The demise of long-range planning

I was schooled in the practice of “long-range planning” in the late 20th century that called on organizations to plan 5, 10, and 20 years out.  We actually sat in board rooms in the 1990’s, planning for 2020–that far off reality in a new century (oh, the humor and hubris of thinking we could wrap our head around a reality so far off!).  Frequently, major decisions were relegated to the annual strategic planning event that took managers and leaders out of their context, created turf battles for expected budgetary implications, and silo-ed the decision making away from the contextual realities of new pressures from the community and culture, and immediate changes in resources.   The results of the long range planning were proudly bound in a beautifully prepared binder, never to be referred to again.

In today’s context, planning and decision making needs to be continuous, nimble and able to pivot with changes in culture, attitudes and, unfortunately, a simple tweet.   I try to study and learn from large companies and small non-profits that are learning what this new expression of strategic planning looks like. One thing is sure….it looks differently for different organizations, rather than being a one-size-fits-all methodology.  Nonetheless, there seems to be some best practices associated with each contextual methodology:  decision-making is taught and valued, organizational learning is on-going, “global” thinking is more important than silo-ed protection, strategic planning is continuous rather than annual, and reviews are about outcomes.  Overall, planning is driven by issues rather than by units within the organization.

What are the implications for the decision-making leader in these new days of planning?

1. Be deliberate and intentional about the decisions I make and how I make them,

2. Check my own assumptions and biases which drag me back to the familiar, and

3.  Be intentional about learning more about continuous issues-focused planning and how different it is from traditional strategic planning.



College-on-call: How your local university or community college can help your non-profit or church

You don’t have to be a “university church” with a major university in your backyard for your church to  benefit from the resources of higher education.  With online classes, resource-rich websites and mobile faculty, the benefits to your church or non-profit might be just a click away.

Frequently, congregations and non-profits try to solve problems and look for answers using a familiar and well-worn set of assumptions and “we’ve done it this way” practices that limit new possibilities.  Chances are, there are other minds researching and thinking about these things in different contexts and disciplines in your area community college or university..  The church’s question, “What do younger generations think about this?” can be answered by undergraduate student surveys, sociological demographic research or business marketing faculty.  The non-profit’s question, “What services do older adults or impoverished populations really need in our community?”  could be explored with social work faculty or the university hospital staff.  The non-profit’s question, “What should be our strategic plan for partnering with our community?” could be deepened with a conversation with the extension office or the business college at the university.  The church’s question, “Who can take us to a deeper understanding of church history or the Bible?” can be answered by a faculty member from the history or religion department who is eager to share their wisdom and emerging research.

As a clergyperson who served a university church, I was constantly amazed at how eager university personnel was to partner with our congregation in imagining shared goals and projects.  With university partners, we envisioned and created an all-community learning event with Dr. Phyllis Tickle that brought together area churches, congregations, scholars and college students to explore a common topic of interest, “What is the future of faith?”  At another time, we invited a history department scholar, Dr. John Wimmer, who is one of the foremost experts on Francis Asbury (the American “founder” of our denomination) to speak at the church–little did we know he was in our backyard!   Later, our annual conference hired faculty from the university social work and finance departments to conduct a survey on economic issues facing clergy.  They could later use their research to publish and present in their own fields.  It was a win/win!

Now, as a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at the university, I’ve seen many grad students searching for organizations to analyze, staff to interview, and programs to research.  Just offering your church or non-profit to programs such as these results in studies and conversations that are free to you and provide the benefit of outside expertise from emerging scholars.

Here are some other ways your regional college or university can be on-call for you:

  • Libraries–Take advantage of the space, the “vibe,” the scholarship, the resources that are right there for new learning and dreaming.
  • Free classes–Look around the library and the university websites and watch for speakers, topics or seminars that offer you everything from learning the bells and whistles of Excel spreadsheets to understanding more about politics in your region to discovering what makes Generation Z tick.
  • Student gathering “zones”–Want to know what younger generations are thinking and feeling?  Spend time with them.  Do your office work in a student union or cafeteria.  Observe and listen.  Engage and ask.  You’ll be amazed what you learn.
  • Journalism and marketing programs–Journalism and marketing students are always in need of projects, quick articles, and programs to be marketed.  This is free media for your church or non-profit.  Every time a journalism student asked for an interview or story about our university church, the only “ask” I had was that they send me the story or link so we could post it on our organization’s website.  It was much more professionally done than we could do, and the labor was free!.  
  • Faculty expertise–Strategic planning help needed?  How about new models of adult education or curriculum writing?  What about demographic studies of your county or social services?  There’s a faculty person at your regional higher education institution who is studying this stuff way more in depth that you have the time to study.  If you ask one faculty member, and they are not the right fit, they will be happy to guide to you another colleague.
  • Graduate student projects–Frequently, graduate students are not from the community where they attend university.  And yet, they are often required to find non-profit and service related organizations to analyze and survey.  Call the graduate studies program or service learning program at your regional college.  Ask for references of university programs who have projects related to your organization such as public health, social work, non-profit entrepreneurship, marketing, and educational leadership.  Again, this is a free service that often results in reports and studies that can really benefit your organization.
  • Interns, interns, interns–Often, churches will assume that the only interns they can seek out are pre-ministry candidates.  Not necessarily so.  Our university church had internships for marketing, communications, accounting, and education that drew students who wanted to be in a service organization…just happened to be a church.  Most Generation Z students (those born after 1996) want to (and need to) find paid internships in college.  While not absolutely necessary, there might be some funders in your organization who are eager to link young adults to your mission and contribute to their future success!

These days, national funding organizations are seeking grants which are rich in collaboration and cross-discipline partnerships.  Start practicing the power and potential of community collaboration by building a strong bridge between your regional higher education institution and your church or non-profit.  You’ll be amazed at the possibilities!

What is a Professional Coach?

A professional, certified coach is someone who has been trained, assessed, coached and credentialed for coaching individuals and organizations for greater potential and performance.  I am an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) through the International Coach Federation, which is an international credentialing and resource organization for professional coaches around the world.  With these credentials, I met the standards of training, being mentor coached, passing an assessment and regular accountability with this association.  I also must uphold an ICF Code of Ethics as a member of this association.

Coaches are not counselors who focus solely on growth areas which need to be addressed. Coaches are also not consultants who offer expertise or advice as an expert.  Coaches walk alongside with us, ask powerful questions, listen deeply, and help us maximize our strengths for greater potential and performance.  I work with individuals as a life or professional coach.  I also work with nonprofit organizations and congregations.  In that wonderful work, you set the agenda and discover your own truths.  I’m here to help you with it!

Coaching has so many benefits!   You can click here for many FAQ’s about starting up a coaching relationship.  Typically, individual coaching is 30-45 minutes twice a month.  Group coaching is determined and designed around objectives and outcomes.  I can tell you more about pricing and contracts after a consultation and free session to experience coaching.  It’s all about the relationship and the resources.  Let’s start first with hearing from you!



Making Smart Decisions

How do leaders make smart decisions?  Careful, reflective self and organizational awareness in decision making is a sound investment for an organization and its leaders.  This investment requires a great deal of attention and reflection by team participants and leaders.  Leadership researchers and authors talk about sound decision making depending on our own attention to psychological traps, cognitive biases, and the lessons and learnings from fabulous failures.  All of this work takes time and requires leaders to be self-aware and cultivate permissive learning environments in the workplace.  As I reflect on my own leadership, I’ll explore the conditions under which I am best and worst prepared to make smart decisions.  You might consider the how you are best and worst prepared to make smart decisions.

First of all, when I am most self-aware for decisions and cultivate permissive learning environments for the teams I lead, I am grounded in good rest, self-care, relational health and spiritual centering.  I am clear about my role in the larger organization and have a strong grasp of its mission and vision.  I feel supported in risk-taking and courageous leadership by my superiors.  I have found, in these special and even rare times, that I am usually working with a coach and/or strong mentor.  It’s for this reason, that I am certified as a professional coach for others now.   Having a trained and certified professional coach who encourages and facilitates our professional growth makes a world of difference in our ability to make smart and reflective decisions.

To the converse, the conditions under which I am least prepared to make smart decisions is when I am unclear about my role in the organization or uncertain about its mission.  This can lead me into many of the traps in decision making.  By being unclear about the vision of the organization or my role in it, I can fall into the trap of neglecting to understand the decision in the wider context.  Then (not a surprise to anyone who knows me), I move into the overconfidence trap that I know enough about the context of the organization and the accuracy of the decision.  At that point, my awareness is limited and I am in no position to make a good decision.

I also am less prepared to make good decisions when I’m tired and/or not careful with my personal and relational health.  Usually this occurs when I’m far too busy and rushed in decision making.  Frequently, out of the urgency to make a hasty decision, I’ll practice what some researchers describe as “anchoring,” when I’ll accept or rely too heavily on one piece of information in making my decision.  Too often, that will be the loudest voice, the cheapest data, or the presenting “symptom” rather than the root issue.   As an alternative, I constantly look to mentor leaders who practice non-anxious leadership with healthy self-differentiation with the organization and the issues they face.  My lifetime of leadership is one of constantly growing and moving to be more like these mentor leaders.

As a leader, I am constantly growing in my awareness of how I think, and the context under which I think has such a profound impact on the ways decisions are made in the organizations where I lead.  It is critical to cultivate the rich soil for growing my awareness through self-care, reflection, groundedness and self-differentiation.  Here are some questions for your decision-making reflection:

  • What are the conditions under which you are best prepared to make good decisions? How are you creating those conditions for those whom you lead?
  • What are the conditions under which you are least prepared to make good decisions? What resources do you mobilize to mitigate those conditions?
  • Who models good decision-making in your organization? How can you learn from them?
  • Name 2 or 3 concrete actions that you can take to move toward better decision-making. Who will help you be accountable for those actions?