Darren York, CEO at TCV, the community volunteering charity, found that involving staff from the very beginning helped to ensure the warm reception of a brand new strategy. Here, he discusses this and other lessons learned from the process.
Fifteen months ago, advice gleaned from books and blogs proved invaluable in helping me lead the production of a strategy for the first time. Now that TCV’s strategy – Connecting people and green places – has been completed and launched, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the experience, highlighting what worked well and reflecting on what we would do differently next time.
Setting ground rules
TCV has a large leadership team. As a result, we’re good at generating ideas and discussion, but can be slower to reach a conclusion. At the start of the process we established principles for how we were going to work together. These principles included recognising that we couldn’t all be involved in every step of the process.
We formed small groups for different phases. Different groups led the work and reported back to keep colleagues in the loop. And we nominated a project manager, whose organisational skills kept us to our timetable and ensured that we completed on time.
Visualising the end result
We looked at a lot of other organisations’ strategies for inspiration – considering elements such as structure, design, format, depth – and quickly sketched out a plan of the sections we thought we would need. This helped us visualise what the finished strategy might look like and establish a broad narrative flow to build upon. It proved invaluable when assessing progress throughout.
Consulting by phases
We split our consultation into two phases, knowing that once we started analysing what people had to say, we’d want to explore emerging themes and outlying opinions further.
Phase one consisted of a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). Its simplicity allowed us to gather high level and more in-depth contributions, and provided a consistency of format which made data collation and analysis relatively straightforward.
Phase two comprised workshops for staff, volunteers and trustees, providing an opportunity to network and catch up as well as bounce around strategy ideas. We explored the themes that emerged from phase one at these workshops.
Consulting by different methods
We wanted our strategy to be informed by a wide range of stakeholders, and we planned our consultation considering different audiences and the channels best suited to reaching them. We conducted one-to-one discussions with external stakeholders, and provided questions up front to prompt consideration in advance and keep discussions to a reasonable length. Internally, we made use of existing meeting schedules, incorporating facilitated sessions to gather the views of staff.
Setting it down on the page
A sub-group of the leadership team set about writing our strategy, grouping themes from the consultation into strategic goals. We had two main audiences in mind: our staff, for whom we wanted the strategy to provide a broad framework, to galvanise and focus effort over the next three years; and the external world of partners, funders and donors to whom we wanted the strategy to shout out, loud and clear, why they should work with us. The writing process benefitted from short(ish) weekly sessions, between which we had chance to reflect and develop ideas.
Getting the team talk right
Once the strategy was completed, we wanted all our staff to understand and feel connected to it. We delivered a series of face-to-face sessions around the UK, which gave staff the chance to discuss the strategy with colleagues and ask us questions.
We took several weeks to fine tune our narrative for these events, which proved time well spent; our people told us that the narrative was clear, the language was easy and uncomplicated, and the leadership team delivered with conviction and credibility. They also said they valued being involved throughout the strategy’s production. They felt listened to, and felt like the strategy belonged to them.
What we’d do differently next time
We’d build in more contingency time. We finished and launched our strategy on time, but it was close, and although we ran through the strategy on screen, we couldn’t hand out hard copies at many of the events because of delays in design.
We’d prepare ourselves for more challenge from our trustees who were very involved throughout. Having worked through many intensive writing sessions we often felt like we had achieved the finished article and were sometimes surprised by the amount of challenge we still faced from the board. This squeezed our timetable at times but undoubtedly resulted in a stronger end product.
Take a look for yourself
You can read TCV’s strategy, Connecting people and green places, and find out more about TCV’s work here.