Rethinking Strategy: A Leader’s Guide to Creating an Innovative Culture



In order to better understand why we engage in strategic planning, I conducted a strategic planning session with a Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This project included a series of on-site meetings with the leadership group and several in-depth interviews. The focus was on rekindling the leadership’s enthusiasm for mission and ministry and developing a strategic plan (including areas of focus, goals, and action plans) for future ministry. This was guided by an elected leadership team that worked with me in designing and leading the events. This format provided a high level of leadership participation and ownership. Since time was a limiting factor, the congregation was not able to provide extensive dialogue in discerning a broader and longer-range mission and ministry focus.

The desired outcome of the project was to renew fellowship and enthusiasm for mission and ministry among church leaders, evaluate the organization’s present condition, ministries and programs from the leadership’s perspective, determine areas of need or neglect in the life and mission of the congregation, and develop a priority list to guide the congregation’s use of time and energy over the next year. This Baptist church provided a backdrop for stimulating thoughts and dialogue about strategic planning and what changes or improvements you can make in your own planning processes. I intend to identify key elements to strategic planning, define tools for reinventing your planning process, and describe why leaders must articulate vision throughout the organization. I’ll summarize by providing leaders with a ‘way ahead’ – recommendations for improvement and lessons learned from this Baptist Church’s strategic planning session.


Strategic planning can occur in a wide variety of activities from athletic competitions to non-profit organizations. This paper looks at strategic planning from a consultant’s perspective so its content can apply to almost any area. Johnston (2003) asserts “For effective strategy innovation, companies must create a new process, one that is creative, market-centric, heuristic (discovery driven), and focused on the future.” (p. 55). In other words an effective strategy will have the capability to obtain the desired objective, fit well with the internal and external environment, provide a sustainable competitive advantage, prove dynamic and able to adapt to changing situations, and suffice on its own.

Strategic planning is about analysis whereas strategic thinking is about synthesis- an effective strategic plan is the product of effective strategic thinking. Strategic thinking involves intuition and imagination which leads to an integrated perspective of the enterprise. Strategic thinking is the precursor of strategy development and results in a “synthesis of emerging themes” from a creative process. (Sanders, 1998, p. 162). Strategic thinking creates an environment in which differences in organizational values can be identified and eliminated. Sanders (1998) argued that creating a “Futurescape” – map or picture of the organizational environment – at the beginning of the strategic planning process “will help you identify issues and subjects about which your executive team and/or board need more information prior to its actual planning session.” (p. 130). The strategic plan can only be effective once differences have been identified and resolved!


During my group meetings I discovered that not only is the congregation not involved in the strategic planning process, but each leadership team focuses on their own independent process. For example, the Ministers discussed a plan to improve their music ministry that included hiring musicians but failed to include a budget cost or budgetary requirements. Additionally, the Trustee Board developed an annual budget that included increased payments to reduce debt but failed to account for increased ministry requirements. Neither leadership team involved the congregation in their efforts. This lack of communication would only result in an unexcitable budget, delays in ministry development, and lack of support form the congregation. Strategic thinking must involve participation from the entire organization. Leaders that wish to have followers contribute to the implementation of the strategy must share their strategy with their followers and actively encourage them to suggest ways by which the strategy can be achieved. “Implementing a strategy begins by educating and involving the people who must execute it.” (Kaplan and Norton, 1996, p. 199).

Kouzes and Posner (2002) argued, “Strategic planning often spoils strategic thinking because it causes managers to believe that the manipulation of numbers creates imaginative insight into the future and vision.” (p. 153). Strategic thinking is more than a matter of the chief executive having a spark of inspiration that miraculously works its way into a strategic plan. The purpose of the strategic thinking process is to help organizational leaders and their management teams make deliberate decisions which lead to a strategic plan. This process requires teamwork and a total commitment to seeing great ideas come to fruition. It’s about having the right people working on the right issues.

The element of the environment (internal and external) has the most immediate impact on planning. “The organization must adapt to the environment or perish.” (Sadler, 1993, p. 22). Most organizations, however, seem to ignore the external dimension of their business. They devote immense efforts to optimizing the internal factors which are within their control; but they barely notice what is happening outside, and make little attempt to formally manage that side of their activities, except for some marketing responses. A major element of that outside environment is made up from the factors most organization group under `marketing’ or evangelism for religious organizations. Beyond this, however, there is a whole range of social and political factors which may have even greater impact. Not least is the impact of government regulation, which may make or break whole sectors of industry.

The main focus, however, revolves around responses and strategies among leaders. In the case of our Baptist Church, many leaders did not see the benefit of pursuing 501(c)(3) or non-profit certification from the Internal Revenue Service since it’s not required by law. However, others visualized the increased ability to acquire and maintain external resources. Conflict such as these would be simplified if the organization was in control of all of the components necessary for their operations. However, this is rarely the case. Organizations are linked to the environment through their dependency of the resources they require – no organization is completely self-contained. According to Formisano (2003), “Good companies create a system in which new information about the environment, the industry, or the company can be updated and assessed on a regular basis in the context of the strategic plan.” (p. 64).


The tendency for many leaders is to deal with the growing complexity of running an organization is to add on more complexity, further distancing followers from customers and executives from the followers. Randall (2005) observed, “…companies continue to increase the complexity of their operations by globalizing sourcing, manufacturing, engineering, and marketing/sales operations. This growing complexity makes it ever more difficult to manage product lifecycles optimally.” (p. 20).

It is easier to react to changing conditions as they emerge, rather than attempt to define the future. But what is easy rarely enables one to achieve a position of leadership. How, then, do leaders begin to overcome the culture of their own creation? Sadler (1993), suggests that organizational culture needs to be “strategically appropriate”, implying that it should be kept constantly under review. (P. 73). Creating a culture capable of continuous change requires resurrecting the visionary spirit of leaders. Visionary leaders are filled with vision and possibility; they focus on a single goal that becomes the centerpiece of their efforts; the obstacles they face are seen as temporary; and their mind reverberates with ideas for how to break through the barriers they encounter. According to Haines (1995), “Strategic planning and managing change must be championed over the long haul by a single-minded dedication of the leaders doing the planning.” (P. 4).

Our Baptist church congregation was frequently challenged by new opportunities for ministry while at the same time wondering about the effectiveness and meaning of established ministries. The entire situation became confusing and occasionally frustrating. One of the ways that organizations can clarify their purpose and direction is to commit to the planning process. “Identifying the business opportunities for strategy innovation is a process that can be carried out in any company willing to make the commitment to it.” (Johnston, 2003, p. 70). This process is a journey in which an organization works together to define its basic values and beliefs, it vision and its future direction.

The impact of changing technology is also a major factor in the development of a strategic plan. “Building a strategy requires that we consider how technology will affect our business: products, services, processes, and investment.” (Formisano, 2003, p. 55). The direct impact of new technology on organizations may be readily apparent. However, leaders are so involved in short-term problems that they cannot see wider perspectives which will determine the future and blinds them to the obvious. Such as the less apparent social or structural changes generated by new technology. Technology is having its wider impact, for one example, by allowing much smaller organizations to achieve `economies of scale’. In the larger organizations it is having a different effect by encouraging horizontal communications (via electronic mail) to take over from the traditional vertical (hierarchical) organization; and in the process is creating new structures.

The ability to leverage knowledge, establish key strategic relationships, be flexible in establishing new relationships, and bring products and services to the market gives organizations an edge over their rivals. “Partnering relationships whereby two or more companies work together to achieve a specific purpose or toward the attainment of common business objectives can be a successful growth strategy for fast-track growth companies.” (Sherman, 2002, p. 475). There are organizational relationships that require constant attention and nurturing – legal, alliances, competitive, and technological to name a few. Leaders require an understanding of the linkages that define the nature and limits of these relationships. Positive relationships increases an organization’s ability to manage conflict.


Many people mistake vision statements for mission statements. They are fundamentally different. Mission statement defines the purpose or broader goal for being in existence or in the business. It serves as a guide in times of uncertainty, vagueness. It is like a guiding light. It has no time frame. The mission can remain the same for decades if crafted correctly. While vision is more specific in terms of objective and time frame of its achievement, it is related to some form of achievement if successful. In the case of our Baptist Church, the vision statement is highly visible and constantly stated – Posted on the church’s webpage, printed in the weekly bulletins, and occasionally read aloud during services. But it was not incorporated into the church’s way of ‘doing business’. By this I mean that the mission of the leadership teams, various ministries, and especially front-line leaders (auxiliary coordinators) must be to support the overall vision of the church. In order to become really effective, the organizational vision must become assimilated into the organization’s culture. According to Pale (2005) “By taking an active look at the inner workings of your organization and its culture, you can objectively view the unique strengths and inherent values that could make your company formidable when faced with aggressive rivals.”

Leaders have the responsibility of communicating the vision regularly, creating narratives that illustrate the vision, and acting as role-models by embodying the vision, creating short-term objectives compatible with the vision, and encouraging others to craft their own personal vision compatible with the organization’s overall vision.


Formisano, R. (2003). Manager’s Guide to Strategy. Blacklick, OH: McGraw-Hill Trade.

Haines, Stephen G. (1995). Successful Strategic Planning. Menlo Park, CA: Course Technology Crisp.

Johnston, R. E. (2003). Power of Strategy Innovation: A New Way of Linking Creativity and Strategic Planning to Discover Great Business Opportunities. Saranac Lake, NY: AMACOM.

Kaplan, R. S. and Norton, D. P. (1996). The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action. Boston, Mass Harvard Business School Press.

Kouzes, James M. and Posner, Barry Z. (2002). The Leadership Challenge. Third Ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Books.

Paley, N. (2005). Manage to Win. London, UK: Thorogood. Retrieved June 5, 2006, from

Randall, R. (Editor). (2005). Innovation. Bradford, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Retrieved June 5, 2006, from

Sadler, P. (1993). Strategic Management. Milford, CT: Kogan Page, Limited.

Sanders, T. I. (1998). Strategic Thinking and the New Science: Planning in the Midst, of Chaos, Complexity, and Change. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Sherman, A. (2002). Fast-Track Business Growth: Smart Strategies to Grow Without Getting Derailed. Washington, D.C.: Kiplinger Books.

Smith, Ronald D. (2004). Strategic Planning for Public Relations. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Incorporated.

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