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Strategy Screens: Asking the Right Questions to Make the Right Decisions

Author: Arts Midwest

Using a strategy screen can help you identify whether a potential new opportunity is right for your organization. This article shows how to evaluate whether new initiatives or existing programs serve a purpose that aligns with your mission.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Strategy Leadership

Do you keep a To-Don’t list right next to your To-Do list? Jim Collins thinks you should.

“A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally important, what is not… It is the discipline to discard what does not fit.”
—Jim Collins, Good to Great

The decision of what to do and what not to do is one of the most helpful strategic skillsets for any nonprofit. How can you know what is and what isn’t important when considering your options?

Using a Strategy Screen can help you tell whether a potential new opportunity is right for your organization or even help evaluate whether an existing initiative or program continues to serve its purpose. It’s just a matter of asking the right questions to find the right direction.

 


Navigate decisions and find direction with Strategy Screens. Photo credit: Clay Banks via Unsplash

 

What is it?

A Strategy Screen is a set of questions that specifically reflect your organization’s strategic priorities. Each question views a decision through the perspective of a stated organizational goal or value. Think of it as a tool that keeps you focused on the things that best serve your organization’s culture, priorities, and future.

Organizations that create a Strategy Screen through an inclusive process have the potential to bring equity into all of their major decision-making, regardless of who the decision makers are.

Image description: A chart with 4 columns. The first column is titled “Suggested questions to launch your discussion,” and the other three columns are titled “Option 1 yes/no,” “Option 2 yes/no,” and “Option 3 yes/no.” All the rows below the options columns are left blank to fill in. In the rows below the first column for suggested questions, it reads, “Does this support our mission?”; “Does this lean into our team’s strengths and passions?”; “Can we do this? Does it strengthen our capacity?”; “Is it funded, or is there potential for funding or financial sustainability?”; “Is it consistent with our values?”; “Is it valued or needed by our core stakeholders?”; “Does this build or strengthen our relationships?”; and “Does this advance our DEIA goals?”

Pro tip: Your organization’s Strategy Screen is unique!
It’s important to take the time to develop questions that specifically align with your strategic priorities. At the end of this post, we have a worksheet with instructions to help you do just that.

Hop down to the worksheet >>

When can you use it?

Strategy Screens can be used in a variety of situations to benefit your decision making, whether you want to pursue that decision as an individual or with the help of your team. Common scenarios and examples might include:


Example: A board member suggests that we should develop a partnership with the mosque in our neighborhood.



Example: Our IT leader put in her two-week notice. Should we hire a new person (and at what level), outsource, or just ask staff to fend for themselves?



Example: This is the classic “but that’s how we’ve always done it” scenario.



Example: Building a screen that thoroughly reviews the racial equity impact of decisions.



Example: There’s a global pandemic, and we can’t run our in-person programs for the foreseeable future. How do we make decisions in the short term?


Pro tip: Bring Strategy Screens into your every day.
Strategy Screens aren’t just for big picture organizational decisions. You can also use this tool within a program or department, for decisions related to projects,, or create one for your own personal and professional goals. Are you ready to give it a try?

Hop down to the worksheet >>

How can you use it?

When doing a Strategy Screen, it’s important to stay focused on questions that are considered critical to staying on track as an organization. These questions are often related to your mission, vision, values, hedgehog, financial goals, DEI goals, strategic focus, and strategy roadmap.

These questions should be determined before a big decision needs to be made, to avoid letting enthusiasm for a bright shiny new project influence the criteria of the Strategy Screen. Using the same set of questions will ensure that all programs, projects, and decisions are aligned with the overall organization’s goals.

Pro tip: Consistency is key!
Strategy Screens are most effective when used on a regular basis. You and your team will start to build a strategic decision-making muscle when you apply your Strategy Screen as often as possible. It’s a great feeling to be confident in your decisions as a team while staying closely tied to what is most important to the organization.

See it in action

Strategy Screens are as unique as the organizations that use them. Take a look at some of these excellent examples to get inspired for your own.

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One Voice Mixed Chorus

Strategy Screens can be expanded to include questions specific to your organization. In this example, One Voice Mixed Chorus focused questions on programming, operations, and the artistic product..

View Strategy Screen

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League of Women Voters of the US

Strategy Screens don’t have to be daunting, in fact, simple is often better! In this example, the League of Women Voters of the U.S. demonstrates how a smaller set of questions can help keep the conversation focused..

View Strategy Screen

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Achieving the Dream

Strategy Screens can be focused even further to a specific topic or area of an organization’s mission. In this example, Achieving the Dream applies a strategy screen that is centered on racial equity in campus decisions.

View Strategy Screen

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Race Forward

Strategy Screens can take many forms and can be used as an assessment tool. In this example, Race Forward presents a racial equity impact assessment.

View Strategy Screen

Try it for yourself

Are you feeling inspired? It’s time to try it out using our worksheet. For your convenience, the worksheet is available in two formats: Word Document and fillable PDF.


Download Worksheet – Word Doc


Download Worksheet – PDF

Step 1: Gather key folks
Think about whose voices are represented. Which parts of your organization, or programmatic perspectives, are included in the team that is putting this together? Is it your board, staff, leadership, external stakeholders? Diversity in this group supports a more powerful and equitable decision-making tool.

Step 2: Start with basic questions
Use the examples below as a starting point to name 5-8 questions:

  • Does this support our mission?
  • Does this lean into our team’s strengths and passions?
  • Can we do this? Does it strengthen our capacity?
  • Is it funded, or is there potential for funding or financial sustainability?
  • Is it consistent with our values?
  • Is it valued or needed by our core stakeholders?
  • Does this build or strengthen our relationships?
  • Does this advance our DEIA goals?

Step 3: Customize each of the questions for your organization
Your Strategy Screen should reflect your organization’s identity and goals. Be sure to refer to the examples shown above for inspiration when writing questions that matter most to your organization. This process of identifying your Strategy Screen questions can be a great way to come to an agreement about what is important to your organization.

Step 4: Run your decision through the questions
Once the questions are finalized, it’s time to put them to the test. For each question, answer yes, maybe, or no as it applies to the decision you are making, or maybe think about assigning points.

Step 5: Assess the results
Did the opportunity you’re exploring pass with flying colors? Or are there a lot of “maybes?” Even if the end result isn’t crystal clear, the results will open the door to fruitful discussion and discovery for your team.

Pro tip: There’s always room for nuance.
You may choose to move forward with a project that doesn’t meet all the criteria in your Strategy Screen, because of its overwhelming value in another way. When you do this, you do so with open eyes, and the confidence that comes from simply having the conversation. It can help your team to balance the project portfolio, so overall you are following your guidelines.

 

 

Explore Related Resources

Finding Your Hedgehog

Your Hedgehog is the intersection of what you’re organization is passionate about, what you excel at, and that attracts resources. Discover your Hedgehog and how to use it using this article.

Learn More


Competitive Advantage: Knowing Your Value & Setting Yourself Apart

Your competitive advantage is an important driver of strategic decision-making. If you’re having trouble narrowing down your Strategy Screen answers, consider using this article to find what makes you unique.

Learn More

 

Resources used in developing this tool:

LaPiana Conulting: The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution

LaPiana Conulting: Strategy Screen

Jim Collins: Good to Great and the Social Sectors