Ep 18: Mission Control and Strategic Planning (with Liana Downey)

by Joan Garry

It seems like everyone views strategic planning with a sort of dread. But when you do it right, it’s game changing. With special guest Liana Downey.


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Ah, strategic planning.

It seems like everyone views strategic planning with a sort of dread. I know I did when I was an Executive Director. Why? When you do it right, it’s game changing.

So how can we do better strategic planning without that sense of trepidation? How can we approach strategic planning in a pragmatic way that gets us back to our mission and helps us make the impact we set out to achieve in the first place?

That’s the subject of today’s podcast and I have an excellent guest to help us sort it out — Liana Downey.

Who Is Liana Downey?

Liana Downey is an internationally recognized strategic advisor, author, and speaker dedicated to social change. She founded the strategy group Downey and Associates to help organizations increase focus and change lives. In Australia, she led the nonprofit and government practices division at McKinsey and Company. Liana is currently teaching leadership and public service as part of the Masters of Public Policy program at NYU.

Liana knows all about strategic planning. She wrote a fantastic book on the topic — Mission Control: How Nonprofits and Governments Can Focus, Achieve More and Change the World. She is an advocate and champion of making sure nonprofits and governments get the issue of focus and strategy right.

Hint: it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money or a consultant.

In This Episode:

  • Why is strategic planning so daunting?
  • Three reasons your mission gets out of control
  • An equation for measuring impact
  • When creating a strategic plan, how many years out should you look?
  • Why good planning doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money
  • How you can do it yourself
  • Why your plan might actually be better “half-baked”
  • Mistakes people make with strategic planning and how to avoid them
  • How to set “spine-tingling” goals that lead to “a-ha” moments
  • The importance of inviting people into your organization’s story and how that related to strategic planning

Episode Links:

3 thoughts on “Ep 18: Mission Control and Strategic Planning (with Liana Downey)”

  1. This came for me at just the right time! I’ve been hired as a first DOD at an org that’s never had a strategic plan and charged with writing a development plan. I’ve been afraid I’m spinning my wheels doing this before a strategic plan is made. The argument against making one is no time, no money. This podcast has given me a good path forward to insist we don’t keep putting off making a strategic plan. I’m thinking of calling my development plan something like “temporary” to emphasize that I should not spend too much time on anything long term like a deep case statement process until we have our strategic plan in place. Any thoughts about how to move forward in a “holding pattern” on development before we can make our strategic plan?

  2. While I agree that short term strategic planning is realistic & optimal (vs. 5-year plan), some of our funders require a 3-5 year plan for review. We do so at a very high level, but want to also focus our efforts on the shorter term, creating more of a strategic/tactics hybrid plan. Thoughts on best process for doing so? (oh, buy the book, right? 😉 )

  3. Hi Jeff, I just saw your question — what a great one, and yes, all of us get pressure from funders for the 3-5 year plan (they don’t really know what they’ll do with if half the time, but it’s a habit, and habits die hard). I do talk about this a little with Joan in the podcast — but just to reiterate, I advocate having a very clear goal in serve of your mission — often that goal can be a 3-5 year goal, and that forms the backbone of your plan. You can have some broad steps that you think you’ll need to take to get the goal done, and you can lay out some markers to makes sure you measure that you’re on the right track. That’s really what a funder is looking for — that you are thinking longer term. Where I am keen on a short term plan is that is where all the action happens — I am also an advocate of coming back and doing planning in short, sharp bursts. I hope that helps — happy to talk more if useful. Cheers, Liana (www.lianadowney.com)