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A Different Take on Strategic: Values-based Planning

June 23, 2020
By Pat Cormack,SCSC

Early on in my work as a consultant with The Metanoia Group at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, I had a very telling conversation with my boss about planning for organizations.  The Metanoia Group was principally founded to serve the Development needs of small non-profit organizations, especially Catholic Dioceses, Schools, and Parishes.  My work was chiefly in the area of strategic planning.


My conversation with my boss was an effort to delve into the philosophy that guided our work.  I was trying to explain my approach to strategic planning and the need to be responsive to changing situations.  Tim was convinced that my approach was not strategic but merely reactive and would never serve the needs of our clients.  As a new employee and just graduated with a degree in organization development I felt a bit intimidated by his years of experience and his certainty.


Now many years later I recognize that the underlying approach to planning was an effort to foresee, as much as possible, what might confront an organization and to take steps to steer in a particular direction.  In working with my own community I quickly realized that when we answered those questionnaires about what ministry we expected to be in in five-year’s time or what community house we would be living in in five-year’s time we were always sincere in making the prediction and almost never right about what actually occurred.


That experience reshaped my own approach to planning.  I have watched in recent years how religious congregations have reflected on the things that the natural world, quantum physics, and other more organic processes of the created world have suggested as a different approach.  Still, I can hear Tim chiding me about being merely reactive when I’m really hoping that we can be more creative and nimble.


These days I find myself wondering what makes the difference.  I think that I have come to realize that you cannot guarantee the steps in a plan nor delineate in great detail how to move forward.  What I do know is that the ability to be more than reactive is based in the values that undergird the actions one is to take.


I cannot know with certainty what will come my way today, but I do know that my own reflection and prayer is a continual wrestling with three basic questions:  As a group, why do we exist—what is our purpose?  What difference do we make in the here and now?  What wisdom do we want to hand on to those who live and work with us where we are?


When I have some certainty about needing to stay grounded in the answers to those questions, I can respond to what comes my way with wisdom and grace.  I can hold to what my community’s founder said long ago:  The need of the times is the will of God!