Developing Successful Strategies

… a core concept in Leadership Skills and Atlas 109

Strategy5Concept description

Jenette Nagy and Stephen Fawcett, writing in Community Tool Box (reference below), set out a process for developing successful strategies.

They begin by distinguishing strategies from the other elements of VMOSA – Vision, Mission, Objectives, Strategies, and Action Plans:

“A strategy is a way of describing how you are going to get things done. It is less specific than an action plan (which tells the who-what-when); instead, it tries to broadly answer the question, “How do we get there from here?” (Do we want to take the train? Fly? Walk?)

“A good strategy will take into account existing barriers and resources (people, money, power, materials, etc.). It will also stay with the overall vision, mission, and objectives of the initiative. Often, an initiative will use many different strategies – providing information, enhancing support, removing barriers, providing resources, etc. – to achieve its goals.

“Objectives outline the aims of an initiative – what success would look like in achieving the vision and mission. By contrast, strategies suggest paths to take (and how to move along) on the road to success. That is, strategies help you determine how you will realize your vision and objectives through the nitty-gritty world of action.”

Application of Nagy and Fawcett’s advice need not be restricted to community organizations. It can be applied to strategic planning in a wide variety of public management contexts.

Criteria for successful strategy

Nagy and Fawcett say that a good strategy should produce affirmative responses to a number of questions. Does the strategy:

  • Give overall direction? A strategy, such as enhancing experience and skill or increasing resources and opportunities, should point out the overall path without dictating a particular narrow approach (e.g., using a specific skills training program).
  • Fit resources and opportunities? A good strategy takes advantage of current resources and assets, such as people’s willingness to act or a tradition of self-help and community pride. It also embraces new opportunities such as an emerging public concern for neighborhood safety or parallel economic development efforts in the business community.
  • Minimize resistance and barriers? When initiatives set out to accomplish important things, resistance (even opposition) is inevitable. However, strategies need not provide a reason for opponents to attack the initiative. Good strategies attract allies and deter opponents.
  • Reach those affected? To address the issue or problem, strategies must connect the intervention with those who it should benefit. For example, if the mission of the initiative is to get people into decent jobs, do the strategies (providing education and skills training, creating job opportunities, etc.) reach those currently unemployed?
  • Advance the mission? Taken together, are strategies likely to make a difference on the mission and objectives? If the aim is to reduce a problem such as unemployment, are the strategies enough to make a difference on rates of employment? If the aim is to prevent a problem, such as substance abuse, have factors contributing to risk (and protection) been changed sufficiently to reduce use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs?
How to develop strategies

Nagy and Fawcett suggest the following:

  • Organize a brainstorming meeting. Remember, people will work best in a relaxed and welcoming environment. You can help achieve this by making meetings a place where all members feel that their ideas are listened to and valued, and where constructive criticism may be openly voiced. To help meet these goals, you might post some “ground rules” so people feel free to express themselves.
  • Review (identify) the targets and agents of change of your initiative. Your targets of change include all of the people who experience (or are at risk for) this issue or problem addressed by your initiative. Your agents of change include everyone who is in a position to help contribute to the solution.
  • Review your vision, mission, and objectives to keep you on the right track.
  • Check your proposed strategies for completeness, accuracy, and whether they contribute to the vision, mission, and objectives.
Questions to help decide the most beneficial strategies

Nagy and Fawcett provide the following:

  • What resources and assets exist that can be used to help achieve the vision and mission? How can they be used best?
  • What obstacles or resistance exist that could make it difficult to achieve your vision and mission? How can you minimize or get around them?
  • What are potential agents of change willing to do to serve the mission?
  • Do you want to reduce the existing problem, or does it make more sense to try to prevent (or reduce risk for) problems before they start? For example, if you are trying to reduce teen sexual activity, you might consider gearing some of your strategies to younger children, for whom sex is not yet a personal issue; or, to promote academic success, to work with younger children who still have full potential for learning and school success.
  • How will your potential strategies decrease the risk for experiencing the problem (e.g., young girls getting pressure for sex from older men)? How will the strategies increase protective factors (e.g., support from peers; access to contraceptives)?
  • What potential strategies will affect the whole population and problem? For example, connecting youth with caring adults might be good for virtually all youth, regardless of income or past experience with the problem. Also, just one strategy, affecting just one part of the community such as schools or youth organizations, often isn’t enough to improve the situation. Make sure that your strategies affect the problem or issue as a whole.
  • What potential strategies reach those at particular risk for the problem? For example, early screenings might help focus on those at higher risk for heart disease or cancer; past academic failure or history of drug use, for identifying with whom support and other intervention efforts might be focused.

Jenette Nagy and Stephen B Fawcett, Developing Successful Strategies: Planning to Win, Community Tool Box, at, accessed 21 March 2016.

Atlas topic and subject

Strategizing (core topic) in Leadership Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 24 March 2016.

Image: Institute for Competitive Intelligence, at, accessed 21 March 2016.