We talk about people-centred strategies a lot in the charity sector and I wanted to share my perspective on why they work and some things I’ve learnt to help steer conversations.
People-centred digital strategies stick.
They are richer, have breadth and are more conscious of risks (internal and external) than strategies developed in isolation.
These kinds of strategies are often ambitious, scalable and practical, grounded in where the organisation has been and where it can get to realistically.
They are also talked about and plans made around them and because of them.
They’re not big and shiny one-hit wonders; they’re multi-faceted, empathetic, with a focus on how things will happen with the people that make them happen.
Collaborating = listening (to everyone)
Genuine collaboration is more than asking people to feed into a document or having a meeting with representatives from every department: it’s deliberate engagement and ensuring that all voices are heard.
This process can be hard for some organisations — particularly if they have hard deadlines for the strategy delivery and there’s a concern that engaging others may impact timelines. A people-centred process can also be uncomfortable for people that aren’t used to an open and collaborative culture. Some people prefer not to engage wider teams/departments as it may then translate to having less perceived ‘control’ of the outcome because more people have had their say.
Hearing voices from across the organisation does not translate into a diluted strategy; it deepens the process whilst ensuring that broad perspectives are heard, which shapes the overall outcome.
In my experience, the more people that are engaged in the process, the more definitive you can be about recommending a clear strategic route. A people-centred process enables you to hear concerns, risks and ideas from lots of angles and — critically — also opens collaboration up going forward, which will be key for the strategy implementation, and building buy-in for other projects too.
Talking to other strategies and bring in new ideas
Digital strategies are at their best when they talk to other strategies — not least the organisational strategy, but also importantly fundraising, campaigns and policy and brand strategies. If a digital strategy has been developed in isolation of these other core areas of the charity then it will lack the substance and the awareness of everyone else’s plans and priorities.
A good organisational strategy should set the mission for the next 3–5 years, with clear goals and principles for enabling change. The digital strategy should then “answer’ this with how digital will play its part, including strategic goals that start to introduce detail around the how, for example:
🎯 Organisational aim: Increase collaboration at all levels
➡️ Digital strategy goal: Introducing horizontal ways of working e.g Agile or Communities of Practice
🎯 Organisational aim: Increase engagement in service delivery online
➡️ Digital strategy: Define social media strategy for service delivery.
🎯 Organisational aim: Provide supporters with range of ways they can give
➡️ Digital strategy: Increasing effectiveness of digital marketing for conversion across fundraising products
The strategy should then set the strategic route for digital channel and content development e.g. providing clear objectives for a social media strategy. The strategy outcome should be well-defined but also build in scope for flexibility for how the outcome is achieved; the exact methods need to be constantly re-evaluated in line with how digital and the sector moves.
By engaging with teams across the charity, the digital strategy will reflect their needs and priorities, and you can build empathy and understanding for each other’s goals and processes.
Good digital strategies also make choices between genuine and realistic alternatives and prioritise — this is another key area that involving more people will help as it builds collective understanding of the different angles for prioritisation and impact.
Things move faster
When more people have been involved in the strategy development process, it means that they know and understand the ‘workings-out’ of your new strategy and are therefore more able to create plans to meet the strategy’s goals. They have no catching up to do and can take the new digital strategy and immediately shape their own goals around it.
If teams have not been engaged in strategy development, there’s often a lengthy period of discussion — and sometimes going back into strategy development — when individuals don’t understand or agree why a particular decision or route has been taken. This means that the strategy implementation period is delayed — which often means that channel plans or digital campaigns need to be paused or chase ‘quick wins’.
Genuine engagement and collaboration makes it a lot easier for everyone to crack on with their part of bringing the strategy to life.
Boost morale and engagement
The more people you involve, the more people will own the outcome. This transparency allows them the confidence to actually contribute ideas and get excited about the next steps. People need to feel the process is with and for them rather than being done ‘to’ them. I’ve seen how people become animated and passionate when they’re sharing their views and opinions — especially when they’re asked how we can make something better.
And on the flipside, when people are not involved in strategy development, it becomes something that is happening to them’, which can be demoralising and breed discontent — and, in some cases, disenchantment with the strategy outcome.
Agreement and buy-in to a strategy outcome, through engagement in development, will mean that people are more likely to agree on budgets for projects that will bring the strategy to life. This usually happens because they’re either more aware of how spend needs to be prioritised or, in some cases, they’re up for pooling budgets to make a bigger change possible.
When people aren’t involved or engaged in the process, their budgets continue to be spent in silos — and worse still, you may also waste resources on further strategy development if you need to roll anything back.
Change will happen
Working in the open and involving different perspectives into the strategy development often makes people feel more bought-in and can also create shared accountability in driving change forward.
Good strategies are followed up with solid objectives and KPI setting that brings teams together under shared goals, with everyone working towards the same outcome. If this isn’t possible, then at least having everyone understand the strategy goals and be able to articulate them to their teams is an excellent start — and often an outcome of their engagement into the process.
I’d love to chat more about this and hear different experiences and perspectives — please do get in touch with me on Twitter or email@example.com