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Strategic Planning for the Future of La Leche League

Cindy Harmon-Jones, Anne Hutton, and Marcia Lutostanski
Strategic Planning Committee
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 42 No. 4, October-November-December 2006, pp. 90-92

La Leche League International is currently engaged in a Strategic Planning process to focus our organization for future success. Strategic planning provides a structured way to set direction for LLLI. To accomplish this, the LLLI Board of Directors has established a Strategic Planning Committee (SPC), which is documenting the plan. The completed Strategic Plan will help the Board, staff, and Leader volunteers to work in concert toward our mission. This article provides an overview of the process, the progress to date, and the plans for the future. The article is based on presentations that have been made to the Board, the Founders, and to Leaders at Conferences, and it answers common questions about strategic planning.

Why is LLLI doing strategic planning now?

La Leche League International has been having financial difficulties for years. The numbers of Leaders and of members have been declining for some time, and cultural trends have changed significantly during the 50 years that LLL has existed. The Board of Directors saw the need to set priorities for using our limited resources to most effectively accomplish our mission. This year's LLLI Anniversary provides an opportunity to both celebrate the successes of our first 50 years and look ahead to our next 50 years.

How is LLLI doing strategic planning?

Many organizations hire a consultant to guide them through the process of strategic planning. However, outside consultants do not always understand LLL, and LLL does not always easily accept recommendations from outside consultants. In addition, the financial situation at LLLI made the cost of hiring a consultant a concern. Therefore, the Board decided to accomplish strategic planning ourselves, using expertise from within the organization. The SPC developed a work plan based upon strategic planning methodologies (work steps) used by other organizations, and this work plan is guiding the LLLI strategic planning process. Due to the global nature of this project, most work is executed via email discussions on the LLLI Community Network, augmented by conference calls and some in-person meetings.

What are the work steps for LLLI strategic planning?

In most cases, the first step organizations take in strategic planning is to examine and redefine their mission. The Board realized that this step is unnecessary for LLL. We have closely examined the LLLI Mission over the past several years. Our Mission is clear and is not changing. The La Leche League International Mission is: To help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding in the healthy development of the baby and mother.

The LLLI strategic planning process includes the following work steps described in more detail below:

  • assess the external and internal factors currently affecting the organization,
  • define opportunities,
  • define specific, measurable goals for the future, and
  • document and execute the strategic plan to achieve these goals.

Assess internal and external factors affecting LLLI. The SPC used a variety of tools to assess current factors affecting LLLI. One tool is the "four forces model." Using this model, SPC members documented forces that impact LLLI in four dimensions:

  • Cultural trends -- increased breastfeeding rates, more recognition of value of human milk, more employed mothers, etc.
  • Competitors -- formula manufacturers, lactation consultants, other breastfeeding support organizations, etc.
  • Technology -- Pumps and other equipment used more often, Internet breastfeeding information, etc.
  • Internal issues* -- financial problems, faster communication within LLL, increased autonomy for Leaders, declining numbers of Leaders and members, etc. (* The Four Forces model typically assesses external factors, with the fourth factor of "government regulation." Since this wasn't a major concern for LLLI, we chose to assess internal factors instead.)

Another tool for assessing the internal and external factors affecting an organization is the "SWOT model." SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

  • Strengths-Our mother-to-mother model of breastfeeding help,
  • Weaknesses-limited funds, lack of focus, decreasing Leader numbers,
  • Opportunities-Increased breastfeeding rates, increased recognition of the value of breastfeeding in the medical community,
  • Threats-financial problems, more information available via the Internet and through professional lactation consultants.

Define opportunities for the future. In order to define opportunities for the future, an organization doing strategic planning must understand the needs, concerns, and goals of everyone involved with the organization. The individuals and groups who are affected by the successes and failures of the organization (or who "have a stake" in the organization) are often called "stakeholders." For LLLI, the "stakeholders" include members, breastfeeding mothers, Leaders, staff, the Board, and other organizations that support breastfeeding mothers (health care providers, public health organizations, and other breastfeeding organizations). Unfortunately, the SPC did not have a clear enough picture of the concerns of all LLLI stakeholders. The team was fairly certain about the concerns of the Board, because the Board had already extensively discussed these issues. The team had less information about the concerns of the staff and Leaders. They had even less information about the concerns of members, and very little information about the concerns of mothers and mothers-to-be, health care providers, and other organizations. The planning team realized that, for LLL to carry out a strategic plan, we would need more information about the concerns, needs, and goals of the stakeholders. The SPC therefore drafted strategies based on the information available and determined to get more input from all stakeholder groups to confirm this draft plan.

The draft strategies for the LLLI Strategic Plan are:

  1. Focus on mother-to-mother support. Goals: more mothers served, more mothers satisfied with services, resources allocated toward mother-to-mother support.
  2. Build volunteer network and focus on underserved populations. Goals: more mothers served, greater diversity of mothers served, more Leaders, more members, more LLL supporters, possibly greater income.
  3. Build LLL credibility to be first referral from health care providers, government agencies, and the general public. Goals: increased awareness of LLL, improved image, more referrals, more grants.
  4. Transform LLL into a global organization. Goals: resources distributed equitably worldwide, distributed decision-making, support multiple languages and currencies, increased Web access worldwide.

Define specific, measurable goals for the future. After taking stock of the organization's opportunities, the next step in a strategic planning process is to define specific goals for the future with measurable outcomes. This involves taking the general goals listed for each draft strategy above and setting a performance target. For example, we can decide that if we effectively implement our "Focus on mother-to-mother support" strategy, we can set a goal of 90 percent of mothers satisfied with the services they received from LLL. For the "Build LLL credibility" strategy, we could set a goal of 50 percent of mothers and mothers-to-be aware of LLL in the locations we serve.

However, as the SPC tried to define appropriate measurable performance goals, it became clear that LLL lacked enough information about current performance to define specific goals. "We can't set a target goal for an X percent increase in numbers of mothers helped by LLL unless we know how many mothers we are currently helping. And for just about every general goal, LLL did not have hard data to measure the current performance level," said Anne Hutton, SPC co-chair. For this reason, the SPC identified a variety of short-term initiatives to gather key statistics about current LLL performance.

Document and execute the strategic plan to achieve these goals. Once the draft strategies are finalized (with any appropriate changes) and measurable outcomes defined, the SPC will prepare a formal Strategic Plan document that communicates these. The plan will include findings and recommendations from the current SPC work, specific action plans to achieve the strategy goals, and ways to monitor progress toward the new goals. The Final Strategic Plan will be presented to the LLLI Board of Directors to be approved for implementation.

The approved Strategic Plan will be shared with all LLL Leaders and staff members. Every Leader and staff person can then consider these strategies as she/he executes her/his work in fulfillment of the LLLI mission. The Strategic Plan will provide the framework to focus our financial, paid staff, and volunteer resources on those activities that can make the greatest impact. New SPC workgroups will implement the action plans (see "future plans" below) through operational changes initiated by the LLLI Executive Director and staff, and by volunteer LLL Leaders working in their local communities.

Who is working on LLLI strategic planning?

The SPC co-chairs are Marcia Lutostanski and Anne Hutton. Marcia has been an LLL Leader in several countries around the world, has served on the LLLI Board of Directors since 2000, and served as Acting Executive Director for LLLI in 2003. Anne is an LLL Leader from Texas, USA. Anne has former work experience with strategic planning as an associate partner for the management consulting firm Andersen Consulting (now Accénture). Other core members of the SPC include members of the LLLI Board of Directors, Barbara Emanuel (representing LLLI staff), other Leaders with management experience, and some consultants providing assistance on a pro bono (free volunteer) basis.

The SPC has created several workgroups to address specific information needs. Teams have been staffed with interested volunteers representing as many LLLI stakeholder groups as possible: Board of Directors, paid staff, Leaders, and outside experts. The SPC particularly sought volunteers with the specific skills (e.g., marketing, survey development, information systems development) necessary for the different workgroups. To ensure that we keep a global perspective in our work, the workgroups include representatives from around the world.

What is currently happening in LLLI strategic planning?

To obtain more information about stakeholder perspectives, validate the draft strategies, and document current LLL statistics necessary to define measurable performance goals, the SPC issued a Leader Survey and established four SPC workgroups (Leader Survey, User Survey, Community Discussion Groups, Global Resources, and Program Benchmarking) to complete specific tasks in 2006.

Leader Survey. The SPC conducted an online survey of Leaders in November 2005. The survey asked Leaders to tell what they thought were the biggest challenges facing LLLI, and posed broad questions to gauge Leader perspectives about the draft strategy statements. In their responses to the survey, Leaders indicated concern that LLL is not reaching certain demographic groups. This concern has often been raised in LLL, based on the observed lack of diversity at LLL events. However, LLL has no demographic data about Leaders, LLL members, or the other mothers we serve. In their responses, Leaders repeatedly expressed the concern that LLL needs to improve our image, however no data had been collected to confirm or deny whether a negative image of LLL exists. Finally, Leaders' responses indicated a wish that LLLI become a truly global organization, with resources shared equitably worldwide. Summarized results of the Leader Survey are available on the LLLI Community Network at:

User Surveys. The SPC made another step toward identifying the needs and goals of the stakeholders in March 2006, with the initial release of the User Surveys. These surveys allowed the team to identify the concerns of those we might think of as our potential "customers:" mothers and mothers-to-be. The User Surveys asked a large sample of women about their experiences and attitudes toward LLL and toward breastfeeding. To learn more about the User Survey, see the article, "Results of the User Survey," also in this issue of LEAVEN on page 92.

Community Discussion Groups. Another workgroup is conducting community discussion groups with health care providers (doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, midwives, and others who serve breastfeeding mothers). A community discussion group is similar, in many ways, to a Group meeting. The facilitator poses several questions for open-ended discussion. The questions are intended to determine the health care providers' awareness and opinions of LLLI and our services. At the end of the meeting, the facilitator offers information about LLL and the services we offer, and clears up any misconceptions about LLL that came out during the discussion. Cathy Liles, LLLI Board member, has used community discussion groups in her work as a public health researcher. She says, "You can do these community discussion groups all over the world, and what you find is that certain themes come up over and over in all the different discussions." Community discussion groups will allow health care providers to share their thoughts about how LLL can improve our services to breastfeeding mothers. They will also present an opportunity to begin collaborative relationships with the health care providers who participate.

Global Resources. Another workgroup is identifying LLL resources around the world. This will provide accurate statistics about LLL Leaders, Leader Applicants, members, Groups, financial resources, etc. These will provide baselines and allow us to measure improvement as we achieve strategic planning goals. The Global Resources team is working with the LLLI Information Systems project to develop tools to more easily collect and report these statistics. Included is a new Leader Activity Reporting system to collect consistent information on all Leader contacts (numbers of mothers helped via meetings, phone calls, outreach, etc.).

Program Benchmarking. Another SPC workgroup is evaluating the effectiveness of the LLL service programs. Each program is being rated based on alignment with LLL strategy (mother-to-mother support, diversity, credibility/image, global) and on how well the program operates (service delivery, competitive positioning, technology utilization). Data about the resources allocated to the program (financial profit/loss, paid staff effort, volunteer hours) are also being documented. Shortcomings in program performance are noted along with recommendations for improvement. Wherever possible, benchmarking teams are looking at competitors' programs and/or different programs offered by various LLL Area/Affiliates to identify alternate ways that LLL can deliver services.

What are the future plans for LLLI strategic planning?

The SPC is completing its 2006 work -- collecting information from stakeholders, documenting current LLLI performance and statistics, and validating the draft Strategic Plan. The team will incorporate this information and document the Final Strategic Plan with strategies and measurable performance targets.

In 2007 and beyond, the SPC will create additional workgroups to implement specific high-priority action plans to achieve the strategy goals. These workgroups will likely include some members from the 2006 teams, along with new volunteers with specific skills and interest in the work. By establishing workgroups to address the most important recommendations from the Strategic Plan, the SPC hopes to realize many of the strategy goals in a short timeframe.

The SPC welcomes all interested Leaders to become involved in the Strategic Planning process. If you desire additional information about the LLLI Strategic Planning Committee, please contact one of the co-chairs (mlutostanski at llli dot org or achutton at houston dot rr dot com) or send a message to the Strategic Planning Committee discussion on the LLLI Community Network (Discuss1-moderator at community dot llli dot org).

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