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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Strategy Best Practice - 10 thoughts to ponder

(ht microsoft clip art for the pic)
This is the 4th weekly Wednesday post on #cofestrategy.  

It is based on my review of the strategy documents on the CofE Diocese and  HQ websites as at May/June 2014.

The 1st post in this series was Strategy Headline Statements – a summary of key words each diocese uses.

The 2nd post was Strategy Subject Checklist - a summary of key subjects covered by diocese strategy.

The 3rd post was on Strategy Measures -  a summary of those used by the various diocese strategy.

The 4th post (this) was on Strategy Best Practice - 10 thoughts to ponder.

The 5th post was a Summary of each diocese strategy with links to key documents and websites

The 6th post was a Selection of the graphics & analogies used in some of the diocese strategy

The 7th post was Theology/thinking behind some of the various cofe strategy - with links to documents

What led to this post was that - in reading through the strategy documents and website pages - various thoughts crossed my mind on what seemed to be Best Practice.  

I hope these thoughts are useful prompts if you are working on a strategy.  If you want to offer alternative views via comments to enrich this post's usefulness please do so.

1) Theology behind the Strategy

Best Practice was when there was a specific document or presentation on the theological basis for the strategy. 

Some diocese wove such explanations into the materials presenting the strategy.  

Though explicit this does require the reader to do far more work to unearth the theology.

2) Top Down or?

Best Practice was when there was an explicit explanation of whether the strategy was top down guidance (or more strongly direction/expectation) from the bishops.  In such cases it helped if there was an explanation of the reasoning behind such direction  Similarly where the approach was bottom up it was useful when the basis for this was explained.  

So in one example of bottom up  - the explanation was that the Mission Action Plans of each church - as reviewed by the bishops - had formed the basis for the common themes they had identified.

It felt more awkward when the strategy adopted an approach popular in some businesses of presenting the strategy as the result of consultation.  Experiences from the business world would often lead people to view such consultations as lip service.

Some Strategy also dealt with the often uncommented upon tension between a Diocese centre consuming resources and parishes largely paying for such.  In one case there was an explicit target to reduce how much of the parish share went to financing the centre.

I didn't find much evidence of clear statements about what issues should rightly be led by the Diocese (e.g. resourcing, facilitating sharing) and which should be led by the parishes/deanery (e.g. planting new churches, work with local schools).

3) Timescales

Best Practice was when the timescale for the strategy was stated (eg. 2016 or 2020).  This was enhanced when the reasoning behind the timescale was explained.  

So in one example the  explanation for the timescale was that it would cover the period most affected by the significant changes arising from the retirement of baby boomer clergy.

In another case the timescale of 3 years was explained in terms of how each year different aspects of  the strategy will be focused on,

4) Review

Best Practice was when the strategy explained the mechanism/structure/timescale for how the strategy itself would be reviewed.  

This was made better when specific measures were mentioned or it was explained how the strategy itself would be reviewed and measured in light of its progress and changes to its key drivers.

What wasn't dealt with often was how the reviews would also deal with the emotional aspects of change OR how they would deal with significant changes to key assumptions OR new insight from statistical research on church growth.

So by way of example  - a key theme many strategy had was of more lay involvement. Therefore a key assumption for many strategy is around how available lay people are whilst working or after retirement. 

With difficult employment conditions, fewer people with adequate pensions, and more grandparents providing childcare for grandchildren  - some would argue lay people's availability is going to decrease not increase.

5) Achievements

Best Practice was when there was a clear articulation - and celebration - of what had already been achieved.

I also found it more helpful when the strategy was clear about what church members ought to aim for in terms of change or achievements,

6) Documents available on-line

Best Practice was when the various documents supporting the strategy were gathered together on a resources page on the website.  Where this was the case, and key Diocesan Synod papers were also available on-line I thought this helped create trust.  

However when Synod papers were not available - or previous versions of papers appear to have disappeared - I found it hard not to start to become suspicious (as in what are they hiding and why?).

7) Telling the story of the development of the strategy

Where this was done it was a lot easier to understand how the structure and language of the strategy had developed over time and to see the refinements made to it.

It also helped set down some of the experiences in how thinking developed which - I imagine - may help future strategy learn better from the past.

8) Graphics,logos and analogies

Best Practice was when the explanation of the structure and elements of the strategy was supported by the use of diagrams and graphics or logos for each major area.  

Some Diocese also used analogies (e.g. its like a cheesecake) to explain the strategy structure.   I thought this would help communicate in a way more understandable to those who have not been exposed to business strategy terminology.

9) Hierarchy of Strategy Terminology.  

Best Practice was the Strategy explained explicitly the terminology it used  OR when the strategy authors specifically pointed out when  hierarchy did not apply.  Examples

When there was a hierarchy  - the use of diagrams to visualise it. 

- When there wasn't a hierarchy - specific explanations of how the 1st priority wasn't the most important and that the priorities were co-equal.  In another case it was explicitly stated that the priorities did not mean resources would not be applied to other activities not covered by the priorities.

10) Consistency of terminology used

This seems obvious but in some cases the language used in a vision or mission statement was different across different documents or website pages. So for example what was called a theme in one place was called something different in another place.  

I suspect many of these differences were because the documents and website pages represented different versions of the strategy during its evolution.  Point 7 above helps deal with such differences.

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