Planning from strength: questions to ask your team

Apr 26, 2021

Far too often our strategies to create a change focus on identifying, reacting, and overcoming barriers. We identify a decision-maker who can deliver necessary change but won’t. How can we get them to change? Where are they vulnerable? The focus is on them.

Another way of thinking about these situations is what I call “planning from our strength.” What are we good it? What is our strength? How can we best apply our leverage?

Here are three examples of planning from strength:  

Former Senator Sam Ervin used to describe his legal strategy like this: When my case was weak on the evidence but strong on the law, I pounded the law. When my case was weak on the law but strong on the evidence, I pounded the evidence. Planning from strength.

As a community organizer, when I had a large group of angry people who wanted a situation changed, but we didn’t have a strong argument in favor of our proposed change, we targeted an elected official (more likely to respond to the numbers and emotion). When we had a strong argument in support of a policy change but very few angry residents, we would meet with bureaucrats/administrators (more likely to be responsive to the logic and the analysis). Planning from strength.

One final example from the world of baseball: You are the pitcher and the game is on the line. Your best pitch is a fastball. Your next best pitch is a curve ball. The batter is the best fast ball hitter in the league but weak on the curve ball. As the saying goes, you never want to lose the game with your second best pitch. You throw a fast ball (your strength) not a curve ball (his weakness). Planning from strength.

Questions you should ask instead:

Next time you go to plan your strategy, review all of your strengths, skill, resources, and relationships. Consider all of the assets you bring, as well as those of your organization, coalitions, and partners. What does everyone bring to the table to do this work?  What is the best way to use, deploy, and leverage what you are good at? Plan from your strength.

You can start to build your strategic toolbox by answering these questions with your partners:

SKILLS AND STRENGTHS:

  • What are skills or strengths your colleagues come to each of you for?
  • What is a skill or strength a supervisor, board member, or another leader has noted about you?
  • What skills or strengths do you go to each of your partners for?

RELATIONSHIPS:

  • Who is the highest decision-maker you can call for something and they would take your call?
  • Are there former colleagues of yours who are now in a position of authority?
  • What networks are you connected to that you can call on for support?
  • Who do you go to for help in navigating a system? Which systems can you help others navigate?

TANGIBLE RESOURCES:

  • What tangible things do you have access to and could share (i.e. food, space, books, art kits, money, etc.)?  

Finally, consider: What other things should you map together?

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