THINKPIECE: Strategists will hold the future in their hands

DAVID SAINT, the principal of fundraising and recruitment consultant Action Planning

No self-respecting organisation would be without a vision and mission statement. Few would be without key objectives and most have operational and financial plans to demonstrate how these grand ideas can be achieved and at what cost.

In a few organisations there is even a clear and demonstrable linkage between vision, mission, objectives and what staff do every day.

This kind of strategic planning, however, does not come naturally to all voluntary-sector organisations. One charity experienced so much angst in developing its vision and mission statements that it had no energy left to take the planning process any further. This was not helped by the fact that a "road map" for that process had not been worked out in advance.

Another chief executive left her organisation because the trustees were opposed to strategic planning in principle, on the grounds that "things always change anyway".

They have a point, which is where the "pragmatic strategist" comes in.

The pragmatist will be with the general who observed that "no plan ever survived contact with the enemy", which in our case could be competitors, funders, staff, trustees, or just the swift passage of time. The strategist will be with the visionary who said that "the best way to predict the future is to invent it".

Social and political history clearly shows us that visionary plans can and do make a difference. The world would be a much poorer place if men and women had not dreamed dreams and then worked with all their might to make them a reality.

There are leaders, however, who have broken themselves on the rigid wheel of their own plans, unyielding to the bumps and potholes of the road to success. A detailed map is essential to a successful journey, but the pragmatic strategist will know when to pause awhile on that journey, or when to choose a slightly more accessible destination.

As the pace of change increases, it will become ever harder to develop three- or five-year plans that bear any resemblance to how things eventually turn out. But, arguably, it will become ever more important to try and do so.

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