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October 14, 2022

Getting from Organizational Strategy to Operational Plan

HU Managing Director of Operations, Sandy Nathan, shares about how HU is approaching operationalizing its new organizational strategy.

When Humanity United began developing a new organizational strategy launched this year, we decided against the traditional route of crafting a multi-year plan oriented around long-term strategic goals, objectives and indicators of success. Instead, our strategy is meant to be a bold and passionate articulation of our organizational values as they relate to the way we do our work and show up in relationship with our partners, broader systems, and each other.

In this way, our strategy is both a plan for the future and a reflection of how we will stay true to our values.

In 2019 we launched our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) practice, and we now apply its key principles, practices and commitments to our internal and external work. In 2020, we brought together a cross-cutting team of staff to begin creating our strategy while ensuring an inclusive process that captured creativity and input from across the organization.

We guided discussions with our staff on the operational implications of their work and focused our efforts on ensuring the implementation of areas that were identified as particularly critical to the success of the strategy: trust-based philanthropy, multi-year grantmaking, devolved decision-making, and defining risk.

Since our strategy was built around HU’s existing programs and articulates our aspirations for where we would like to go, we are now working to ensure that the internal operational capacities, systems, and structures needed to live into our new strategy are in place.

HU’s strategy reflects where we are in our organizational life cycle as we move from adolescence to a more mature organization. It also provides us with the opportunity to shift more intentionally toward operationalizing organizational-wide approaches, efficiencies, processes and systems in ways that that maintain our spirit of inclusion, innovation, autonomy, and creativity.

In a traditional sense, operationalizing a strategy means that an organization is making efforts to reinforce behaviors to create a culture of learning and growth so that strategy goals can be achieved. According to a survey conducted by LSA Global on successful strategy execution, only one in 20 staff members on average understand their organization’s strategy, and employee’s level of clarity is, on average, just half of leadership teams. Strategies are set to fail if there is no organization-wide buy in. That’s why we try to ensure that everyone at HU sees how their work fits into this strategy and shares an aspirational vision.

There are many questions that we’ve been grappling with since we launched our strategy last fall and have begun the process of bringing it to life. They include:

  • What are the implications of this strategy on our operations and systems?
  • Do we have the skills and resources required to implement this strategy while we continue our existing work?
  • How do we most effectively integrate other cross-organizational priorities such as DEIJ with operationalizing the l strategy, so they are not separate and competing processes?
  • What is required of us to truly practice trust-based philanthropy?
  • How do we ensure there is a shared understanding of the organizational strategy so that everyone sees how it fits into their work?
  • And given the unique approach of each HU portfolio, how can we most effectively create an operational plan that provides a playbook such that everyone can show up consistently for our partners?

The organizational strategy has given us a great story map and will allow us to proceed with more clarity so that everything from our decision-making process our operating systems are in alignment.

We believe a critical next step in this process is to achieve a collective operating vision for HU, which will allow us to align on how we live into the ways in which we now anchor as defined in the five strategic pillars:

  • Building relationships and networks
  • Practicing a philosophy of accompaniment
  • Being learning-focused, systems-enabled and people-centered
  • Being expansive in our efforts
  • Investing internally so we can grow together with our partners

As we look at an operational plan for the next three years, our focus will be to ensure there is a consistent understanding of who we are and how we work, as well as how we live and apply our strategic pillars to our portfolio strategies and DEIJ.

For example, the concept of accompaniment cannot be measured easily, but it can be operationalized in different ways. We can provide guidance on how we do this behaviorally (walking alongside our partners) and systematically (through how we engage in trust-based grantmaking practices). We’ve learned that many of us are already practicing accompaniment in addition to our other strategic pillars, and we will build those into organizational-wide practices.

The plan will provide guidelines, tools, and resources for each strategic pillar and outline the underlying systems and processes to support them. The overall aim is to build a stronger organizational practice through a way of operating that is consistent with our values.

The plan will also guide us toward a new operating model at HU that allows for more dedicated time for organization-wide strategic thinking and reflection, as well as an annual plan that allows us to be more flexible, iterative, and responsive to emerging issues while also tying together our annual learning agenda and organizational goals.

It is important to stress that we are not seeking to significantly shift how we function internally and with our partners, neither are we seeking to drastically change our funding priorities. Instead, we are seeking to be more intentional about the way we do our work as a way to hold ourselves accountable to those we serve.

Every organization goes through life cycles and the next three years will be critical in HU’s life cycle. As we move into our next level of growth and maturity, we are embracing the opportunity to redefine our structures and processes in a way that allows us to better support our partners and our staff, and to better cultivate the conditions for enduring peace and freedom.

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