Planning (Strategically) for Excellence

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“The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will be the champion for choral music in Canada, striving to change lives, directly and indirectly, through performances and educational programming.” [Mission Statement from 2012-15 TMC Strategic Plan.] This could mean any number of things: putting on concerts in Toronto and across Canada, hosting videos of choral performances on YouTube, making and distributing recordings, training young singers and conductors, producing educational programming to support our performances. Championing choral music in Canada is a tall order, and doing it well means thinking in advance about what that means, and how we’re going to go about it.

So we need a plan. A strategic plan. Something that will set out priorities for the Board of Directors, Artistic and Administrative staff, and choristers over the next five or so years.

“A strategic plan,” say Cynthia Hawkins, TMC Executive Director, “helps management get away from the details and look at the overall picture in a specific time frame.” It outlines where the organization really wants to be, in relation to our current successes and challenges. “Because there’s so much to be done,” she continues, “We can’t possibly do everything. So the strategic plan is a way to keep us on track.” Reviewing it, she adds, “provides an opportunity to review where you are, where you’d like to be, and how you are going to get there, all in a single defined document.”

This is not the Choir’s first strategic plan. Since Executive Director Cynthia Hawkins came to the organization, the TMC has had two. The first, which was developed in 2008 and covered the period until 2011, focussed on audience development – building a larger, engaged audience and ensuring that we communicated with them regularly. The TMC’s last Strategic Plan covered 2012-15 and outlined priorities for the TMC in several key areas, with a focus on the Choir’s artistic excellence. Cynthia says that she is happy with the things the TMC has achieved over the last seven years, particularly around artistic excellence, but that there are other parts of the plan that the organization has just not gotten around to.

In creating the new strategic plan, the Board and staff will look at where the organization has come from since the beginning of the last plan, and determine what our focus should be for the next three to five years.

Lina Stinnes, TMC chorister and board member, has been involved in strategic planning for different companies for the last 10 years as a Strategy Consultant. She is chairing the Strategic Planning Committee of the Board of Directors, which has formed “a core working team within the Board that is conducting interviews with a broad range of stakeholders as well as analyzing the environment we operate in (looking at trends, similar organizations, market etc) to define what the strategic priorities of the choir are going to be.” Once this is complete, Lina says, working teams within the board and staff will consider how to make these priorities into actionable initiatives. The full plan will be consolidated and reviewed by a group of stakeholders before being finalized.

The Committee started planning for the Strategic Planning process in February and March. Their goal is to present a Strategic Plan to the Board to be ratified in June of this year.

A big part of the Strategic Plan are the Work Plans that Cynthia and the staff generate based on the strategic priorities covered in the Strategic Plan. “Work plans,” says Cynthia, “take the priorities and objectives and creation action items with SMART goals. Once you have time-bound goals with deadlines, tracking and accounting for your progress on each goal becomes much easier.

From “we need a Plan,” to a set of concrete, actionable, SMART goals, the planning process constitutes a few very important, well-spent months for the Choir.

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