i2conference.jpgI was hoping to do some liveblogging from the conference today, but those of you sitting on the edge of your seat at the 2:00 p.m. start time were sadly disappointed. As was I. Although there was a wireless signal, I didn’t think ahead of time to get a password, so here I am now typing in notes from this afternoon’s plenary session.

Entitled Strategic Planning: Turning Vision into Reality, the session was led by Ken Dean, Fellowship’s new (as of October) Executive Pastor Ken Dean. Ken was brought on board to help steer and direct the church administratively.

Though much of Ken’s session was full of principles that I’ve read (or even thought) before, it was still helpful to be reminded and to hear it from him. Part of leading any organization, I think, is the challenge of continual communication.

New people come into the organization (in my case, our church), and because they missed what has gone on before, they pick up in midstream, but although they look and sound like everyone who is already there, they do ot have the collective experience or knowledge of the organization’s history and culture.

Leaders, unfortunately, seem to develop organizational amnesia too often, forgetting the urgency and necessity of communicating again and again to old and new folks alike the culture, values and vision of the organization.

Ken began by answering questions that many of us have asked before, such as “Why do we need a strategic plan?” and “Does God approve of our strategic plans?” I was interested in explanation. Obviously, we’ve all heard and perhaps used Jesus’ “count the cost” that seems to advocate the need for planning. (Or does it simply mean that those wanting to follow Jesus should consider that following the Messiah is difficult, and that perhaps early enthusiasm is a poor substitute for the long path of obedience?)

In addition, Ken used the detailed and elaborate intructions for the Ark of the Covenant, the tabernacle, Noah’s ark, and the temple as proof of the existence of planning in scripture. While I am not anti-planning, I just didn’t think these examples were the smoking guns for the evidence of man’s need to plan.

I’m honestly still wrestling with how I feel about strategic, long-range planning.

However, the process of communicating a vision and helping to create an organizational reality was good, though again, it was a repeat of other material. He used the process of Assess – Innovate – Unify – Define & Design – Implement – Assess.

Beginning with an honest assessment of where your church (or organization) really is helps forge the path for change and vision. The innovation stage is where you, with a team, begin to dream the dream again.

Right actionable vision creates excitement and urgency.

In other words, when you and your team land on a vision that has genuine merit, deep call, and stunning transformational potential for your organization and those you serve, you and those you communicate it to get pumped.

The next part of the process is to seek unity in the organization around the new vision. This may be the longest part of the process. It involves lots of communication, meetings, one-on-ones, consensus building and vision-casting. All of the lead influencers in your church/organization need to be included in this stage. You can’t move forward without having folks understand, believe in, own, and begin to communicate the vision to others in their own words.

The biggest obstacles to implementing a new strategic plan are complacency and the fear of change, which both have roots in not understanding or disagreement concerning the need for change.

On at least two occasions, Dean recommended Willow Creek’s Top 10 DVD, especially the talks by Andy Stanley and Patrick Lencioni.

Define and design is the part of the planning and vision process that seeks to put “meat on the bones” of the concepts. As the team fleshes out its vision, it begins to set concrete goals and action items to enable the vision to take shape. Dean said this is the hardest part of the proces, and many organizations give up here. He advocates team learning and collaboration throughout the process, but especially in this stage. Calling them CSMART, Dean said all goals should be

Clear, Strategic, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

One of the most practical suggestions Dean had was during this D&D discussion. He warned us not to let meetings be filled with “jump balls.” In other words, don’t leave conceptual thinking to large groups. You’ll always get bogged down if you do. In other words, don’t try to have a “brainstorming” session in front of 50 people unless you really want to throw the door wide open. If you’re ready to move forward with the concepts that your lead team has developed, then bring to large groups concrete, specific action items and summaries. Opening things to discussion in large group settings can short circuit everything that has come before.

The implementation phase is where the vision is “brought to life.” It’s where you begin to take real action to achieve your goals, which will bring your ultimate vision to reality. At this stage, the lead team needs to be ready to deal with adaptive challenges.

It is most often a delicate dance to keep the various constituencies of the organization moving in the planned direction while at the same time adjusting the initiatives, timing or budget for the compilation of errors and unforeseen complications.

Resolve, patience, flexibility, and the collaborative lead team are the most valuable tools in your tool belt during implementation.

At this point in the process, which may be months or even years, depending on how long-range your plan and vision was, the process has simultaneously ended and begun again, for at the very stage of implementation, you begin also again to assess.

One thing I carried away from this session was how essential it is to have a healthy team. I am profoundly grateful for the lack of work that is needed in this area with the leadership team at my church.

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