Developing strategy and building programmatic capacity are cornerstones of transformational leadership. There are generally three approaches to formulating strategy: the visioning approach, the incremental approach, and the analytical approach (Kearns 2000). This article will discuss these approaches and address building capacity as a facet of strategic planning.

Strategy development is a fundamental aspect of leadership and a core competency of effective change leaders. Strategy development begins with a foundational understanding of an organization's context in the competitive landscape and a department's context within the organization. Below is a discussion of three general strategy- and capacity-building techniques, followed by a review of the Harvard policy model for strategic planning.

Kevin Kearns's three approaches (2000) are helpful tools for leaders. Understanding the various approaches is valuable as leaders begin to build out their strategy development toolkit.

  • The visioning approach “begins with the leader's vision and then works backward to determine what strategies, tactics, actions, and resources are needed to achieve it.”

  • The incremental approach “evolves out of experience as the organization goes along, one decision at a time, buffeted by bargaining and [the] push-and-pull of its constituencies.”

  • Finally, the analytical approach leverages “logic and in-depth analysis to improve the strategic fit between your organization and its environment.”

Once a broad approach is identified, strategic planners can employ specific tactics to achieve their goals. Built for strategic planning, the Harvard policy model, developed at the Harvard Business School, directly applies to transformational leadership (Worth 2017). This model describes nine generic steps that easily can be adapted to fit contextual demands:

  • Preparing for planning

  • Assessing the situation (including internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats)

  • Clarifying the mission, values, and vision

  • Identifying strategic issues/questions

  • Developing goals, strategies, and objectives

  • Writing and communicating the plan

  • Developing operational/implementation plans

  • Executing the plan

  • Evaluating results

Importantly, strategic planning and, by extension, strategic management, “emphasize an ongoing process that integrates strategic planning with other management systems” (Koteen 1997). Strategic planning is not, however, “synonymous with and does not inevitably produce strategy” (Worth 2017). Instead, by employing this form of planning, leaders are forced to consider the department's and organization's mission and confront rudimentary questions about where they stand, what they do, and where they want to go (Worth 2017).

A valuable part of strategic planning is SWOT analysis. This methodology stems from the Harvard policy model described above. SWOT analysis involves surveying an organization to identify its strengths (S) and weaknesses (W) and examining the external environment to identify opportunities (O) and threats (T). This practice brings clarity to what can otherwise be a complex system of interconnected elements.

A SWOT analysis allows a leader to identify the organization's core competencies and distinctive core competencies. In this case, core competencies are “abilities that an organization can manage that ideally help it perform well” (Worth 2017). Meanwhile, “distinctive core competencies are, as the term suggests, something the organization does well that others would find difficult to do as well” (Worth 2017).

By assessing internal and external circumstances and the competencies of their team, leaders desiring change are empowered with contextual knowledge to effectively develop strategy. Relying on a theoretical framework and defined methodology for strategic planning enables leaders to position their desired change appropriately in their situational context and articulate it clearly to the impacted constituents.

Once a strategic plan is developed, it is necessary to build capacity. “Capacity building may mean more than making modest enhancements to staff skills or management systems. Like strategic planning, capacity building may also require disruptive transformational change that goes to the basic values and purpose of the organization” (Worth 2017).

Capacity building, as defined by Letts et al. (1999), is a process to “develop, sustain, and improve the delivery of a [company's] mission.” The authors identify three elements of capacity: program delivery capacity, program expansion capacity, and adaptive capacity.

  • Program delivery capacity grows out of the organization's knowledge of a specific field.

  • Program expansion capacity comes from the expansion of program delivery and involves a more comprehensive organizational expansion plan.

  • Adaptive capacity is an organization's ability to deliver on its mission, including its “ability to learn as an organization and identify new ways to improve, to change in response to client needs, to create new and innovative programs, and to create an environment that is motivating to staff” (Worth 2017).

Augmenting this understanding of capacity building, Hudson (2005) divides capacity into internal and external elements, writing that “building capacity is about systematically investing in developing an organization's internal systems (e.g., its people, processes, and infrastructure) and its external relationships (e.g., with funders, partners, and volunteers) so that it can better realize its mission and achieve greater impact.”

With various types of capacity defined, and the importance of capacity established, the question turns to how capacity is built. McKinsey & Company (2013) offer a “comprehensive capacity framework” and essentialize the undertaking into “a pyramid of 10 elements.”

To use this framework, McKinsey & Company “emphasize the importance of following a process that begins at the top of the pyramid and works down” (Worth 2017). Stepwise processes, especially to institute transformational change, offer a safe framework to fall back on when things inevitably become chaotic.

Strategic planning and capacity building are vital facets of effective leadership and transformational change management. Ultimately, by leveraging the tools and methodologies described above, leaders can position their desired change appropriately in their situational context, articulate it clearly to constituents, build team and organizational capacity to achieve their goals, and set their organization on a path towards growth and success.

The final column in this series will explore reflexivity and the importance of metacritical analysis of one's leadership practice as it pertains to change leadership.

Alexis Shoemaker is a senior specialist of technology and standards at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). She holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a master's in research administration. She is the author of Leadership in Research Insights and Business Intelligence: A Conceptual Framework and Guide, published in 2022.

Alexis Shoemaker is a senior specialist of technology and standards at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). She holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a master's in research administration. She is the author of Leadership in Research Insights and Business Intelligence: A Conceptual Framework and Guide, published in 2022.

Close modal
. “
Managing at the Leading Edge
. ”
San Francisco, Calif
. “
Private Sector Strategies for Social Sector Success
. ”
San Francisco, Calif
. “
Strategic Management in Public and Nonprofit Organizations
. ” 2nd ed.
Westport, Conn
Christine W.,
William P.,
. “
High Performance Nonprofit Organizations: Managing Upstream for Greater Impact
. ”
New York
John Wiley & Sons
McKinsey & Company.
. “
The Organizational Capacity Assessment Tool (OCAT)
. ”
Michael J.
. “
Nonprofit Management: Principles and Best Practices
. ” 4th ed.
Los Angeles
SAGE Publications, Inc