Life Is Meaningless: For REAL Wellness Sakes, Create Some

Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning. Henry MillerIntroductionIn a cosmic sense, our lives and the existence of all life on Earth is a bit of a paradox – we and the world around us are mind-boggling wondrous contingencies beyond the language of superlatives, improbable almost beyond belief. The paradox comes in the reality that it all amounts to nothing, ultimately, because life has no cosmic meaning and every creature will die, everything else will be destroyed and all that is will vanish forever without a trace.Which is a polite way of saying life is meaningless, basically, but you’re here now so the bright side, REAL wellness thing to do is invent meanings and purposes that promote wellbeing, yours and as many others as possible.Cosmic Meaning Any discussion about meaning of life invites a distinction between cosmic and terrestrial meaning. Life is meaningless only in the cosmic sense; the opportunities for finding meaning comes in the second kind of meaning, to be discussed next.Cosmic meaning is meaning from the perspective of the universe. This is the sense in which life is insignificant and pointless, extremely limited in time and space. We are tiny beings on a planet in an unremarkable solar system in a galaxy with hundreds of billions of solar systems – and there are hundreds of billions of galaxies. It would be hard if not impossible to write an understatement that tops this one: we are not the center or point (raison d’etre) of the universe. The cosmos is coldly indifferent to our fate. Everything is devoid of lasting consequence.Billions of people, however, believe their lives have enduring significance. Acculturated from birth to see themselves as cosmic celebrities, special beings created by a god who loves them personally and will, after death, invite them to dwell forever and ever in a really cool place. This conviction would give anyone a strong sense of cosmic significance. Nice work or retirement, perhaps, if you can get it, that is, if true. However, there is a downside to such thinking. In the Christian court of no appeal, believers in this cosmic meaning may be found guilty of not having loved the god sufficiently, in which case eternal horrors await.


If the cosmic significance I’ve just described sounds preposterous, and you suspect I’m making this up (and I wouldn’t fault you for that – it does sound bonkers), then check the obituaries of your local paper. Here you will find accounts of people who, despite dying, are said to have transitioned to a glorious place of eternal bliss. (Oddly, I’ve never seen an obituary notice that the departed is now burning in hell.) Or, be a bit more scholarly about it: read David Benetar’s 2017 book, The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions.Alas, there is zero evidence and even less likelihood of heaven or hell. Thus, this kind of theological take on cosmic meaning has to be embraced on faith and more than a few grains of proverbial salt. But, then again, maybe that’s what it takes to get into The Good Place.Terrestrial MeaningIn a terrestrial sense, of course, our lives do have meaning, do matter, enormously, not only for ourselves but to others and, in some cases, perhaps to a whole tribe, a village maybe, hell, in some rare cases, to the whole of mankind, in some way – for a while, at least. Think Paine, Lincoln, Darwin, Ingersoll, Dawkins and Harris – and the list of your own heroes, past and present.Terrestrial meaning must be the dew and rain, seed and soil, air and light of REAL wellness – the beating heart of being well that makes the human predicament less burdensome. Terrestrial meaning might entail what Peter Singer termed a transcendent cause, one beyond the boundaries of the self. Viktor Frankl created an approach to meaning linked to mental wellbeing called logotherapy, based on the premise that we are motivated by a will to meaning, an inner pull toward animating purposes that make life worthwhile. Nietzsche’s way of capturing this aspect of terrestrial meaning was to say he who has a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how.’ REAL Wellness and Quality of LifeHobbes was an optimist: life is far more dismal than simply ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’ Life is of low, low, very very low quality, for most, whether poor or rich or something in-between. Elon Musk, billionaire creator of fabulous companies (i.e., Tesla, Space Explorations Technologies and a new tunneling start-up), admits to being under pressure all the time and consequently suffering mood swings, terrible lows and unrelenting stress. So, if you want to do better, take quality of life enhancements very seriously.To boost quality of life, recognize how extraordinarily unfortunate life really is and knock yourself out working passionately to make it less so. Accept the unwelcome reality that life sucks is the norm, lower your expectations and resolve to pick up every jewel of joy that can be found in your path (Ingersoll). The end really is near, not from some brain-dead End Times fundamentalist doomsday but simply because life is naturally short, and even shorter if misfortune strikes, which is never unlikely. And, if you’re old, well, do I really need to belabor this point?The Final Years: Special Tips for Old Folks If, like me, you are nearing the far side of middle age, you are well aware that the only way to avoid growing old and suffering the loss of precious bodily fluids is to die young, and you have managed not to do that, by virtue of random good fortune, genetics and maybe even wise choices.Your reward is a difficult era of trials and tribulations. Make the most of it – life as a senior has its own peculiar rewards, besides movie discounts and early bird dinner specials. Seize every opportunity. Deal with the slings and arrows of creeping decrepitude with grace, panache and a sense of humor, to the extent possible. (Occasionally, go ahead and gripe and bitch and be cranky as hell – most will understand.)


Move as much as your joints and other body parts allow. Listen to advice from others but keep your own counsel. Don’t give ground without a fight, but don’t go down with the ship, either. While all your senses will be less acute than decades ago, view what’s left as treasures and put them to good use.Pamper yourself. Sleep as much as possible, within limits. Get massages now and then and, if you enjoy such things, take cold plunges, bask in hot tubs and learn to snowboard, skateboard and surf the big waves in Hawaii! Haha – just kidding about cold plunges. Probably not a good idea but if you want to try new things and you feel frisky enough, go for it.Make a special effort to keep learning new tricks. Consider writing your autobiography – your children, grandchildren and descendants down through the ages will love it. Doing so might be a challenge that brings you pleasure. If your life has been totally boring, make up some wild stuff – and have your autobiography embargoed for 100 years. After that, your descendants won’t know any better and your life will become a proud family legend. What’s the harm in a little literary license?In ConclusionNo matter your age, come to total terms with the fact that nobody lives forever, at least not on Earth or anywhere else that we can be sure about. Decide how you want to transition back into stardust and celebrate as much as possible, every day, every hour why you’re still here.So, my friends, seize the day – every day remaining. If now and then you forget to think and act positively, cheerfully and brightly, get an hourglass. Put it on your desk or by the bed. Let it be a subtle reminder not to postpone the good, in ways large and small.

Better Planning

Better planning. It is often said if work is not ready in time. It is also seen as a solution for organizations to increase efficiency or a better service. It is all true and can thus be saved much money. If this money for the picking, why do we still not done?

Effective planning in practice is not so easy. Understanding the different types of planning is a first step. As is known in which a planning organization desired, then a road to be made to such a plan to come.

Planning is receiving attention. It has worked there since organizations. Yet planning is not an area where organizations always successful.

The constantly changing circumstances, think of changing availability of staff. The standard 40 hours for all is long past time. There are unexpected events. Suddenly there is additional demand in the market, etcetera. Despite the continuously changing circumstances is necessary for efficient operation. The competition is not that extra space (eg in the form of additional people) in an organization is to smooth out the changes.

There is still debate whether there are as many as possible should be centrally or planned. Central planning makes it much easier for all resources as efficiently as possible way. Decentralized planning produces the advantage that the local changes can easily be played, partly because the planner knows the people who planned and are thus relatively easy to bear in mind such as someone once one hours is not available.

The timeliness of planning will include illustrated by a recent article in a magazine automation, which by KPMG introducing a central planning as one of the solutions put forward for redundancies to prevent secondment providing ICT.

What little is written about the people who planned to carry. Rarely is the question whether the documents the employee as it likes to bring the project to which he is assigned. Of course there will a planner in practice into account. If this happens do not explicitly adopt or unconsciously. This may be the main reason why in practice there are many decentralized planning.

To clarify how an organization can better pick up the schedule, we first distinguish the following planning concepts.

-Agenda Planning

-Planning Tasks

-Project

-Planning Agenda

-As the name implies, is planning agenda only to establish a planning agenda of the different resources to come. This could mean hourly, half day or a fixed time each day in the calendar is planned. This situation occurs frequently in field personnel or resources for an organization that posting a few days or weeks makes available to its customers. Also in the planning in a call center is often referred to agenda planning. See also the article: Scheduling Optimization for Call Center

Planning Tasks

In planning tasks are tasks in the various resources planned. A task is an activity that after a certain date should start before a certain date and should be ready. The task is how long it must be taken to implement this. Accounting firms and advertising agencies work with many planning tasks. The professional knows that in a given week 5 to 6 hours per job tasks spend, but he himself can fill in what order the tasks it handles. The worker will not be told where exactly where he needs to work. As it is known when it is off than he himself would appreciate the week to complete.

Project

Is often thought to project when discussing planning. When planning a project involves the planning of several interdependent tasks. Construction projects are a good example. In one building, the foundation can be ready before the start of the masonry walls. The development of software is a good example of a project that requires project.

When planning a focus in the organization, it is prudent to first determine what type of planning is involved. Is there planning calendar, task and project planning. Sometimes, there are several species in a planning organization. It is advisable to first look into the planning issues, which are predominant in the organization.

Existing planning rules

Any exceptions must be made on what the planning rules is created. This has two advantages. It is clear that the planning rules and those rules need to be evaluated and which were probably useful in the past but not now, or how certain rules otherwise be filled. It is through critical to the planning rules used to look and not too quick to accept that a rule is still relevant today, may be more flexibility in the creation of the plan are achieved. This increased flexibility often leads to cost savings. In a service environment, eg the rule that in 95% of reports within 3 hours after the reported failure of the service technician must be present. If this rule is replaced by 95% of reports in the interference within 8 hours after the notification must be resolved, give the organization more flexibility and gives the customer that what is really important to her.

Central or decentralized planning

It should also be given to whether centrally or will be scheduled. If manual is planned, there is often much to be said for a decentralized planning to make. In a little volume it is not central to overlook. If automation can be planned it is easier to central planning. However it is important that the various departments can exert influence on how the schedule is created.

Specialties

The peculiarities should properly be identified.

The desired capacity is every first Monday of the month 30% higher on January 1 and 60 resources are needed. The details of the various resources must be known. The one the other works 36 hours every 2nd Friday of the month only in the morning until 11 hours et cetera.

Employees hold in general if not on them when they decided to have no effect. Furthermore, it also possible that a section on special circumstances at issue. This should be factored in or planning.

Inventory

What are the unforeseen circumstances that may arise? What is the priority when it comes to? Who decides this? How can we determine whether, based on the experience gained in the past, take account of unforeseen circumstances in the future? Ad hoc solutions have always possible, but just a good inventory of the expected “unexpected situations”, the number of ad hoc solutions are limited. This is an important aspect, because practice shows that many developed planning systems failed, precisely because of unexpected circumstances often ad hoc solutions are chosen so that it seems more the rule than the exception.

Culture

Around the planning process there is often a culture. By force of habit is already planning a certain way. The way the plans are made is often a process of evaluation of years. It requires courage of the people here to open fully candid and critical look at. Therefore it is important that this happens in a constructive and open atmosphere.

If all the above aspects are examined, can be examined whether and how the planning process can be automated support. Often there may soon be offered to help the planner. This could for example the use of Excel or a comprehensive planning package. The proposed plan will always be judged by the planner and still be adjusted before the final planning.

The rules for the different schedules used, strongly determine the final schedule. This in turn determines to a large extent the costs are made in the organization and the quality of the services provided. Consider this in all circumstances or based on minimal cost should be scheduled as long as the minimum quality requirements or that there are strategic projects to naming, where even at maximum quality must be planned. Although planning in the final form a strong operational process, regular involvement of management is still required, because the planning rules used to continuous change.

Planning is important in organizations, but is often a difficult process. A process that is time consuming, not always with conclusive results. By identifying what type of planning situations exist, create better understanding of the possibilities. By then the clear and critical process inventory, creates a picture of what the organization. Precisely by existing rules into question could possibly be playing much. If the rules are known which will be scheduled, look how the process can be automated can be supported. This can save time for the planner and lead in complex situations to ensure better planning, because in a short time, the various alternatives can be calculated.

Are Non-Profits Prepared For Strategic Planning?

I wish I could count the number of times I have attended a non-profit strategic planning session, or discussed the need to have (or update) one in a board meeting, or been invited to serve as the facilitator. It has always – always – struck me that the strategic planning session should just be starting about the time that it is actually ending (e.g., too much time is wasted at the beginning and then a frenzy results at the end). The purpose of this article is to outline some observations over 30 years of strategic planning experience and to share suggestions that will improve the chances for a successful outcome.

Holding a Strategic Planning Session
At some point in time, every member of a non-profit board is going to hear the suggestion: “let’s hold a strategic planning session!” from a fellow board member or staff member. It’s not a bad idea but, unfortunately, it’s often a waste of time and produces no measurable outcomes. I want to share some observations and thoughts about strategic planning – invite debate – and see if we can come up with some guidelines that make the investment of time worthwhile. I have often said that strategic planning is a ‘process’ and not an ‘event’ – and I still very much believe that statement is true. However, maybe I should also add the caveat that a successful ‘process’ does indeed require an ‘event’ – or series of events – which is precisely the point. If you agree with my belief that the event often ends about the time it should be starting, then you would have to agree that additional follow-up after the event is required in order to create a meaningful strategic plan because the plan stopped short of completion during the original event. And a lot of time was used inefficiently, which also makes people reluctant to participate in the future.
 
A Working Document
Without a doubt, the primary way that I judge a successful strategic plan is by seeing a copy of it a year after the ‘event.’ If it’s a bit too dusty (which is often said in jest, but is true!) and if the pages are in pristine condition, then the event that created the plan was obviously not successful in motivating action. However, if the copy is dog-eared, marked up, added to, pages tagged, and otherwise well-used; then the event was super successful because a ‘process’ was indeed born and the need for ongoing action was instilled. In my opinion, successful outcomes are too rare in the strategic planning ‘implementation’ phase. The copy of the strategic plan that I described as a success is one that has become a working document, which is what planning is all about.
 
Defining ‘Strategic’
From an analytical standpoint, one way to define something is to determine what it is not. Strategy is different from ‘tactical’ or ‘operational’ (which is actually performing a task). Strategy is more subjective and cerebral; it involves thinking about an issue in broader terms than usual; thinking about circumstances that do not currently exist (i.e., future oriented) and determining how to adapt the organization to benefit from those predicted opportunities or avoid anticipated threats. Often, it involves thinking about an issue totally differently than ever before (which is VERY hard to do). Strategy development is not the same as operations implementation. For example, when I have been invited to ‘do’ strategic planning for an organization, I always ask if there is an Operating Plan; i.e., if you don’t know how to perform your core business every day (Operating Plan), why would you want to spend time working on a future-oriented process (Strategic Plan)? Strategy (highly subjective) is the opposite of operational (highly objective/defined/specific). Objective is ‘cut and dried’ – there is a procedure/process/outcome that arises from certain actions, done at certain times, in a certain way to produce known/certain outcomes. We already know if we do these certain things what we will get. Most people can adequately perform what they are taught/instructed. However, developing strategy – even the process of thinking about it – is very different. A strategic planning session led by a ‘doer’ instead of a ‘strategist’ and ‘critical thinker’ will yield disappointing results; however, ‘doers’ can be very helpful in participating in the development of strategy if they are properly guided. A couple of very simple examples of strategic vs. operational issues will make the point:

Funding
Operational – How are we going to make payroll next month?
Strategic – How do we need to adapt our operations to comply/excel with the recent changes for non-profits by Congress?

New Program
Operational – We need to add a new program to our existing series.
Strategic – We need to add a new series to cover new topics that will take our organization in a new direction.

Operating Plans Are Important
Let me be quick to tout the benefits of an Operating Plan. Properly executed, an Operating Planning Session can provide or refine specific guidance/clarification/policy on any number of day-to-day issues that really can be a big help when running the organization. The primary difference between strategic and operating (which is a huge difference) is that operating plans deal with the ‘here and now’ – with processes and policies that will improve the current business function – strategic plans, simply put, engage the participants in thought processes meant to challenge the current business function by looking into the future and assessing opportunities, threats, weaknesses, and strengths. A good Operating Plan can minimize daily confusion/questions about the manner in which specific job functions should be conducted. The ‘event’ of operations planning – getting the appropriate team together to discuss, debate, and decide the issues – is, in-of-itself, a very worthwhile team-building and clarifying session (if properly planned and executed). While Operating Plans are beyond the scope of this article, I wanted to make sure they were mentioned in a positive context.
 
The Mission Statement and The SWOT Analysis
Unfortunately, most strategic planning sessions seem to begin with either a review of the mission statement or a SWOT analysis. Both are usually ‘deal-busters’ in that they bog down the process of innovative thinking for strategic planning. For example, unless the core business of the organization has been totally disrupted (e.g., by lack of funding or policy, political, social, or technology changes), then the existing mission statement should be in reasonably good condition. To delve into the mission statement – and debate specific words and placement within the text – sucks the life out of the planning session and can often pit individuals against each other right from the start over silly things like wordsmithing. Not only is this unfortunate, but I would suggest that it is totally unnecessary. How can you revise a mission statement until you go through the rigors of the strategic planning process and determine whether or not there are bona-fide strategic issues worth pursuing? My preference is to hold the mission statement for a separate planning meeting after the strategic plan has at least been through an initial rough draft process. Perhaps a good analogy is to look at the mission statement from the back end – maybe it should be thought of as more of an executive summary?
 
Preparation For The Planning Session Is Critical
There is probably no exercise that requires more preparation than strategic planning. Why? Because the participants must be the right ones (those with authority and accountability), the purpose of the exercise must be made very clear (to stay ‘on point’ and eliminate confusion and fear), and the process must be known and engaging in advance (so participants can be prepared to contribute their very best). The most obvious difference between a private-sector strategic planning session and one for a non-profit organization is the inclusion of volunteers, namely the board of directors. The good news is that the planning session will include a diversity of opinion; the bad news is that most board members have probably been through some type of strategic planning before and have preconceived notions about the process based on their previous experiences (hence, the importance of preparing for the session in advance). I will discuss the dynamics of the volunteer participants in a later section.
 
I strongly recommend using an experienced professional outside facilitator (not a staff member, a board member, or a friend of a friend…) for at least three reasons:
 
(1) It is important to have 100% involvement of the entire board and staff members, so using participants to lead sessions or write on flip charts takes them out of the game.
 
(2) The selected facilitator must fully understand the main points presented in this article and have familiarity with applying them in actual planning sessions. (I will discuss some thoughts on selecting a facilitator in a later section.)
 
(3) You cannot be a prophet in your own land – your fellow board members and/or staff will resent you for being the strategic planning leader (even if you are experienced). Obtaining outside help eliminates this problem.
 
If possible, share copies of previous strategic plans (with the participants and the facilitator) as part of the preparation process that takes place well in advance of the event. Successful planning takes more time in preparation than it does in execution; this is a good rule of thumb to remember. If very little (or no) planning goes into the preparation, the participants will show up without direction and without having pondered creative solutions to some known issues to get their juices flowing; the event will likely be a disaster (and a waste of a lot of precious time).
 
Conducting The Advanced Preparation
Plenty of lead time is important; six months is not too long. Start by regularly discussing the need/desire of a strategic planning session at board and staff meetings. A letter to the board from the chair is a good way to officially announce that a strategic planning session is necessary. That letter should include a few examples of issues that are pressing the organization for strategic solutions. The board may wish to name a committee responsible for the planning (or, the board may already have a Strategic Planning Committee). Remembering that the plan is intended to be forward looking, it is important to involve up-and-coming board and staff members; their participation will be critical to the future implementation of the plan, so it is imperative they be involved in the development of it. Newer participants are often more reluctant to engage during the planning session because they conclude, perhaps rightly so, that there is a lot of history that they do not know. Remembering that strategic planning is forward looking, the facilitator must work hard to bring everybody into the dialogue because past history is less important than future strategy.
 
Let’s cover a few aspects of the advanced preparation checklist:
 
Participation
Remember that inviting the participants is easier than getting them to attend the session! This is one of the best reasons for beginning the discussions about the planning session six months in advance. My suggestion (this is a bit radical) is that it be made clear that if a participant cannot arrive on time and stay for the entire event, then they should not attend. This rule will make clear the importance of full participation. Reiterating this for several months prior to the session will make it less likely to have a misunderstanding on the day of the event. (If the organization is extremely proactive, then it already has a policy on board attendance and what is considered an excused absence.)
 
The Venue
How important is the selection of the place to hold the planning session? I would argue that it is more important than most people think (i.e., it is very important). I would strongly suggest that the venue be away from the normal meeting places. In addition, distractions like golf courses should be avoided; and, selecting a location where there is no cell phone reception takes care of a whole host of problems. Included in the selection of the venue are a number of other seemingly mundane issues, but planning in advance can make the difference between success and failure. A few examples:

  • Make sure the primary meeting room is extraordinary. It must be comfortable in every way, from the chairs to the location of the restrooms. If possible, select a meeting room with full technology tools; you want the session to be impressive.
  • Do not expect the attendees to bunk together. Secure enough rooms in advance to accommodate all of those who plan to attend. Private bathrooms are a must.
  • Food selections should be made in advance, particularly taking into account vegetarian preferences. Avoid caffeine and sugar as much as possible because studies have found that while both spike attention, there is ultimately an attention crash.
  • Decisions about alcohol, smoking, group recreation activities, etc. should all be made in advance. To keep things simple, I suggest avoiding all of the above.
  • Regular breaks – where some exercise is suggested and some quiet/alone time is provided – will increase the productivity of the output in the sessions. Make sure there is a printed agenda – distributed well in advance of the session – and spell out all events to the minute. Do not deviate from the schedule.

Length of the Planning Session
Determining the proper length of the session is important. I continue to believe that planning sessions end about the time they should be starting/continuing. Why? Because without a lot of advanced planning and attention to detail, the event begins sluggishly and does not naturally find a participative course until too late. However, I have never been to a multi-day ‘seminar’ that I thought was worth my time because I do not play golf and am not looking at seminars or planning sessions for my recreation and social outings. I feel strongly that the importance of the planning session should be kept paramount in the minds of the participants. There is no reason to draw things out just for the sake of having a lengthy planning session. How short is too short? A strategic planning session cannot be successfully held in one morning. How long is too long? Anything longer than a couple of days will cause a negative impact on the operations of the organization, given that the entire leadership team is at the strategic planning event. However, the best session I ever attended lasted the better part of three days. And, it was a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (intentionally selected so as not to interfere with normal operations).
 
Planning Session Case Study
An appropriately sized inn was selected – in a rural area and about 90 minutes out of town – and the organization rented the entire facility. It was extremely well planned, in advance, and all contingencies were considered (private rooms, meals, walking trails, multiple meeting rooms, no cell service, personal time built into the agenda, etc.) Written materials had been distributed weeks in advance. The facilitating team (outside consultants) had met individually with each participant prior to the event; the five-person consulting team arrived Friday morning to set up. There were 24 participants (ranging from the CEO to new managers), who arrived after lunch on Friday, checked into their rooms, and were in place for the afternoon (opening) session at 3 p.m. on Friday. Another session was conducted after dinner on Friday evening and multiple sessions were conducted on Saturday. The event concluded at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Of special note is that every participant left the session with a copy of the draft strategic plan that commemorated the first session in the planning process. Updates were added as they became available in the days, weeks, and months to come. Goals and objectives were established to produce measurable outcomes and revised as necessary. Organization-wide communications were important, so assignments were made to brief the entire employee population on the plan and its iterative changes. This strategic planning event remains the best I have ever attended. Contrast this brief description with the planning events you have attended and you will see the difference that commitment can make. And, important to mention: the resulting strategic plan completely transformed the organization, as was intended (the organization reduced its service territory and its product offerings, opting to focus on its core strengths). A better outcome could not be imagined.
 
The Cost of Strategic Planning
I do not believe in the old saying, “you get what you pay for.” Instead, I believe you will get no more than you pay for and you might not even get that much if you are not fully engaged with the service provider. Good strategic planning is not cheap. Many for-profit organizations cannot afford it, so it is no surprise that the non-profit organizations struggle mightily with the cost. A common practice is to have a friend-of-a-friend conduct a 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (with lunch!) planning session for free (or for a few hundred dollars). How successful is this approach? I would suggest not successful at all – and, potentially giving a negative impression to strategic planning because the session was so grossly inadequate. If this is true, then it is literally better not to have a strategic planning session that to have a bad one. Fees vary all over the board but, for example, the case study presented above cost $50,000 (negotiated down from $75,000 in conjunction with the experimentation of producing the draft plan during the session) – and that was over 15 years ago. I am familiar with a recent strategic plan for a non-profit organization – conducted by a national consulting firm specializing in the operations of that specific non-profit industry – and the cost was $75,000 about two years ago. However, take note: a donor sponsored 100% of the cost under the belief that without a strategic plan, the organization was in trouble. So, my suggestion would be to seek donor funding for the strategic planning costs. Also, I would suggest that the organization tout the existence of its strategic plan in its printed material and on its web site, thereby demonstrating that it is proactive and performs in a business-like manner, which can provide a competitive advantage during fundraising.

 
Selecting a Strategic Planning Consultant
The case study above mentions a five-person consulting team. This was part of an experiment that required that number of consultants because the end product, as explained above, was a draft copy of the strategic plan in the hands of every participant. This required the appropriate technology to be on hand (PC, projector, screen, copiers, etc.) and a typist who was the fastest I have ever seen. Part of the experiment was to enable the participants to be fully engaged in the conversation by not taking notes; instead, everything that was said was typed on the PC and projected on the screen. During breaks, the consulting team would group suggestions into logical sections. One consultant handled all contingencies. The other three took turns facilitating the various sessions to offer a distinct change of pace. During lunch on the closing day, copies were made for all participants and reviewed in the final session before adjournment. Admittedly, this was extreme; however, it certainly was effective. Generally speaking, however, find a consultant from a reference, meet with the person (or persons) to determine if you have a good personality fit (important), discuss the specific scope of work, ask for references (and check them), and ask to review copies of other strategic plans the consultant has led (these may be proprietary, but a reference can provide you with a copy – or at least let you look at a copy – so you can see the actual work product and evaluate it). Make sure that the consulting fee includes preliminary work and follow-up work. Also, make sure that the consultant’s background is a good fit for the type of organization (some people believe that a good facilitator can facilitate anything, but I disagree; there are always strengths and weaknesses in a person’s knowledge base).
 
The Dynamics of the Planning Session
The biggest challenge for any planning session is to keep the group ‘on point’ (i.e., on the subject) and to involve, ideally, everybody in the group in the dialogue. Speaking of ‘dialogue,’ the word is not interchangeable with ‘discussion’ – you want a dialogue not a discussion – the word discussion is derived from percussion which indicates ‘banging, striking, scraping, etc.’ (precisely the wrong connotation) and is usually an informal debate (also the wrong connotation). Dialogue, on the other hand, is a conversation and an exchange of ideas (not a debate). Managing personality differences, tenure differences (who knows what because of how long they have been associated with the organization), starting on time (even if everybody is not present!), ending on time (i.e., following the agenda), and recording the comments of the participants are rightful expectations for the client to have of the facilitator/consultant. Basic issues of respect (we are all adults) is the responsibility of each participant. I have never attended a strategic planning session where there was not at least one person who did not want to be there – and, unfortunately, it was obvious through words and body language – which projected a certain amount of negativity on the entire group. In cases such as this, it is up to the CEO to determine how the situation should best be handled; I recommend removing the negativity from the session.
 
Next Steps for Successful Implementation
Too often (if not the majority of the time!) “what happens at the strategic planning retreat stays at the strategic planning retreat…” While this may work in Vegas, it is a sorry outcome for serious strategic planning! Information must be shared after the retreat. My experience indicates that success comes from follow-up, follow-up, and more follow-up. I suggest a “champion” – an individual (or very small team) that will manage the implementation of the strategic plan – with unimpeded, direct access to the CEO. (If the CEO is not fully supportive then the strategic plan is doomed to failure.) Most importantly, I suggest that everyone involved understand, accept, and embrace the unequivocal fact that additional changes will be needed during the implementation phase. This is as it should be. Documenting these changes (and why), revising goals and objectives, timelines, assignments and providing printed copies to be inserted into all the individual strategic planning notebooks is the best way I know to keep the entire team involved in the process. (Remember, we are striving for a process, not an event…)
 
Conclusions/Recommendations
The purpose of this article was to share some observations over 30 years of strategic planning experience and to share suggestions for pre-planning that will improve the chances for a successful outcome. I remain concerned that the non-profit sector (more so than the government sector or the private sector) is typically not ready for strategic planning because they don’t have the funds to do an adequate job and the pre-planning is not thorough. A successful outcome from this article would be to get non-profit leaders to think about the subject of strategic planning more seriously – and to halt any existing plans until key elements of this article are at least considered. Entire books are written on the subject of strategic planning, so this article does not portend to be conclusive, only to make clear the importance of strategic planning and doing it right. Feedback and comments are invited.