Strategic Planning Simplified Model

  • Overview

    icon-strategic-planningStrategic planning is a simple and spiritually powerful tool that can be used by those dedicated to realizing Srila Prabhupada’s vision for ISKCON. By definition, strategic planning is the method by which an organization, spiritual or secular, defines how it will move into the future. Implied in the planning is the idea that the planners want the organization to have a future.

    All ISKCON devotees should be able to answer these three questions:

    • Who are we as a movement?

    • What is our mission?

    • Whom do we serve?

    Those engaged in strategic planning, however, must answer a fourth question: How can we excel at fulfilling our mission? Put another way, how can we structure our Krishna conscious plans so we will have the greatest impact on the world?

    For strategic planning in any organization to be successful, the organization’s leaders need to spend a significant amount of their current time in the future. That is, they must escape the demands of the day and devote time to working on a better future. In the business world, leaders spend as much as twenty percent of their annual time devoted to strategic planning.

    But writing a strategic plan for your project is only the first step. Strategic plans need to be reviewed, updated, and adjusted according to time and place. Working on a plan and then simply going home is a waste of everyone’s time.

    And a plan that isn’t executed is worthless. As project leaders, you must be willing to live the changes the strategic plan
    directs so that they can carry into your organization and take your project toward the future you have envisioned for it. You must also be prepared to encourage those working under you to do the same.

    Core elements 4Elements in the Strategic Planning Process

    There are a number of ways to come up with a viable strategic plan. We have created a detailed strategic planning process to assist our leaders referred to the “Strategic Planning Process Full Version” but we have simplified the full version in this document to an eight-step process we’ve found effective for any leader not yet accustom to strategic planning. However, it should be noted that the simplified strategic planning process still traverses the contemplate, formulate, implement and evaluate phases being the foundation of the full version of the strategic planning process:

    Strategic Planning Phases Strategic Planning Process Steps
    Contemplate 1. Environmental scanning
    Formulate 2. Environmental scanning
    3. Organizational assessment
    4. Analysis and resolution of key strategic issues
    5. Strategic business or enterprise plan
    6. Budget
    Implement 7. Execution
    Evaluate 8. Management Review

    Each of these steps will be explained on the following pages, but first, a word about the language of strategic planning you may encounter on these pages.

    Sometimes devotees are concerned about the language we use to discuss strategic planning concepts. While it’s true these words tend to come from the world of business, that doesn’t mean they don’t have meaning in the spiritual realm. So we ask you to bear with us whenever we use the specialized lexicon that goes with strategic planning work, even if it requires that you learn a few ey terms.

    Inevitably, any kind of specialized service devotees perform introduces new words into their vocabulary. Those devotees who work in publishing, for example, use industry jargon to discuss editing, printing, binding, file creation, color work, fonts, book blocks, trim sizes, and everything about paper. The publishing industry developed this lexicography in order to have precise definitions every publisher can understand. Similarly, devotees serving in education, with computers, finances, and quite a few other fields have had to adopt at least a handful of specialized words.

    So we will not be shying away from using a few management terms common to strategic planning groups in both the business and religious worlds. To help you understand these terms we have defined them in this document.

    Next: The Eight Steps of Creating a Plan:

  • Step one: Understanding our Strategic Foundation

    Srila Prabhupada has written, “Everything has an original cause, or seed. For any idea, program, plan or device, there is first of all the contemplation of the plan, and that is called the bija, or seed.” C.C Madhya-lila, Ch19.152. Srila Prabhupada has given the instructions in terms of the mission and vision of ISKCON. As such it is a logical step for any leaders in ISKCON to contemplate these instructions before embarking on any strategic planning journey. Not only to clear our minds from the day-day workings but more importantly to receive the blessings and mercy from Srila Prabhupada and the previous Archaryas.

    We need to (where applicable):

    • Review and reaffirm our relevance and alignment:
      • Review and reaffirm our understanding of the Seven Purposes of ISKCON.
      • Review and reaffirm our understanding of the ISKCON Values that Srila Prabhupada expects from us.
      • Review and reaffirm our understanding any other guiding principles coming from the National/ Regional Councils.
      • Review and reaffirm our understanding of ISKCON’s Vision and the GBC’s Strategic Plan.
      • Review and reaffirm our understanding of the Strategic Priorities of the ISKCON GBC.
      • Review and reaffirm our understanding of the National/ Regional Council Strategic Priorities.
      • Review our Local/ Temple Vision and Strategic Priorities.
    • Study Srila Prabhupada’s instructions that might be relevant to the region, temple or project.
    • Pray/ Meditate/ Reflect on the way forward:
      • Falling at Srila Prabhupada’s Lotus Feet and praying for him to show us the way.
    • Discuss confidentially with peers and senior devotees:
      • Discuss confidentially with peers and senior devotees different perspectives of the way forward.


    Ask yourself the question whether your region, temple or project is doing the best to realize one if not all of the Seven Purposes of ISKCON.  Are you relevant to your mandate:

    • To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all people in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.
    • To propagate a consciousness of Krishna (God), as it is revealed in the great scriptures of India, Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
    • To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, thus developing the idea within the members, and humanity at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna).
    • To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy name of God, as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
    • To erect for the members and for society at large a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the personality of Krishna.
    • To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler, more natural way of life.
    • With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.


  • Step two: Environmental Scanning

    Local and regional ISKCON projects are often so busy with day-to-day activities that they do not have the time or resources to analyse their own organization or the environment in which they serve. For example, are the systems in place in a project that allow that project to function at its best? Are individual ISKCON projects aware of and therefore capable of catering to what’s going on in the preaching field around them?

    Srila Prabhupada himself conducted an environmental scan when he was still living on the Bowery in New York City by visiting Mukunda and Janaki, two of his first disciples, to ask questions about American life and culture.

    It’s just helpful when planning for a temple’s (or ISKCON’s) future to make this kind of analysis, also know as an environmental scan.

    Environmental scans collect information about your preaching area. What do you know about the community around you? What are its needs? In creating an environmental scan there are several points for you to consider:

    Audience analysis: To whom are you trying to reach out? To whom might you be reaching out? These are your current and potential target audiences. What are their needs? How do you attempt to satisfy them now? Do your various audiences fall into different groups (market segments)? What risks and opportunities do the current and potential audiences present? To what extent are you in touch with those you are serving? Are you actually reaching all of those who fall within your list of target audiences? Are there potential audiences you are failing to cultivate?

    Competitive analysis: Where else do your target audiences go in order to satisfy the needs you wish to fulfill? What are the strengths and weaknesses of these competitors? How do your target audiences perceive them?

    Identification of market segments: After analyzing the above, how might you compete successfully and thrive? Market segments are specified by (a) the particular services you offer and (b) the particular demographic groups (identified by social, cultural, religious, generational, economic, etc., factors) at which your services are aimed.

    Trend analysis: What emerging trends in demographics, in the economic and legal environments, science and technology, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual tastes, and so on, could affect your project in the future? What will other spiritual groups be like in five years? Do these developments hold any potential threats or opportunities for your project? What actions can or must you take to address them?

  • Step three: Organizational scanning

    An organizational scan helps inform and direct the work of strategic planning by ensuring that the plan is relevant to the organization it’s serving. Organizational scans are also valuable because they look at your project as a whole, analyzing its strengths and weaknesses in a variety of areas.

    Organizational analysis generally scans an organization’s culture, management structure, operational systems, how it manages its finances and other resources, how it relates to the world around it, and the development and quality of the services it provides.

    Organizational audits begin with a self-assessment of strengths and weaknesses in each of the above areas. An easy way to begin the process is to create a series of questionnaires for the devotees who are serving in the project.

    The types of information you might seek answer questions like:

    • Do devotees in your project feel there are not enough hours in the day?

    • Do they spend too much time putting out fires?

    • Are they aware of what others in your project are doing?

    • Do they lack a clear understanding of your project’s goals?

    • Are there enough good managers?

    • Does your top management think, “I have to do it myself if I want it done right”?

    • Do most of the devotees serving with you feel meetings are a waste of time?

    • Do plans get made? If so, are they correctly motivated? Are decisions followed up? Do things actually get done?

    • Do some devotees feel insecure about their place in your project? Alternatively, are some devotees so deeply rooted in their positions that they no longer feel the pressure to perform well?

    • Is there significant growth in your preaching?

    To what extent has your project developed “systems”? Examples of systems include budgetary, planning, marketing, financial auditing, and management auditing. Factors to consider:

    • To what extent have you created management development systems? Do you have systems to train devotees not only in Krishna consciousness but in how to perform their duties properly?

    • Do you review your management and operational systems?

    • What do you do to recruit new managers? Where’s the young blood in your project?

    Is an organizational structure analysis called for? Criteria for evaluation and design of an organizational structure could include:

    • Does your current (or proposed) structure support your project’s strategy?

    • To what extent does each of your departments or layers of management add value to your project?

    • Do individual roles support the achievement of your project’s goals? Do you need to change any of the existing roles or create new roles to help you more effectively meet your goals?

    • Are reporting relationships clearly defined? Does each devotee who holds a position have the authority he or she needs to execute his or her service effectively?

    • What and how many levels of control should there be so your project’s goals can be achieved effectively?

    • Are your managers trained? What skills do they still need to develop to do their service more efficiently?

    • How well do your project’s departments cooperate? Are they interdependent? What types of coordination does your project need to help it more effectively achieve its goals?

    • What support systems do you need to put in place to ensure that your management structure is effective?

    To what extent has your project taken a hard look at your organizational culture? There are primary areas to look at when scanning culture: audiences, the devotees who serve in the project, performance standards, and commitment to change. Look, too, at

    • the values, beliefs, norms, and behaviors of those involved in your project. How do you reward success and penalize and/or correct failure?

    • Is the mood of your project healthy and vibrant or closed and defensive?

    • To what extent are attitudes, participants’ psychology, and spiritual misunderstandings restricting dynamic and needed change?

  • Step four: Analysis and resolution of key strategic issues

    Once you have completed the environmental and organizational scans, it will be easier to identify and resolve the key strategic issues your project faces. To do this successfully, your analysis must address seven concerns:

    1. What “business” are you in? This is a deceptively simple question, but it’s critical because it defines the scope of your project’s work. If you and your team understand your “business” too narrowly, you’ll miss ripe opportunities; if you understand it too broadly you will misplace resources and not know how to properly engage the devotees working with you.

    So you must know clearly: Who are your present and future audiences? What do they need? What do they consider valuable? How do they get what they need from you?

    The information gathered in the environmental and organizational scans should help answer these questions. When you resolve these questions you end up with what strategists call an “organizational definition.” This definition is then incorporated into the strategic plan.

    2. What are your competitive strengths and weaknesses? It isn’t enough to have strengths – your competitors have strengths too. Rather, you need to clearly identify your preaching opportunities, then focus on how to maximize your strengths and minimize your limitations.

    3. Do you have (or can you develop) a “market niche”? Is there some way you can develop a particular audience among your identified audiences and be so strong in your offering to them that your preaching literally corners the market?

    4. What do you want your project to become in the long run? When talking strategic planning, “the long run” means three to five years. Using the data from the environmental and organizational scans helps you define where you’re going. When you have that defined, the result becomes your Strategic Mission Statement, which will be included in your plan.

    5. What is your strategy for competing effectively in your chosen preaching areas? Consider these points:

    • How will you advance your preaching overall?

    • What do you need to do to support that overall preaching strategy?

    • What are the mechanics of executing your preaching strategy?

    6. What critical factors will make you succeed or fail in the long term? Here we decide where to focus to best please Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna.

    7. What goals should you set so you will be most effective? These specific goals become a component in your final strategic plan.

  • Step five: The strategic plan

    strategic planning frameworkThe strategic plan is an informed written statement of the direction you would like your project to move in based on your internal and external assessments. It includes eight basic components, starting with a broad overview and culminating in a concrete set of actions:

    1. Situational Analysis – an overview of your environmental and organizational scans along with a summary of what this information implies for your project.

    2. Organizational Definition – a statement of what “business” you’re in. The reason for our existence.

    3. Mission – a statement of the reason for being or purpose of your region, temple of project.

    4. Vision – a broad statement of what you want to achieve during the planning period. It should be dated (three to five years into the future), and you should have some way to measure your success.

    5. Strategy – how you are going to maximize your preaching opportunities.

    6. Key Result Areas – performance areas critical to achieving your mission.

    7. Objectives – the things you want to achieve in the long run in each key result area.

    8. Goals – specific things you want to happen within a specified time that will make sure you meet your objectives.

    9. Action Plans – the things you must actually do to reach your specified goals.

  • Step six: Budgeting

    This step translates your overall strategic plan into financial terms. Budgeting means looking at capital expenditures as well as operation budgets. If you don’t plan your budget, you will not know whether your plan needs adjustment based on the reality of your funding. Planning a budget also produces a way for you to measure your achievements.

  • Step seven: Execution

    Execution means bringing the strategic plan into the world of action. There are two primary elements of execution: “building blocks” and “core processes.”

    Building Blocks: primarily focused on the leader(s). If your project is to change, the leaders must change first.

    • The project’s leaders must have a clear understanding of what the project can become and which devotees are needed to affect the changes. They must insist on realism, choose priorities from the overall strategic plan, follow through, create a rewarding experience for the devotees working on the project, bring in new devotees as necessary, and help the devotees’ working on the project expand their capabilities by training them. The leaders must also be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and deal with them effectively.

    • The leaders must become architects of cultural and performance change. They must help the devotees develop a new set of beliefs. They also need to encourage healthy, honest dialogue with those they serve. They should replace secrecy with dialogue, denial with disclosure, blame with humility, respect, and dignity, avoidance and turf protection with collaboration, and passivity and lackluster performance with initiative.

    • The leaders must be prepared to put the right people into the right services and recognize both knowledge and skills (or notice when these are lacking). Leaders must have the courage to move devotees into other services if it helps the project flourish. They need to help devotees shake off mistaken assumptions and complacency, often by speaking the unvarnished truth and always by offering encouragement and inspiration.

    Core Processes: Writing a strategic plan is only one-third of creating change. You’ll find the other two-thirds in the execution of the plan. Processes must be created to help the devotees you work with connect with one another, with the strategy itself, and with how you hope to realize the plan. There are three basic ways to think of this linking:

    • The People Process: making the link with strategy and systems.

    • The Strategy Process: making the link with people and systems.

    • The Systems Process: making the link with strategy and people

  • Step eight: Management review

    Project leaders need to regularly evaluate their own actual performance and the performance of those they work with against the plan. Then they should be prepared to make adjustments, as required. Holding regular, quarterly meetings for this purpose also reinforces the idea that strategic planning plays a valuable role in the life of the project and help it become an integral part of your project’s culture.