Non-profit Strategy Revolution: Real-Time Strategic Planning in a Rapid-Response World

by David La Piana                                          


This book was recommended to me by the CEO of YMCA Victoria Peter Burns after he and I presented at the same session of the Aquatics and Recreation Conference in August (if you want to see the presentation then you can see it at our website here).

While the title of the book would suggest that this is a book for not for profits it is really a book for everyone that wants to think differently about strategic thinking and strategic planning.

The book starts off with a very simple but yet powerful definition of strategy which is very different from strategic planning:

“an organised pattern of behaviour toward and end”

And the first chapter concentrates on the disconnect between strategy, strategic thinking, and strategic planning. There are a number of areas in this critique but the key ones are that organisations often come up with lofty and ambitious visions and then come up with a mundane set of goals or actions, and that organisations also confuse strategy with goals.

Chapter 2 examines the framework that that author uses in his consulting practice. While this may seem relatively simple it was this chapter that I found the most useful. The central part of the chapter is the strategy pyramid which essentially breaks up the strategy approach into:

  • Organisational Strategy
  • Programmatic Strategy
  • Operational Strategy

It has been my experience that organisations quite often get confused between these areas and the conversation often degenerates into a discussion on strategy versus tactics which does not serve the organisation well. The overall framework and the subsequent chapters on each area of the pyramid provide a really useful way to look at these different parts of strategy.

The next useful area of the book is chapter five where the author describes the use of what he calls a strategy screen. We use a similar approach in our work with organisations that we call a strategic decision making framework. This allows organisations that work in fast moving environments to create an overall strategic direction but have a set of principles which the organisation can apply to strategies during the planning process, and to opportunities that come up outside of the normal planning cycle. Essentially the strategy screen is about putting a really structured approach to these questions and putting some deep thinking and analysis into the process before moving to the strategy generation and selection process. There are a number of very useful questions and templates for this process in this chapter and also at the end of the book. Once the screen is created it can be applied to any strategic question the organisation is facing.

The book then goes on to describe approaches for strategy at the three levels of the framework. In chapter 9 there is an overview for pulling the whole process together into a process for real time strategy. This approach can be used to create a standard strategic plan but also guide the organisation’s strategy as things change. This is very important in a fast moving modern world.

The appendices to the book supply a range of templates and approaches to areas such as business models, competitor analysis, strategy screen creation, etc. Some of these are relatively simple but I think that there is a tendency to overcomplicate these things in order to appear sophisticated in strategy work. I favour keeping strategy approaches simple and so found the templates and approaches valuable.

I really liked this book for a number of reasons. The prime reason was that while the overall approach is aligned to the approaches that we take the structure was different and the comparison of the two allowed me to rethink our approach.

If you are unhappy with the current approach of your organisation to strategy pr are thinking about engaging a strategy consultant to work with your organisation I would strongly recommend that you read the book in order to assist you in thinking through your approach. At best it will provide you with a new approach, at worst it will provide you with some key questions to ask of yourself or your consultant.