funders will find fresh but won’t cost any more?—you get to start with values. What drives your plan is what matters most to you; and what matters most to you becomes the benchmark for all your decisions and initiatives.
- You get to leave room for improvisation, authorizing people to be resourceful and inventive, bringing their best.
- And when all of that lines up, you get excitement, originality, alignment, and engagement, inside and out.
One of the most painful mistakes community or organization leaders can make is to believe they must conform to succeed, because the path to success requires forcing yourself into the same mold as everyone else. People go through an expensive, time-consuming process to come out with little more than a document that could have been created with search-and-replace. Boring? Stultifying! Instead, dare to regard your group or community as a vast work of art. Make planning an adventure in collective imagination that generates working principles, structures, and initiatives that people will be eager to put into practice.
Interested? Let’s talk.