KEXP 4-Year Strategic Plan

for KEXP

Our charge was to partner with a Seattle arts organization to drive an inclusive strategic planning process. Through a high level of organizational participation, that strategy would enable clear decisions and tough trade-offs during a period of perpetual change in the music industry.

Station to station

In December 2015, Seattle’s beloved independent radio station KEXP moved from cramped quarters on Denny Way to a spacious studio/performance/community space at Seattle Center. Fresh creative opportunities and public programing possibilities coincided with a new era of strategic planning for the organization.

KEXP brought in Intentional Futures to drive a collaborative strategy for a four-year strategic plan focusing on increasing and diversifying funding and resources, while also maximizing KEXP’s impact on supporters, musicians and the broader music ecosystem. That effort could improve ideas, force constructive disagreement and ready the organization to believe in and act upon the strategy.

“We needed an outside partner to help us break out of old patterns that were holding us back and to see our challenges and unique advantages with fresh eyes,” says KEXP COO Ethan Raup. “Intentional Futures committed to understanding who we are before figuring out how to help us get to where we want to go.”

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Brighten the corners

Our process included dissembling a complex problem into constituent parts, finding ways to maximize participation while maximizing clarity and sharp decision-making, and considering what form factors the final output should take in order to be understood, embraced and acted upon.

In addition to digging deep into the organization’s DNA, iF studied the larger context of the contemporary music landscape and explored how the rise of digital music consumption has affected the broader industry. We then crafted an approach that emphasized getting buy-in across the organization and establishing systems to foster KEXP’s continued progress toward its goals going forward.

As always, Intentional Futures began with research to ground our efforts:

  • Reviewed every strategic planning document and initiative going back 10 years
  • Interviewed entire executive team and board of directors to learn KEXP’s value to the community, identify opportunities for growth, and discover where stakeholders were and were not in alignment
  • Surveyed staff and attended staff meetings to be sure their concerns and input were included in the process
  • Interviewed prominent figures in the Seattle music scene
  • Conducted secondary research into the regional music environment and forces shaping the music industry

Early in the process, a surprising development raised the stakes for the process: a $10 million bequest from an anonymous donor, reportedly the largest-ever gift to a single U.S. public radio station. The plan, in part, would provide ballast for decisions relating to this gift.

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What went down

With this research as our foundation, we gathered the executive team and board members for a full-day retreat. Our goal was to identify strategic priorities, drive alignment and build strong relationships and understanding between board members and the KEXP executive team. That started with inviting each participant to think deeply and declare their points of view in advance of a workshop.

During the retreat, we broke attendees into six-person groups that were carefully curated to drive meaningful discussions. Each team was charged with locating KEXP’s priorities on a spectrum between a local and global focus, between strengthening current work and investing in new initiatives, between deepening engagement with existing audiences and expanding to new audiences.

After planting a stake in the ground on priorities, the small groups then sifted through a range of potential focus areas and chose the five that they believed would help KEXP move towards the identified goals. By the end of the day, the group had arrived at a general consensus on KEXP’s priorities and focus areas for the next four years.

Gang of four

After the retreat, iF worked with the executive team to refine the identified priorities and sideline less urgent goals. This distilling process yielded four essential pillars:

  • Ensure organizational structure is aligned around strategy implementation
  • Continue to make progress on diversity and inclusion
  • Expand and evolve curation and content production
  • Deepen KEXP’s presence in the digital realm

These pillars support KEXP’s grand vision to create meaningful experiences on air, online and in person, and thereby harness the emotional power of art to strengthen communities and serve the greater social good.

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Bringing it All Back Home

We created materials to support the ongoing evolution of the plan, including:

  • Presentation templates to make it easy to track progress and report to stakeholders;
  • A flowchart that identifies sequencing and levels of effort required for all plan elements;
  • Concert-style posters that blend in with the visual world of KEXP and echo the plan’s strategic pillars to keep them front of mind;
  • A booklet version of the plan (also available as a PDF) entitled “Connecting People through Music” to serve as ongoing inspiration and a prod to keep up the effort.

Learning to fly

Organizational culture is at the heart of strategic planning. KEXP is in a solid position to implement their strategy. They are identifying ways to increase delegation, strengthen decision-making, and expand their data and analytics capabilities.

Deliberate engagement throughout the process yields rewards. We saw it happen again and again: Collaboration drew new ideas to the surface. In addition, good uptake for the plan at all levels was ensured by giving stakeholders opportunities to contribute their perspectives and participate in negotiating trade-offs.

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All together now

The long-term impact of the plan will be revealed over time. In the immediate term, though, KEXP reports they are already using the plan and organizational strategies to inform budget decisions and activities planned for next year.

“Fully executing the plan is still in the future, but the changes engendered by the process are part of KEXP already,” Raup said. “We know and understand each other better and feel like we’re on the same path, which are worthy ends in themselves.”