You ought to consult staff on strategy - up to a point

Staff with regular contact with beneficiaries will be prime sources of feedback or ideas, says Valerie Morton

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q: Should staff at all levels be involved in the strategic planning process?

A: I imagine there are many readers out there answering your question with a straightforward "yes"; but I suspect there are also a surprisingly large number whose instinct is to say "no". It is quite possible that those in the latter group feel they cannot be open about their view because of the perception that a "no" answer implies some form of dictatorship.

The difference of views occurs mainly because interpretations of the term "involvement" differ. It can be broken down into direct involvement, consultation and communication. We can take it as read that communication with all staff is vital at every stage of a strategic process.

The issue of consultation is often the most controversial. It is not necessary or appropriate to consult staff at all levels in all stages of the planning process; more importantly, some people are happy not to be consulted. They might feel that way because they think their colleagues or managers are better placed to make decisions and they trust them to produce the right outcome - or, as I can remember clearly from one charity staff meeting, they are simply uncomfortable in an environment full of acronyms and feel they are being judged on their contribution to an issue that is outside their skill set. Consultation often takes place about the final version of the strategy, giving the impression that it is tokenistic. The result is a negative rather than a positive experience.

Involvement can take many forms. Staff at all levels can contribute to the fact-finding stage, especially if appropriate and well-defined tasks are allocated. Other staff might become informal 'mystery shoppers', gathering information by using, supporting or donating to other charities.

Personal contacts and networks are useful for opening doors or carrying out competitor analysis, and staff with regular contact with beneficiaries will be prime sources of feedback or ideas. The challenge is to find the right way to draw out useful information. Sometimes informal but facilitated sessions over a sandwich can reveal gems that would not appear on a formal questionnaire.

Responsibility for agreeing the key objectives lies clearly with the trustees and directors, but managers should and will expect to be involved in shaping and prioritising the options. Once the overall objectives have been approved, the real work can begin on preparing departmental or section plans - and then the most extensive involvement starts.

Have a clear plan from the start about how you will involve, consult and communicate with each staff group. That way you will manage expectations, provide the clarity everyone craves and garner input of maximum value.

Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

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