So often we talk about leading from the balcony and not the dance floor or the 20,000 foot view when discussing strategic planning. However, while it is easy to spit out metaphors the fact is staying focused on strategy can be quite difficult. As an association executive you are mired in your day to day activity; so is the professional member who is making a living at the industry. So how do you set the stage to shift focus from the day to day activity to the bird’s eye view? Here are a few guidelines to help you:
1) As Timba said, “You need to put the past behind you”. If your Board of Directors Agenda is filled only with items that already happened you will remain past focused. Always include one “foresight” item on your agenda. Your board should be strategically discussing trends and future possibilities.
2) Keep the mission in mind. Remember that the base mission of any trade association is to improve business conditions. Take a hard look at your agenda- if there is not one item that relates to the mission you have a problem. If the committees aren’t working on the mission than this needs to be a topic of discussion for the board of directors.
3) Use charts, graphs, flow charts and figures to help your board conceptualize a possible future impact
4) Your board of directors should be future focused and that is accomplished through contingency planning- if x happens then Y will go into action- your board should not just be approving past actions or committee motions. This is accomplished by a quarterly review of the impacts of the strategic plan and its corresponding business or action plan. Your board should be thinking about possible outcomes and then returning those potential outcomes to the committees to work on a contingency plan.
5) Every strategic plan should have a corresponding business or action plan with SMART action steps: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. How steps 4 & 5 work in tandem is the beauty of it. Below is a brief example:
Association Mission: Improve business conditions
Strategic Goal: Improve business conditions through ensuring members are trained in the most relevant and recent business procedures
Business plan (SMART): Create three new CE courses related to new or current procedural actions by July 31, 2015
Contingency planning: What is the plan if laws change? What if the classes we chose to create do not meet commission guidelines? How will we know if the classes we create will be attractive to the members? What if we cannot find appropriate instructors? How will we know to offer these classes live or online? What if CE credit requirements change throughout the year and our class is no longer relevant? What if the classes get poor reviews?
Business leveraging: How else can we use the information we are acquiring while we develop these classes? How do we value the class in terms of monetary worth? Is there a resource we can incorporate into the class to expand profits elsewhere (for example one class I offered required a special calculator which we then stocked in the association store)? How do we make the courses we are developing interactive in order to achieve peak retention? Is there a take-away resource to assist in retention? How will we capture input to improve the course or develop other courses?
Here is what typically happens: The board passes the strategic plan and this action step. They do not look at the issue again. A committee dives in and brainstorms three classes that they would like to see and a volunteer writes them or it is outsourced.
What should happen: Board sees this item on the action step and gives committee direction by asking questions about contingencies and other opportunities. Committee answers these questions before anything is ever started. For example the committee really should do a member assessment and an environmental scan before classes are ever developed. Once developed the plan for monitoring and evaluation should be documented. Quarterly, the board should review the outcomes of the business plan- has a contingency plan been operationalized? If so why? What did we learn from this process and can it be used elsewhere? How can we build on a success?
Your members who are focused on their day to day are not going to be able to stay future focused and strategically focused without your help as the association executive. The guidelines offered above are a start in moving your board from a certifying board to a strategic board.