Every so often, any organisation or group will look at what it’s doing and see if it can be done better. Peace News is about to do this! Here are some thoughts on the subject from someone the PN staff respect very much (who wanted to remain anonymous) who has been involved in strategy reviews in different British peace organisations with paid staff. (The word ‘strategy’ can sound complicated but it just means ‘the plan we are following to try to achieve our goals’!)
The most important thing is to build confidence in the review process in every part of the organisation. People will be asking: ‘Why now?’
Other questions that may be thrown up include: ‘What has been neglected?’ ‘What are the limitations that exist in our organisation?’ ‘What about future resources?’
It’s important to present the review process in as non-threatening a way as possible, stressing the positive aspects of change, and the opportunities that it might represent, including the opportunity to learn from the review.
It’s not change for change’s sake, and the changes we come up with should aim to keep as much support as possible from our existing supporters and volunteers.
It is also important to stress that the core values of the organisation are not up for negotiation and they will be safe throughout the process.
My experience is based on carrying out strategy reviews by choice, not because they were forced on us by an outside funder or by financial circumstances. In other words this happens when some people on the inside, such as staff teams or a management committee, decides to have a review and whether they want help in facilitating the process and if they do, from whom.
The facilitator and the steering group
In personnel terms, to take some pressure off the staff person or team doing the planning, I would suggest that it it is important to have an external facilitator undertaking the review with you.
In one organisation, we had a steering group for the strategy review made up of two staff members, two trustees, some resource people and a facilitator. (By ‘resource people’, I mean people from within the membership base, or good ‘critical friends’ who know the organisation involved, perhaps from a sister organisation.)
In another organisation, the whole board, staff team and key members were involved.
The choice of facilitator was very important.
Co-planning the process
The facilitator sounded people out about possible approaches and ideas for the review. They engaged with the staff team and helped to build confidence in the process.
The strategy review process itself was developed by ‘co-planning’ between the facilitator, the staff, volunteers and trustees.
In any small organisation, especially a small peace organisation, it is important that the way a strategy review is carried out, and the decisions and plans it produces, are in line with the culture of the organisation.
It is very difficult to write down in detail what the culture is. Are any of the following principles important to us, as basic starters or examples? How we treat each other? How we do things and make decisions? How we hold on to core values? How we understand working/decision-making as a team?
For example, one trustee at one organisation asked what happened about cleaning the office, since there was no paid cleaner, and I explained that all the staff took turns with cleaning up at the end of the week. They were surprised, saying: ‘You’re not paid to clean.’ I was surprised they didn’t know that, in our organisation, everyone mucks in and helps out with those kinds of small practical things.
It is hard to preserve and safeguard the culture of an organisation, but it can be done. This is why good induction and team discussions are important – whether for staff, management people or trustees.
The most important thing is to build trust in the strategy review process between all those involved.
There needs to be real honesty about the review and why and how it is being carried out.
If people suspect there are hidden agendas, that can be very destructive. And people need to feel free to question the process if they are concerned.