Across the last 30 years that I have been working with Indigenous organisations, I have found that Indigenous organisations are the most conscious of writing strategic plans out of any other for-profit or not-for-profit organisations I have ever worked with.
The way they do it also follows a trend.
When you wrote your last strategic plan, did you do it in a "workshop"?
That’s what most Indigenous organisations do – they clear out some time and take their team out of the workplace so they won’t be disturbed, and they spend a couple of days discussing what’s going on in the organisation and how to improve it and set goals and strategies.
But here’s what’s wrong with this approach – more often than not you discuss and find solutions for problems and opportunities from inside your business, and forget that it is the external stimuli that could have serious and unpredictable effects.
You probably started your planning by applying a little SWOT Analysis. You write on a whiteboard all your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. If your facilitator is on the ball he or she will explain that strengths and weaknesses are internal issues - you can use your strengths and eliminate your weaknesses with the right strategies.
Most people will then enthusiastically start working on their strategies to do just that - work on those issues that are under their control.
Yet when it comes to external stimuli, the opportunities and threats that you cannot control, people fall silent. It is hard to work out what you can do when it comes to things outside your control.
So you go along and implement your plan only to have, one day —– WHAM! A big problem from outside hits you where you weren’t expecting.
You do not operate in a vacuum. The real world is all around you and you cannot really write an encompassing strategic plan unless you recognise that and work on what happens if those opportunities and threats present themselves.
One way to process your planning while keeping an eye to the outside world is to use a tool that looks at the world outside before you prepare your SWOT Analysis.
This tool is called PESTLE, which stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental. The acronym is used to focus your thoughts on external factors that could have an impact on your organisation, ordered into the 6 categories. Using this tool you can think about what you know is on the horizon, and what opportunities and threats these may represent.
Let's take each of these categories in turn.
P stands for Political, being any political changes in your region that could have an impact on your planning.
For example, is there likely to be a change of Government within the window of your planning? If so, how is this likely to affect existing Government policies and your organisation? Will funding be increased for your programs or decrease in line with any potential new policies?
What about changes to international politics? Is there something trending in international politics that could cause changes to the way you do business - perhaps a tightening of the world economy and any effect that has on your donors?
E is for Economic, requiring you to look at the local, national and global economy.
Indeed, this may have some relation to some of the issues you identify during your analysis of politics, but you should cast a wider net here.
You should focus on three geographic regions and see if there are any trends that will affect your planning.
Are there any trends in the local economy? For example, if your region depends on mining for a local economy that your community benefits from, is there a trend to increase or reduce mining activity in your region? What pressure will this put on your constituents and therefore your service delivery? What benefits can you derive from the trends?
Next, look at the national economy and look at the trends that are emerging. For example, if there is a housing-affordability problem emerging nationally, will this have any effect on your constituents and therefore your services?
Then, don't forget to look at the global economy. What is happening globally that may drip down to your organisation and the people it services? Is there a trade war looning between countries? Will this mean that the cost of living expenses and services will increase? How does that affect you?
S is for Social, asking what social trends are happening right now that could affect your organisation. One of the most recent trends is the growth of social media, especially amongst the young. Perhaps you have found that your organisation is losing touch with the community? Does this trend have anything to do with it, especially if you are still sending out paper newsletters?
What other social trends are happening? Are there more women looking for work in the trades? Is this an advantage or a source of organisational pressure because you don't have the resources to assist them do so?
T stands for Technological – what is happening in and outside your industry that is affected by tech changes.
Once, we could have walked into an office and found one computer - now every desk has one. That was a fundamental change that affected all Indigenous organisations, if for nothing else than the amount of the annual budget that had to be allocated to supplying IT services and buying new computers every year. But now, desktop computers are trending downwards while mobile devices like very light laptops and tablets are trending up. What are the implications? These may not be merely budgetary - they may include security concerns over data, a trend to work away from the office and the changes to management structures required and technological challenges about using template documents and protocols and the control of them.
L is for Legal, looking for potential changes to the law that could impact your organisation.
For those Indigenous organisations who are Native Title Prescribed Bodies Corporate - are you keeping in touch with any proposed changes to Native Title legislation? If there are any, how might they affect you?
What about changes to Human Resource legislation and the Tax laws? If the Tax Office, for example, is introducing new ways to lodge forms and making changes to protocols, are you planning for changes to your systems to cope?
E stands for Environmental, including the natural environment as well as the physical environment around you – can any development here affect you?
If you have a Ranger program, what does climate change legislation mean for the program? Even if your organisation is not directly involved in the natural environment changes may affect you. For example, a carbon price might allow opportunities for you to conserve land but it may also have an effect on the cost of your travel budget.
What about changes to the physical environment around you? Are there more building developments near your office? What will this mean to the way you work in your office, car parking availability for staff, the safety of staff in increased traffic, and so on?
Once you have analysed the potential external factors through the use of PESTLE, you can then identify the Opportunities and Threats inherent in the factors. You can use this to complete your SWOT analysis by asking "so what?"
That is, if there is an opportunity, or a threat, that has been identified as a result of the external factors, what does that mean to your organisation? If it is an opportunity, how can you take advantage of it should it arise? If it is a threat, what can you do to mitigate its effects if it happens? How do you then build in these preparations into your strategic plan?
The beauty of tools like SWOT and PESTLE is that they focus your thinking on one factor at a time, rather than just throwing a lot of "what if" possibilities in the air. Once you focus, you can track the possibilities and create strategies to take advantage of them or to defend against their happening. The second thing they do is they raise questions.
Questions prompt answers.
Good, considered answers create good strategies.
If you want to know more about effective strategic planning, please contact us. Email Teik Oh at or call our office on 08 9242 2085.