Do an internet search for “pastoral planning” and you’ll quickly discover this is a vague topic, nebulous in that many “good things” seem to be said, but they don’t necessarily connect with any precision. Many priests will joke about the absence of formation in this area in seminary studies–and even from a lay person’s perspective–I can attest to this! As a graduate student, I was dual-enrolled in a Master of Divinity program and a Master of Nonprofit Administration business school program simultaneously. In the Master of Divinity program, “planning” was rarely spoken of, and without much detail or depth. On the flip side, in a business school, we were assigned many (probably too many!) articles from the Harvard Business Review where leading scholars wrote on the differences between strategy, operations, management, planning, etc. It’s a deep field and unpacking it in a relevant way for parish leaders isn’t intuitive.
Today I’m going to attempt a different approach and leverage terminology used in military settings [my other professional background] to help give us a way forward for real-life pastoral planning. The military terminology “cuts to the chase” more than business scholarship, and avoids the vagueness of much of the existing pastoral planning literature. This post is excerpted and paraphrased from Harry R. Yarger’s monograph Strategic Theory for the 21st Century: The Little Book on Big Strategy (Strategic Studies Institute) p. 47-64.
Strategy and planning are not synonyms.
The prominence of the term “strategic planning” probably does us all a disservice by overly associating and mixing “strategy” and “planning.”
What is strategy?
Strategy lays down what is important and to be achieved (objectives), and sets the parameters for the necessary actions and resources.
In strategy formulation, getting the objectives (or “ends”) right matters most. While it’s also beneficial for the strategist to correctly identify the parameters of action and resources that are crucial to success, naming actions and resource-needs is a subordinate task to naming objectives.
More on “Objectives”
Objectives (aka “ends”) explain “what” is to be accomplished. in short, doing the right things. This is why objectives are the most important element of strategy [and by extension, planning]. The right concepts and resources are great; but if they are used to accomplish the wrong thing, then what’s the use?
How do we get objectives? We start with the “end state.” The way we want things to be. [Note: in civilian-land, this is often called vision]. We allow objectives to flow from analyzing the end state we’re aiming for in light of the factors in the environment (or setting) affecting the realization of the desired end state.
Picking objectives that are too confining leads to problems for planners because it limits their ability to be flexible and adapt for execution. Picking objectives that are too vague becomes problematic in that they can be easily misinterpreted, intercommunicated, and/or fail to provide appropriate direction to others.
The ideal is to choose objectives that create realistic boundaries or parameters (the guidance planners and those on the ground need and want!) but, not overly confining boundaries for planning and execution.
Now to the subordinate elements of strategy, concepts (ways) and costs (means), remembering that these come after selecting the right objectives.
Concepts (aka “ways”)
Concepts are concerned with doing things right. Concepts explain “how” the objectives are to be accomplished. Concepts link resources to the objectives by addressing who does what, where, when, and why to explain how an objective will be achieved. Choosing the right concepts/ways for action matters because it’s possible to achieve a correct objective, but have the positive results undermined due to negative effects of the incorrect concepts/methods used to achieve the goal.
Resources (aka “means”)
Resources (or means) are the costs–financial, human resources, effort, equipment, opportunity costs, material, facilities, goodwill, courage, will to persevere, etc. Resources can be tangible or intangible.
Flowing from correctly chosen objectives, the strategist identifies the types and levels of resources necessary to support the concepts chosen to accomplish the objective. The responsibility of the strategist is to ensure that the resources necessary for the accomplishment of the objectives as envisioned by the concepts are articulated and available. The strategist’s responsibility is to ensure that the strategic concept will accomplish the objective, and that it is resourced to do so.
Remember, a better concept may require less or different resources than available. This is where strategic decisions are made, as a strategy that is not adequately resourced is not a viable strategy at all.
Now that we’ve covered strategy, what is planning?
Planning bridges the gap between strategy and execution. Planning makes strategy actionable. Planners work within the “box” of the parameters of actions and resources given by the strategists. Planners adapt strategy to their real world setting with the necessary details, facts, and figures that lead to interrelated and sequenced actions calculated to achieve the objectives set forth in the strategy.
Organizations need planning to:
- reduce uncertainty at the on-the-ground level
- deal with the concrete and explicit (and therefore shorter, time horizon)
- create certainty so that people and groups can act
Parishes or ministries without adequate planning can have a well articulated vision and strategy, but end up going nowhere. Action players might even be aware of this strategy if it’s well communicated, but cannot act or implement because the practical actions are too unclear.
“Good strategy is an integral whole of the right objectives pursued through appropriate concepts and supported with the necessary resources.”
The strategic concept answers the big question of “how” the objectives will be achieved by articulating clearly for subordinate levels who does what, when, where, how, and why in such a manner that the subordinate strategist or planner can see with clarity how the execution of the concept leads to the accomplishment of the objective and what he or she is required to do in order to support the strategy.