11/03/2014 09:16 am ET Updated Jan 03, 2015

The Planning Committee

Developing a potent strategic plan is not easy. Simply survey a large sample of plans for arts organizations, and one will find a bland sameness to most of them. They are often more a collection of wishes than a purposeful set of clear, implementable strategies.

This often results from the lack of a clear framework for planning or a head planner without the knowledge or experience to craft a useful plan.

But it also may result from the way planning committees are assembled.

The planning committee is an integral part of the planning process. Whether one engages a planning consultant or not, the committee is the body that vets the entire plan as it is assembled and ensures that a rigorous, thoughtful approach was taken to planning.

By the time the plan reaches the full board for approval, it is often too late to instill rigor in the plan. Most often, the full board hears a planning presentation and approves the plan as is; on some occasions, one board skeptic may question assumptions or logic but rarely does this member sway the entire board to reject the plan as written. The plan is adopted, the planning committee is thanked for its hard work and the organization moves forward, often without the plan ever being mentioned again.

Therefore assembling a strong planning committee is essential. It should be composed of board, staff and artists (in those institutions with a resident group of artists--ballet companies, orchestras, etc.). I prefer the committee not be more than a dozen people; it is difficult to have a substantive discussion and to achieve consensus with a larger group. But more important, a successful plan is not an amalgam of compromises that gets everyone on the committee to vote yes. It must be an integrated, coordinated set of strategies that work together to achieve success. When the planning committee gets too large, it is often impossible to achieve this goal.

This does not mean that one wants everyone on the committee to think alike; the committee should not be composed of a group of friends who all have the same perspective on the organization. A good plan emerges from debate, analysis and synthesis. When everyone on the committee enters the process with the same ideas and conclusions, a rigorous plan is virtually never the result.

On the other hand, I try to avoid putting the most opinionated, curmudgeonly people on the committee as well. The planning committee needs to function in a mature, forthright manner. When one person is constantly interrupting discussions and inserting unhelpful comments, it is impossible to craft a clear, coherent strategy. (And it becomes a chore to be part of the committee.)

I prefer to have thoughtful, mature, insightful participants--be they board members staff or artists--who are happy to go on a journey of discovery together and who are willing to challenge their own long-held beliefs in the interest of the organization.

Simply put, a strong planning committee can develop a strong plan. Care must be taken when putting the group together.