Organizational planning – its process and terms

by John Holbrook Jr.
A Biblical View, posted April 3, 2017

In my blog of April 3, 2017, I introduced John Carver’s Policy Governance. In this blog, I will discuss how I see planning occurring within an organization using Policy Governance.

Organizational [2] planning requires clear thinking and unhampered communication among the parties involved (members of the board, the staff, and the planning team). Clear thinking and unhampered communication in turn require the use of an easily understandable planning process and precise planning terms or nomenclature.

After a lifetime of planning for businesses, churches, Christian ministries, military units, professional firms, and secular non-profits, I have developed an approach to organizational planning based on John Carver’s Policy Governance. [1] Because Carver did not deal specifically with the subject of “strategic planning,” I have developed my own application of Carver’s principles to the area of organizational planning, in which I have abandoned the use of the term “strategic planning” because it tends to confuse the planning process – as you will see, half of the work of what is normally called “strategic planning” falls under Carver’s ends planning and is the business of the board and half of it falls under Carver’s means planning and is the business of the CEO and his staff.

Because the traditional terms “long-term,” “mission,” “objectives,” “short-term,” “strategy,” “tactics,” and “vision” are often use interchangeably, they seldom convey precise ideas. Here I would like to imbue these terms with precise meanings by relating them to a planning process based on Policy Governance.

As I have indicated above, the planning process needs to be divided into two parts: (1) developing an organization’s Ends, which is the job of the board, and (2) developing the Means by which the organization will accomplish its Ends, which is the job of the CEO and his staff. To simplify my explanation, I will assume in each case that I am a member of the planning team and will use the term “we.”

1 – Ends Planning

Ends planning must be conducted by the organizations board.  As I have thought about it, Ends Planning involves more than just the organization’s Ends. First, it must start with an understanding of the organization’s identity. Second, there are actually three types of Ends to consider: (a) Founders’ Ends, (b) Current Ends, and (c) Future Ends. Let’s look at all of them.

1.1. Organizational Identity. The character and motivation of an organization’s founders usually get indelibly stamped on an organization and can be seen in the organization’s leadership long after its founders have departed. This organizational identity can be determined by answering the question, “Who are we?” The answer should identify the common denominator between the founders and the current trustees.

For example: The March of Dimes’ identity derived from the compassion of its original trustees for the victims of disease – particularly children. That same compassion motivates the trustees of the March of Dimes today. I imagine that their answer to the question would be, “We are people who care about sick children.”

Knowing the organization’s identity is critical and must be the starting point for the board’s Ends Planning.

1.2. Organizational Ends. These ends can be determined by answering the question, “What are we ultimately trying to accomplish here?” But even that question needs elaboration, because it does not force us to examine the changes that the organization’s Ends may have gone through in the past and maybe should go through in the future. Thus I think there are three Ends that we need to know about: (a) Founders’ Ends, (b) Current Ends, and (c) Future Ends.

1.2.1. Founders’ Ends. In previous planning, these ends would have been called the vision or originating purpose of the organization. The Founders’ Ends can be determined by answering the above question, modified to cover the past, “What were the founders trying to accomplish here?”

For example: The March of Dimes was founded to fight a specific disease, polio, by ameliorating the suffering of its victims and by underwriting research into its eradication. So the founders’ answer would have been: “The amelioration and eradication of polio.”

 1.2.1. Current Ends. In previous planning, these ends would have been called the mission or sustaining purpose of the organization. The Current Ends can be determined by answering the above question, modified for the present, “What are we trying to accomplish here?”

For example: After the perceived eradication of polio, the trustees of the March of Dimes considered shutting it down, but decided that the abandonment of the good will and expertise which it had accumulated over the decades of its existence would be irresponsible. Instead, they adopted a new purpose – to fight infant pathologies such as birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality. So I imagine the current trustees’ answer would be, “A radical reduction in the incidences of birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.” Note that the Current Ends is not very different from the Founders’ Ends; it represents an adaptation to changed circumstances. Note also that, while it did not require changes to the March of Dimes’ fund-raising operations, it did require changes to the March of Dimes’ technical focus and expertise and thus probably produced many changes in personnel and procedures.

1.2.3. Future Ends. These ends can be determined by answering the above question, modified for the future, “What should we be trying to accomplish here?” Before we can consider this question, however, we need to address another: “How might the future affect us?” – Environmental Analysis (external). With as much realism and foresight as possible, we must delineate the environment in which the organization will be operating during the coming decade and identify those factors which will help or hinder the organization. The analysis must consider such critical influences upon the organization as the economy, political and social forces, the state of technology, and the organization’s customers or beneficiaries. Capability Analysis (internal). With as much rigor and honesty as possible, we must then identify the organization’s critical strengths and weaknesses in such areas as finance, management, marketing, organization, production, and technology. Opportunities and Risks. Finally, viewing the organizations strengths and weaknesses against the environment in which the organization must operate, we must identify both the opportunities and the risks which the organization confronts.

At this point, we can return to the question, “What should we be trying to accomplish here?” What should our Future Ends be? An understanding of the Current Ends and a careful analysis of opportunities and risks will define the niche which the organization is uniquely qualified to fill. The organization’s ability to fill this niche represents its critical edge.[3] Therefore Ends Planning’s final step becomes developing a Future Ends for the organization which takes advantage of this critical edge.

Before leaving the board’s area of responsibility, I must mention again a rule of thumb in which I believe strongly. In dealing with a subordinate individual or group, a superior individual or group must issue precise instructions concerning what the subordinate individual or group must accomplish, but little or nothing concerning how it should be accomplished. The superior may, however, tell his subordinate what not to do. [4]

2 – Means Planning

Means Planning should be conducted by the staff. Once the board has identified the organization’s Future Ends, the CEO and his staff must determine how to achieve those Future Ends. As I have thought about it, I realized that Means Planning divides naturally into five categories: (a) Strategy, (b) Long Term Objectives, (c) Organizational Structure, (d) Organizational Development, and (e) Tactics/Short Term Objectives.

Strategy. Strategy can be determined by answering the question, “Where are we going?”

Long Term Objectives. Given where we want to go and our core values, what are the long range objectives the achievement of which will move the organization in the desired direction? That is, “How will we get there?”

Organizational structure. Next, we answer the question, “What kind of organization will be most successful in accomplishing the long range objectives we have set for ourselves?” What should its capabilities be? How should it be organized?

Organizational development. Here we identify the personnel and resources which the organization will need. What kind of people will we need, and how will we find, recruit, and train them? What facilities, furniture, and equipment will we need, and how will we obtain them? What materiel will we need? How much money will the people, FF&E, and materiel cost? Finally, how will we raise the necessary funds?

Tactics/Short Term Objectives. After the organization is in place, Where and how shall we use it? – That is, what specific actions will the organization take to achieve specific objectives, and when?

© 2016 John Holbrook Jr.

[1] See John Carver’s Boards That Make a Difference, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA 1990. I regard his Policy Governance as the greatest breakthrough in organizational governance and planning in history.  To recapitulate: He divides the business of running an organization into two spheres of responsibility. On the one hand  the board or supervising authority has the responsibility of (a) establishing the ends which the organization will work to achieve , (b) determining the things which everyone in the organization will not do, (c) hiring and firing the CEO, and (d) monitoring the CEO’s performance. On the other hand, the CEO has the responsibility of deterining and executing the Means by which the organization will achieve its Ends, including hiring and firing the staff and managing all operations (e.g. research, product design, marketing, production, etc.) and support activities (e.g. administration, finance, property management, etc.). Depending on the nature of the organization, the nomenclature might change, but the principles involved will not – e.g. a military unit commander will be dealing with personnel, intelligence, operations, and logistics, but his focus will still be on developing and managing the Means by which to achieve the Ends which have been given to him by his superior(s).

[2] I use the generic term “organizational” here because what I am proposing applies to all organizations, be they businesses, churches, governmental departments, military units, non-profits, professional firms, schools, or other enterprises that require effective cooperation and coordination among many people in order to succeed.

[3] For a secular organization, I might call this ability the organization’s competitive edge. In a church or ministry, however, its members should not think of themselves as competing with other churches or ministries, but rather as ministering to others with the unique ability which the Lord has given to it. I might consider this ability the church or ministry’s critical skill.

[4] Here we should follow God’s example. God told Adam to “subdue the earth” – that is, organize it and cultivate it like a garden. He did not tell Adam how to “subdue the earth.” He did, however, issue a proscription: Adam must not eat of the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Later God issued additional proscriptions to Moses in the form of the Ten Commandments. If you look through the Bible, you will find that God almost always only proscribes the limited number of things that mankind must not do, and he seldom tells mankind how to do anything. He leaves mankind free to use his imagination and individual abilities in trying to accomplish the mission which God has given him.


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