As we outlined in the start of our new series, among the most frequent questions I get asked from current and prospective clients is "who actually owns strategic planning?" In other words, it is under the ownership of the board of trustees as a governance process? Or, is the ownership of the head of school or college president, as an act of hired personnel ownership? Or, perhaps it is some combination or hybrid of these scenarios, working together to create a long term vision of the organization. It turns out that the answer to this question will tell you a lot about the maturity and function of the organization that is asking.
So, what is the Board of Trustees role in strategy and planning? Best practices of governance of non-profit organizations indicate that the board of trustees should play a vital role in setting the strategic direction of an organization. Therefore, they must be involved in strategic planning. How that is manifested, though, is a different story.
Our experience tells us that when a board of trustees owns strategic planning as their primary role, there might be an issue with institutional maturity. When the board conducts the process in an isolated, non-inclusive way, completing strategic plans independent of the broader community, it generally reflects a larger symptom. The general issue is that the school or college is far too immature to have a more inclusive, directed, and shared process. This happens often in young independent schools that are starring off in their first decade or two of growth and maturation. As a result, the board steps in a plays the primary role in managing the strategic - and occasionally operational - direction of the organization.
A key theme that we will focus on throughout this series is that the "client" or the focus of strategic planning is always the organization. It is not the board, the president, or anyone other party. The organization exists in its own right, with leadership structures appointed to support it.
Next up? When the president or head owns planning.