A strategic plan is the universal language to success and performance of any organization, anywhere in the world. I had the rare opportunity of seeing how universal strategic plans truly are when I worked recently with nongovernmental organizations (or associations) in Jordan and the Palestinian territories.

Strategic planning and its elements, usefulness and importance are universal regardless of geography. It was amazing to see how much of the key elements of a plan are translated into this universal language. Here is how it worked in countries outside of the United States.

Universal language of the mission/vision

The first element discussed with the board of directors during these sessions was the mission. Understanding the organization's reason for existence was the basis of each of the plans. While planning, the organizations consistently asked the question, "What is the return on our mission or the reason for our existence?"

This is the mission impact factor that is crucial to any organization to effectively match what is important and what is needed by the members that strongly impacts its mission. This is what guides the organization to deliver on its mission.

The second — and most important — item was the discussion of the vision of the organization, or the vivid description of the future over a longer period of time.

As one of the board members described it, "The vision is a picture of what we have done, our ideal future state, if we accomplish our mission through the strategic plan." Another board member said, "The vision is what the leaders of the past, present and future accomplish that no longer would require their organization to continue functioning as there would no longer be a need."

These were two profound statements, especially the latter where the organization no longer exists because it accomplished everything it needed to accomplish and fulfilled its vision.

Universal language of goals

The second element, which underscored and contributed to the mission, was the identification of goals by the leadership group. In identifying the goals of the organization, there was only one underlying question that was asked consistently by each person and a consistent theme of the planning sessions, "Will this goal help us fulfill the mission and vision of the organization?"

Universal language of strategies and performance measures

The last stage of the planning process with these organizations was to determine what key strategies needed to be developed in order to achieve the goals that will help the organization achieve its mission. The strategies developed were well thought out with the objective of making them meaningful, bold and realistic.

The main question asked during this portion of the session was, "How do we develop strategies that are both relevant and valuable to our members and mission?"

In addition and most importantly each of the strategies was also assigned performance measures and targets to ensure progress could be evaluated over the course of the plan when they were analyzed.

The language of strategic planning is very much universal in any country around the globe as it relates to building the road map for the future. Another universal theme from my work in the two countries was the consistency of the following three questions and how they helped to guide planning in a strong and profound way:

  1. What is the return on our mission, or the reason for our existence?
  2. Will this goal help us fulfill the mission and vision of the organization?
  3. How do we develop strategies that are both relevant and valuable to our members and mission?

And, as one board member put it, "How do we put our organization out of business by fulfilling our vision as an organization?" As we move into strategic planning, how do we ask ourselves the following questions and apply this universal language to our organizations?