Monday, July 2, 2012

Why Are Strategic Plans Needed?

A strategic plan, simply put, is a map or chart that an organization agrees to follow for three or five years in order to reach their goals. Institutions need strategic plans to help direct efforts and resources in an efficient and strategic manner. Responding to community and audience needs requires a strategic plan.
The planning process is strategic because you are establishing the goals that make the organization dynamic in its community and allow it to keep in step with the community’s needs.  It is systematic because it is focused and evaluative in choosing priorities. Institutions make decisions about short- and long-term goals and secure consensus. And most importantly, strategic planning is about building commitment and engaging stakeholders. Once the plan is in place, and you have met with all the stakeholders you can, you now have the authority to complete the work and a course of direction to take.   
Strategic plans are different from long-range or operational plans. Plans are strategic when the goals are responding to the museum’s environment, seeking a competitive edge, and looking for the keys to long-term sustainability. Long range or operational plans do not redefine the organization and position it in the community. These plans are more concerned with laying out immediate and future goals and are less concerned with organizational change. At the end of a five-year strategic plan, you will want to take the time to evaluate the success of the plan and consider next steps. If it was a complete success, changing course may not be necessary and you simply need to plan the next five years along the same course. This would warrant a long-range or operational plan.
Through strategic planning, pen is put to paper and major goals are defined. These goals may spur a sea change or a small shift in operations. It is important to realize at the beginning of the process that the strategic plan is the means to an end. It is a living document and as such, opportunities that are good for the organization should be considered with the plan in mind, but not completely disregarded because “it’s not in the plan.”  The means are flexible, while the end is not. 

Working in museums for nearly 20 years, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko has been a museum director since 2001. Cinnamon became CEO of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine in 2009. Before that, she was the director of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where she led the organization to the National Medal for Museum Service in 2008. She is co-editor of the recently released Small Museum Toolkit from AltaMira Press.

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