Category Archives: Strategic Planning

How to Engage Diverse Stakeholders in your Planning

How to Engage Diverse Stakeholders BlogWhen creating a strategic plan or going through any organizational planning process, who do you engage in that process for feedback? In May, we discussed the 4 Steps of Strategic Planning. Step one is collaboration – Collaborate with key stakeholders to inform the strategic planning process and create buy-in and ownership in the plan.

Who to Engage

There are several different types of stakeholders to consider gathering feedback from during the strategic planning process. While it will vary depending on your organization and industry, there are some common stakeholders that we recommend including. They include the following key stakeholders:

  • Funders – current and past funders who know your organization as well as the industry to provide insight on what’s working well, what’s not working and possible changes to consider based on industry trends.
  • Staff – reach out to your staff at different levels of the organization and in different roles to gather their diverse feedback and perspective.
  • Board Members – some Board members will be engaged in the entire strategic process, while other Boards may only have a select committee or members engaged. Whatever the process, you will want to include all Board members in sharing the feedback in the strategic planning process.
  • Clients – past, current or potential clients who receive your services have a perspective that could be meaningful and inform in the strategic planning process.
  • Community Partners – reach out to other community agencies in your community who intersect with your work. Their perspective adds another layer of insight that could really help inform your planning process as you think about the future.

In the past 4 client strategic planning processes we implemented, we engaged the following different types of key stakeholders:

  • Client A – Government Agency: Direct Service Program Staff, Direct Service Program Managers, Local Community Partners, and Leadership and Advisory Committee.
  • Client B – Statewide Non-Profit: Staff, Funders, Key Community Partners.
  • Client C – Multi-Sector Community Group: Parents, Employers, and Key Community Partners.
  • Client D – Local Non-Profit: Public, Past and Current Client, School District and City, Staff, and Board Members.

Once the key stakeholders are identified, how do you gather their feedback? There are different tools and resources available to make the process efficient and effective. Of course, the use of the tools is dependent upon your budget, time and capacity. We offer a summary of our go-to stakeholder feedback tools and the advantages/ disadvantages of each one.

Stakeholder Feedback Tools

  • Focus Groups – Brings together a targeted group of people to gain insight on specific topics.

Pro: You can get more insightful information than from a survey, such as being able to ask follow-up questions.

Con: It can be more time consuming to hold focus groups from scheduling them, training the team to complete it, documenting the information during the focus group and transcribing/ synthesizing the information shared.

Tip: Find a targeted group that already meets to hold your focus group. For example, while creating a plan for the Wabash County Early Childhood Education Committee, we were seeking feedback from different parent groups. We were put on the agenda during a regular parent meeting at an early childhood education program, which allowed us to gather feedback to help inform the planning process. Similarly, we held focus groups of Healthy Families Indiana staff at the Institute for Strengthening Families where many were in attendance.

  • Surveys – Helps reach a wide audience using questions related to a specific topic to help gather feedback.

Pro: Surveys can be completed on the participant’s schedule, compared to a focus group or interview when everyone’s schedules need to align in order to get feedback.

Con: If the survey is anonymous, you cannot ask follow-up questions about a participant’s answer. It can also be a challenge to get people to participate in a survey. Offering an incentive will often help with this problem.

Tip: Find an organization who regularly seeks feedback from a target group. Ask to add your questions onto a survey they already send. When we were seeking feedback for the Wabash County Early Childhood Education Committee, we reached out to the local economic development group and chamber of commerce to assist us with getting employer feedback. We worked together to create an appropriate survey, and they sent it to their employer contact list. Also, take advantage of local social media and news outlets. It might be difficult to get personal contact information for some target stakeholders. Posting on social media with the survey criteria could help you reach a larger audience for feedback on your strategic plan.

  • Key Informant Interviews – Have a one-on-one interview with a specific person related to the planning process.

Pro: Allows you to have an in-depth conversation about a specific topic. It also engages someone who might not be apart of the regular planning process.

Con: It can be time consuming to schedule and hold these interviews, especially if you need to have more than one.

Tip: When you are deciding which key informants would be best to reach out to, consider people who have lived and learned from a similar cause to your own. You will be able to learn from their success and/or mistakes. It’s also helpful to reach out to key partners and decision makers who are not yet engaged. This will help you gain feedback while also informing them of the planning process.

Stakeholder feedback is useful when completing any planning process. By engaging your key stakeholders at the beginning of the planning process, you will not only have a more comprehensive plan in the end but will also create buy-in from the stakeholders when the new plan is unveiled. If you need assistance with your planning process, we would be happy to help! Contact Transform Consulting Group today!

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Does Your Organization Have a Continuous Quality Improvement Process?

During a time where communities and policies are changing, it is important to ensure the programs and services within those communities are constantly evolving to meet the needs of families. The Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) model is an ongoing process for organizations to be able to determine whether or not a change made led to an improvement in quality. In order to move toward making the necessary improvements, a review of what occurred is conducted through a CQI process like the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle.

Steps to Complete a PDSA Cycleplan-act-do-study-cycle4

At Transform Consulting Group, we utilize this consistent approach when working with organizations to help them find solutions.

Plan:

Before beginning your PDSA cycle, identify the problem or issue you would like to address for quality improvement. The problem identified will guide your purpose for the review. Once you have decided what to focus on, consider the the following steps to plan to test your idea for change:

  • Define the goals
  • Define your research question(s)
  • Make predictions
  • Determine details for implementation of change or intervention
  • Plan of action for data collection

During this phase, we work with the client to thoughtfully plan to implement their new or current program/ service. So often, organizations jump immediately to step 2 – “Do” – without completing this critical first step. During the planning phase, we define what we hope to accomplish especially if we are proposing a change. Then we determine how the proposed change/ intervention will be implemented and work through all of the details. Lastly, we finalize how data will be collected.

Do:

This phase of the PDSA cycle requires you to conduct the test for the change or intervention. It is during this phase that you will complete the following tasks:

  • Carry out the intervention
  • Collect data
  • Begin data analysis

This step in the process is what most organizations know and are doing. Organizations are delivering interventions every day with their services. They might be intentionally or unintentionally modifying their intervention. The “Do” step in this process is not new to organizations. It is wrapping it around the other three steps that makes this work transformational!

Study:

The study phase of the cycle occurs after you have completed your intervention. You then analyze the data to study what did or did not occur. Organizations will want to review their predictions and assumptions before conducting the test. You will want to take the following steps during this phase of the cycle:

  • Complete data analysis
  • Compare data to predictions
  • Summarize the information

Organizations often skip over this step in the process or do not spend enough time thoughtfully reviewing the data. For some organizations, their data can be considered “high stakes” and there is a tendency to want to focus on the positive changes/ results that occurred and glance over the changes that did not occur or the benchmarks that were not met. During this phase, it is so important for an organization to be transparent and honest with themselves when reviewing the data.

Act:

Based on the summarized information, this last phase of the cycle allows you to determine what modifications may be needed to ensure that the goals you set will be met. Your organization may decide to modify a program element or change how a service is delivered; you may decide to target a different population or use a new curriculum. Once you have determined whether or not to adapt, adopt, or abandon your intervention, you will be prepared to do the following:

  • Plan next cycle
  • Decide whether the change can be implemented

During this last step, your organization takes all of the information gathered to make data-informed decisions that will ultimately improve your results. This is the exciting part of the process and one that you don’t want to skip. This step and the overall PDSA process will help your organization continue to improve the quality of services provided and impact in the community.

In this blog, “Is it time to redesign your program?”, we shared several examples of clients we helped use the PDSA process to test and implement new interventions/ modifications to improve their outcomes. The CQI process allows organizations to have a plan of action once a problem or service gap has been identified.

At Transform Consulting Group, we follow this consistent approach when helping you find solutions to accelerate your impact. If you are looking to improve the quality of a service or program to facilitate positive change, contact us today!

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How to Implement your Strategic Plan

In January, we kicked off our Exercise Your Impact campaign. Throughout 2019 we’re sharing tools and resources that highlight critical phases of organizational planning. Our first quarter focus is on the first phase: Strategic Planning. As we finish out the quarter, we want to provide some tips on how to use and implement your strategic plan.

Our process graphic

In a previous blog series, we highlighted the 4 steps of strategic planning and detailed each step (step 1, step 2, step 3, step 4). But what happens once you’ve completed those steps? We often find that organizations get stuck on figuring out how to take the big picture elements in the strategic plan and make them operational. To avoid this, we create an “implementation plan” during Step 4. This implementation plan unpacks the strategic plan into actionable steps. It provides your organization with a road map for how to accomplish the goals identified in the strategic plan.

HFI - Implementation Plan Pg 7

We recently worked with Healthy Families Indiana (HFI) to help them develop their strategic plan, including a detailed implementation plan. We are currently helping them implement the plan while providing project management support for their Think Tank. The following four components are key pieces of any implementation plan.

Key Implementation Plan Components 

Strategies/Goals: It is important to include any priorities and goals that are set within your strategic plan in your implementation plan. For example, one of HFI’s key goals from their strategic plan is to translate information about brain science to share with parents. Including this goal in the implementation plan ensured that they had a detailed plan to actually achieve it.

Action steps: For each strategy/goal, the implementation plan will spell out action steps to help your organization meet that goal. The tasks associated with the HFI goal listed above included developing or identifying a family-facing brain science resource to share with parents.

Timeline: The implementation plan will indicate which year you plan to complete each task. For example, if you have set a three-year strategic plan, it is important to evenly schedule tasks out over those three years. For example, HFI determined that in their long-term schedule, developing and/or identifying family facing brain science resources would fit best within 2019.

Responsibility: It is important that the implementation plan indicate who is responsible for completing each task. Identifying those responsible helps to ensure accountability and track progress. The responsible party could be a group or individual. They could be staff, board members, or a committee. HFI identified the Think Tank as being the most appropriate group to complete the task outlined in the previous components.

Tips for Using your Implementation Plan

  • When carrying out an implementation plan, it is important to establish a procedure to track progress on tasks. For example, we’ve done this for clients by creating a spreadsheet that they can update on a quarterly basis to track actions they’ve taken.
  • An organization can update their implementation plan over time if needed. Tasks may take a longer or shorter amount of time than anticipated, so it is appropriate to update timelines as you go.

TCG is privileged to work with organizations at all stages of the strategic planning and implementation process. We are currently helping another client, Manchester Early Learning Center, finalize their strategic plan. We’re excited to watch them carry it out!

Track Image - NEW

As we finish the first quarter of 2019, we’re also looking forward to the second ‘leg’ of our Exercise Your Impact campaign: Program Development. Once you have set the strategic vision for your organization it is time to take a closer look at your program(s) to assess whether your current programming is in a place to help you achieve that vision. Contact us today to see how we can assist you with your strategic planning or programming needs!

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3 Strategic Plan Tools to Create

Congratulations! You have journeyed through the 4 steps of our Strategic Planning Process and you’re ready for the final step: Create. (We covered step 1, step 2, and step 3 in previous blogs).

Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 2.03.19 PM

The goal of a strategic plan is to develop timely, relevant and action-oriented plans for the future of your organization. Once you have a clear direction, it is time to make sense of the information and package it in a way that is meaningful and possible to implement.  

At TCG, we believe a strategic plan has little value if it is a report that sits on your shelf, never to be seen again. We don’t create long strategic plan reports that you can’t use. We want you to use it, share it and review it on a regular basis.

When working with clients, we recommend and create 3 different strategic plan tools:

1. One-page strategic plan – This is a one-page summary of your goals and top strategies. This tool can be shared externally with partners, funders, and other key stakeholders as well as internally with staff.

When creating a strategic plan for the Wabash County Early Childhood Education Committee, we wanted a one-page overview that highlighted the following key elements:Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 2.03.33 PM

a. Stakeholders involved (especially since this is a collective impact, multi-sector plan)

b. Goals

c. Strategies

d. Outcomes

Each one-pager for the strategic plan that we create is unique to the client but essentially covers their top goals and strategies.

2. Strategic plan report – This report explains the process of how the strategic plan was completed, the information that was collected, and more details about the goals and strategies. This is typically an internal document that is shared with staff and the board to use when reflecting on the process. It’s especially helpful to document this information for when there are leadership transitions with the staff and board.

Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 2.03.53 PM

3. Implementation plan – Too often we find that organizations get stuck with figuring out how to take the big picture elements in the strategic plan and make them operational. We create an “implementation plan” to unpack the strategic plan into actionable steps for staff, committees and the board. The main audience for the implementation plan is staff, board and committee members who are most likely responsible for implementation.  Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 2.04.09 PM


This could be set up like a calendar or a chart that describes who is responsible for each step. We also love using Tableau to create a strategic plan dashboard to track and monitor action items and milestones. The point is that we want all parties involved to have a clear understanding of the timeline, so that they can put the plan in motion.

Is your organization ready to jump into a strategic planning process? Learn more about our strategic planning services here. Contact us today, and we’d love to chat about how our team can meet your needs.

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3 Steps to Facilitate a Strategic Planning Retreat

17855554_690376437789787_5551209555832880363_oWhat comes to mind when someone says the word “retreat”? In the dictionary, “retreat” has a few different meanings: an act of moving back or withdrawing; a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax; an act of changing one’s decisions, plans, or attitude, especially as a result of criticism from others. If we apply these definitions to a “planning retreat”, we can conclude that it is a meeting where a group can step back from regular daily activities to discuss decisions, plans and goals to help inform a strategic plan and future decisions. This means you don’t need to leave town to have an effective planning retreat!

Whether you are leading a planning retreat or participating in one, what makes an effective planning retreat? The facilitator can ensure the group has a plan and accomplishes their goals. A participant can help keep the conversation on topic, as it is common for a group to want to jump into the solutions of a plan before determining the focus areas.

Earlier this year, we discussed the 4 Steps of Strategic Planning. Step three is to “facilitate consensus”, which usually occurs at a planning retreat. The main purpose of this step is for the planning team to start to reach consensus about the future direction for the organization, including goals and strategies. We follow three key steps to lead an effective planning retreat.

1. Provide Summarized Materials

First, create a pre-read packet of summarized materials from the first two steps of the strategic planning process. This helps equip the planning team with rich feedback from the key stakeholders (step 1: collaborate) and understand the context (step 2: assess). You also want to give your planning team enough time to review and process the information before the day-of retreat. This allows the group to make thoughtful recommendations. There are several ways to present a pre-read packet: a narrative report, a PowerPoint presentation or an interactive online file.

During a project with the Wabash County Early Childhood Education Committee, we created a Tableau Public file titled the “Impact of Early Childhood Education in Wabash County”. This included five tabs summarizing key community demographic data, program information and stakeholder feedback from employers and parents. The titles for visuals were worded as a question to help the audience pull out key messages from the information. During the planning retreat, we reviewed this information but they had already seen it and digested the information. This allowed us to start having some meaningful conversations.

2. Identify “What” You Want to Accomplish

After leading the team through a review of the information, the majority of time is spent to make meaning with the data and identify goals and strategies for the future. Having some great discussion questions is helpful to focus the conversation with participants and help them use the information presented.

Many participants at planning retreats want to jump right into strategies or solutions. We work hard to help steer the conversation to reaching agreement first on the “what” we want to accomplish with the strategic plan. Help the group to narrow their ideas to 3-5 key focus areas or goals to help carry the strategic plan forward. By bringing the team together, they will have consensus. As we have mentioned earlier, buy-in from the team is crucial to keep momentum going for the strategic plan.

This discussion time can be done as a full team, split into small groups or partners depending on the size of the planning team. If you do break into small groups make sure you come back together as a large group and collectively reach consensus about the goals/ focus areas. We like to use stickers to help participants “vote” or prioritize their top choices.

3. Determine “How” You Will Accomplish It

Finally, after the “what” is determined, transition the team to discuss the development of key strategies and solutions that address the focus areas. This is the “how” we will accomplish the goals of the strategic plan. Similar to the previous step, discussion can be as a group or broken up into teams.

The timeline of your strategic plan will help determine how many strategies are appropriate for each goal/ focus area. Again, we encourage participants to narrow the focus to 5-7 key strategies. If you have 5 goals and 5-7 strategies per goal, then there could be upwards of 35 strategies that your organization will be working to implement. We work really hard to support organizations in having aspirational strategic plans as well as realistic and achievable.18403781_704582429702521_8230617511511406933_o

Once you have your top goals and strategies identified, then you can “workshop” them into a more detailed operations or implementation plan that explains the who, what, and when in much more detail. This is what sets apart a strategic plan from sitting on the shelf and not being implemented to a strategic plan that truly moves the organization or community forward.

There are different tools and activities that can be used during the facilitation step of the strategic planning process. Depending on what works best, the main thing to remember is to engage, focus and prioritize.

Now that you have hosted an effective planning retreat you are ready for the final step of the strategic planning process – create. If you need assistance with facilitating an effective planning retreat, or with any step of the planning process, Transform Consulting Group is here to help. Contact us today!

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4 Steps of Strategic Planning

We have the privilege of working with a few organizations every year to help them create their “road map” or strategic plan for the next 3-5 years.  In the course of completing these strategic plans, we have developed a formula that guides the process following four key steps.

Our process graphic1. Collaborate

Good strategic plans are not created in isolation in a board room.  We work with you to identify all of the key stakeholders that we need to engage to inform the strategic planning process.  This will vary depending on your organization, but typically involves some of the following key stakeholders:

  • Staff at different levels of the organization
  • Board of Directors
  • Volunteers
  • Current and past funders and donors
  • Key community partners/ stakeholders in the community
  • Clients
  • Public

When we worked with HSE S.P.O.R.T.S. on their strategic plan, we wanted to get feedback from a broad group of stakeholders.  We surveyed the public to gauge their understanding and perception of the organization and received a large response rate.  We also met with some of their key community partners for strategic feedback and met with their staff.  Through these efforts, we received rich feedback to inform the strategic planning team and started to create some buy-in and ownership from the community.

2. Assess

This step of the strategic planning process is so important as it provides the necessary context of understanding your organization and environment.  During this phase, it is important to complete an internal and an external assessment.  The internal assessment includes an analysis of the organization by looking at financial statements, programming, and organizational structure.  You will want to look for trends, gaps and opportunities.  The external assessment may include collecting information about the industry and/or completing a needs assessment of your community or targeted audience.

When we worked with Early Learning Indiana on completing their strategic plan, they wanted their strategic planning team to have a good understanding of the environment in which they operate.  There was a significant amount of change in policies, programming and priorities in the early learning industry that had implications for their work in the future.  Therefore, it was important to understand that context in planning for the future.

When people think of strategic planning, they most often think of having a retreat to develop a strategic plan.  While a retreat can be a good time to complete a strategic plan, it is not necessary.  The main purpose of this step is for the strategic planning team to start to reach consensus about the future direction.  In order to support this next step, we often prepare a pre-read packet that summarizes all of the information collected in the first two steps.  Then the strategic planning team is equipped with the rich feedback from the stakeholders (Step 1) and understanding the context (Step 2).  

There are a variety of group activities that can be used to help the team process the information and begin to identify “what” we want to accomplish. Once the goals (or “what”) have been identified, then we begin to talk about the “how” we will accomplish the work or the strategies.  There are different tools and activities we use to help move through this work.  The main thing to remember is to prioritize and focus.

3. Facilitate

When people think of strategic planning, they most often think of having a retreat to develop a strategic plan.  While a retreat can be a good time to complete a strategic plan, it is not necessary.  The main purpose of this step is for the strategic planning team to start to reach consensus about the future direction.  In order to support this next step, we often prepare a pre-read packet that summarizes all of the information collected in the first two steps.  Then the strategic planning team is equipped with the rich feedback from the stakeholders (Step 1) and understanding the context (Step 2).

There are a variety of group activities used to help the team process the information and begin to identify “what” we want to accomplish. Once the goals (or “what”) have been identified, then we begin to talk about the “how” we will accomplish the work or the strategies.  There are different tools and activities we use to help move through this work.  The main thing to remember is to prioritize and focus.

4. Create

Now that a clear plan for the future has been reached, it is our job to make sense of all of the information and to package it in a meaningful way for the organization to implement.  We don’t believe in creating long strategic plan reports that sit on shelves.  We want our clients to use and review their strategic plan on a regular basis.  We recommend creating three strategic plan tools:

  1. “Pretty version” strategic plan – this is a one-page overview of your goals and top strategies.  This is a tool that can be shared externally with partners, funders and other key stakeholders as well as internally with staff.  It can live on your website and be part of your communication tools.
  2. Strategic plan report – this explains the full process of how the strategic plan was completed, the information collected (pre-read packet) and more detailed strategic plan report.  This is an internal document for staff use to reflect on the process and have access to all of the comprehensive information collected.
  3. Implementation plan – this tool helps unpack the strategic plan into actionable steps for staff, committees and the board.  It can sometimes be difficult for organizations to take what is written in the strategic plan and put it into action, often resulting in no action or change.  By creating this more detailed implementation plan there is a road map for how the organization will accomplish the goals identified over the next 3-5 years.

From the wise words in the childhood book and movie of Alice in Wonderland, we learned that if we don’t Alice & Wonderland Quote
know where we are going, any road could take us there.  However, it may not be the most effective or efficient path and the outcome could be different than we hoped.  Developing a strategic plan provides that road map for all organizations – nonprofits, businesses, schools and government agencies – to have clear focus of our goals and strategies to accomplish those goals. 

Completing a strategic plan can be a daunting or exhilarating process for some organizations.  We love to partner with organizations to help you think about the future and create a plan that will get you there.  You can find out more about our strategic planning services here.

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Getting the Most Out of Your Needs Assessment

Recently Transform Consulting Group finished the annual needs assessment for the Indiana Head Start State Collaboration Office (IHSSCO).   Each Head Start State Collaboration Office is required to annually submit a needs assessment, which informs their strategic plan goals and objectives.  

IHSSCO uses their needs assessment to inform their annual work plan, and all organizations should make the connection between a needs assessment and the organization’s strategic goals!  Whether you want to conduct a needs assessment, program or organization evaluation, or annual report, don’t miss the chance to do one of the following:  

  1. Use your assessment to solicit new feedback or data.

The IHSSCO needs assessment solicited new feedback this year.  We interviewed and surveyed external stakeholders and Head Start partners.  If you’re going to request feedback, make sure you show you’re doing something with it.  No one likes to provide feedback, and then see that nothing changes. For Head Start partners and stakeholders, they will soon be able to read the needs assessment report and see the recommendations for solutions that address some of their feedback.

  1. Take the time to learn from your data.

Data is collected and reported on, but beyond totals and percentages, what does your data say?  What questions does it raise to inform your assessment and planning efforts? For example, we wanted to know:

  • How do Indiana Early Head Start and Head Start programs compare to national statistics?
  • Where are Early Head Start and Head Start centers located across the state, and is it proportionate to the population and need?  Image
  • What percentage of children are being served?  
  • Is there more of a demand for Early Head Start and Head Start in rural or urban areas?

Besides the demographics of your program participants and the outputs of a program, look for issues and barriers, gaps or overlap in services or clients, layer the data with other relevant indicators, and don’t forget to look at outcomes as well!

  1. Make sure you share the report – internally and externally.  

A needs assessment can take a great deal of time, effort, and resources from multiple individuals.  Once the process is completed, it is easy to do a quick review of the findings with program staff and then put it on the shelf.  The needs assessment report and its findings are not only important to program staff; it can also provide insight to all staff, program participants, funders, and external stakeholders/partners.  Check out this past blog for more ideas!

Make the report accessible and relevant.  Many people may only be interested in reading an executive summary of the report or skipping straight to the recommendations.  Others may be more attracted to infographics or dashboards. Decide how to best present your data for your audience, and then post these materials on your website, link to them in a newsletter, or mention them on social media.
If you’re ready to do things differently with your needs assessment but are not sure where to start, contact us today to discuss ways Transform Consulting Group can help!

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Marketing 101: 6 Places to List Your Organization Online

At Transform Consulting Group, we know how important it is to market your organization within the online world. Marketing 101- 6 Places to List Your Organization Online
That’s why we have so many blogs in our
Marketing 101 series dedicated to your online presence (here and here).  

There are many online directories to look through. It can be confusing to determine which search engines to use.  We know your time is valuable, so we created a list with our top six go-to directories, starting with the most popular, that you can use to promote your work!

6 Places to List Your Organization Online

1. Google my Business

You have probably heard of or even used Google my Business. Google my business is free and is the “monster” of all search engines. Google logs an average of 7.8 billion searches per day – directing traffic to specific business pages. They have become the prime example of how search engines can help any company become successful.

2. Bing Places for Business

This is a Microsoft product, which means that Bing is the default search engine for most Windows desktop and tablet versions. It allows anyone to add multiple business locations, photos, videos, and more. Bing has an easy, fast, and free registration for anyone to use and add their business.

3. Yahoo Local Listing

Yahoo’s service draws millions of searches every day. It allows anyone to post a basic listing for free. You can choose to pay a minimal free to add more detail and photos within your organization description (but we have had success with the free version!). There is a smaller fee in order to add and more description and a larger fee in if you want your organization to be listed in more than 40 directories. The basic listing is just as sufficient because the most important thing is getting the name out there for the public to see.

4. Yelp

Yelp is one of the best, free engines for honest consumer reviews. Small businesses might not think to use Yelp because it is popular for restaurants and hotels, but it is also a great source for advertising small nonprofits. Yelp stands out from the others because it allows organizations to connect with their clients and/or stakeholders and send them messages for more in depth advertising. They have a unique reporting tool to gain reviews of the best business trends.

5. MerchantCircle

MerchantCircle is a free network that focuses on small business connecting with local customers and other small businesses in the same area. Users can boost their listings, post their own blogs, and take advantage of other marketing tools aimed at making their business stronger.

6. Yellow Pages

Yes, it is true, the Yellow Pages are still an efficient way to advertise a business. It has become a well-organized, online version of the classic search guide. Along with marketing, TCG appreciates good data that can help make a company stronger. Yellow Pages has become the best network that offers detailed ad performance data. The downside to yellow pages, is the fee. The fee can become high depending on the size of the advertisement. This would be something to consider when advertising a business through Yellow Pages. Learn more about the price breakdown here

Not only is it important to have your organization listed, but what information you include in your profile is vital! Make sure to fill in all fields with updated information about your business, so that it is accurate and easy for consumers to learn more about your organization.

At TCG, we’re excited about the causes you support and the work you do in your communities. Can we help you position your organization better online? Contact us today to learn more!

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How to Reach Consensus on Your Strategic Plan

We are continuing our blog series on strategic planning by focusing on Step 3 of our 4 Step Strategic Planning Process: Facilitate Consensus. Read more about our previous strategic planning blogs in this series here, here, and here.  The main purpose of this third step is for the strategic planning team to start to reach agreement about the future direction.  

Organizations will often form strategic planning committees or task leadership teams to complete their strategic plan. This means that different types of people with various perspectives and insights will have to learn to work together on a common goal. We actually encourage collaboration and engagement in the strategic planning process and discuss it more Step 1 in this blog.

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After you have formed your planning team and gathered some critical information about the organization, your targeted clients and community you are now ready to come together to reach consensus about the future. The following five recommendations will help your team reach consensus:

  1. Issue Homework – Prepare a packet of information that summarizes all of the data and information that has been collected. Most likely there will be some important information that would be helpful for the group to read in advance of coming together. We like to package that information into a “pre-read” report or slide deck presentation (see more here).
  2.  Host Planning Sessions – Set aside time for the planning team to come back together once all of the information has been gathered. Depending on your planning team’s availability, this may need to be broken out into a couple of sessions.
  3.  Facilitate Group Discussion – If your budget allows, it is very helpful to have a consultant (ahem, TCG!) facilitate your planning discussions. This way all members of your team will be able to engage in the discussion. They are also equipped with adult learning strategies and can design a highly engaging and interactive process for your team.

wabash strategic plan4.  Focus on the “What” First – We often see many planning team members who want to jump into the strategies and problem-solve the needs/ gaps identified. The first step in consensus building is to reach agreement on the “What” you want to accomplish. We call this setting your big goals and top areas of focus. We also try to limit our clients to 3-5 big goals/ focus areas. Once you have this set, then you can get into the “How” you will accomplish your goals through strategies.

5. Take the Temperature – As you are moving through this process, it is important to check in with your planning team at these meetings and maybe even afterwards. You want your planning team to be confident in the agreements that have been made and to not have any ill feelings of team members. While not everyone may get what they think is important, everyone should be in collective agreement about the plan. During these planning sessions, your consultant or team lead should check the non-verbal and verbal cues of team members throughout the process and respond as needed.

By the end of step 3, facilitating consensus, your team should feel excitement and enthusiasm about the possibilities for the future and the plan! If not, that might be indicator that the consensus is not there with the whole group. In that case, you may need to come back together and have an honest discussion.

A strategic plan is not something to take lightly or go through the motions. It can set the path for the future of an organization and help bring about transformational change. When you take the time and effort to follow these five recommendations, your organization will be on its way.

If you are ready to start your strategic plan, contact us. We would love to support organization’s strategic planning needs.

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Assessing the Stress Levels of Staff

It is argued that the United States is the most overworked country in the world. Some individuals may be fine with putting in extra hours, but for many it’s about finding a balance between work, family, and other personal activities. The unbalance can often lead to stress, in turn affecting each area of a person’s life. Regardless of your job title, it can be beneficial to be aware of employee stress levels to result in effective program outcomes.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published 40% of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful, and 25% viewed their job as the number one stressor in their lives (Stress…At Work, 4-5). Stress on employees can lead to burnout, a lack of productivity and increased risk of health problems.

At TCG, we serve government, non-profits, education, and communities. When working with clients, we often find that the pressure to meet program outcomes and the passion for clients and the cause can increase stress beyond those of other businesses. We suggest that if you truly want to equip your employees to accelerate your impact, then assessing the stress and well-being of staff is a good place to start.

We recently worked with a local school who was seeking grant funding to improve the health and well-being of their students from the Lilly Endowment. In the process of assessing the needs of the students, we also wanted to assess the health and well-being of the teachers. The staff have a direct impact on students and the school culture/ climate.

When is the right time to assess staff stress in the workplace?

Assessing staff stress should be an ongoing practice at organizations. Make it an annual occurrence or incorporate staff check-ins regularly. You can also reevaluate staff workloads and overall health during your strategic planning process or when there is a serious event.

During our work with the local school to apply for a comprehensive counseling grant, we realized that before we could meet the goals we set for the students (emotional health, academic success, etc.), we had to ensure that the teachers had the capability to support the program. This is an example of why it is important to bring staff in during the strategic planning process.

If a need is recognized, such as annual tracking or a serious event, management can be intentional about assessing the stress levels of staff. Have you heard  the line, “It’s not you, it’s me”? Sometimes the organization may not be at fault for staff stress, but this is not always the case. Personal factors, like finances, family, social, or other reasons, in life can cause employee stress. These can be distracting during work or cause work absences. Assessing staff and finding the root cause for distractions will help employers better understand how to work with and provide support to employees.

How should staff stress be assessed?

Stress, like pain, is relative to every individual and can be difficult to measure. We recommend using evidence-based questions and assessment tools to develop a survey. Craft general questions related to workplace stress or more personal questions to help get a better understanding of employees’ personal experiences.

Within your organization’s respective industry there is more than likely some standard questionnaires to assess your workforce. For example, when we were working with the schools, we found several assessments geared to questions for teachers.

We created an electronic survey to assess the workplace stress of teachers and support staff. We included general questions about workplace stress, along with the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) survey (which we spotlighted in this blog). The results gave us a comprehensive look at how stressful staff felt in the workplace and revealed any adverse childhood experiences that affected their overall health and ability to work.

What should you do with the results of staff stress feedback?

Like any data collection process, it should serve a purpose. If stress seems to be a workplace issue, try to determine what situations are flexible to ease the stress of staff within the limits of the organization and mission. Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Adjust management style
  • Alter staff responsibilities
  • Hire extra staff
  • Offer pay increases, bonus incentives, or extra time-off
  • Change program models
  • Include staff on program model decisions (like choosing a curriculum or other materials)
  • Ensure necessities are being provided, like food, water, and bathroom breaks!

When working with the local school, we analyzed their staff feedback and other data in Tableau, a data visualization software. We discovered that a majority (59%) of staff felt always or often stressed at work. We also asked identifying questions so each school administrator would be able to pinpoint the specific work areas that cause stress to their employees. This knowledge helped develop an action to address staff well-being to benefit each school.

One method may not work for every organization or individual. Find what works best and continue to monitor progress and make adjusts as necessary.

At TCG, we want to help you move your mission forward and that often starts by taking care of your staff! We support organizations who want to have healthy staff, reduce turnover, increase productivity and engagement to accomplish their goals/ accelerate their impact! Do you need help accessing your team? Or maybe you already know your staff is stretched and you’re ready for additional support? Learn more about our services here, and Contact us today!

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