Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Two Common Pitfalls of Strategic Planning

What ails your strategy? After all the time and effort - not to mention the costs associated with the ordeal - you end up with a strategic plan that that seems to have little or no impact. What to do? Here are two common pitfalls to avoid that will help you put your strategic plan to work.

Pitfall: Losing Sight of the Member

Because strategy creation is a complex, drawn-out affair, it is distressingly easy to lose sight of what matters most: the member. Discussions about factors such as competition, demographic or social trends, and technology are essential to the process. Unfortunately, many associations fail to link this discussion to the factors that will impact the lives of their members.

The result is often a nice sounding but rather meaningless statement such as, "Our association will be a leader in utilizing Social Media to connect and empower members."  Compare that to a statement such as, "Within the next three years we will connect at least two-thirds of our members via Social Media applications. With this platform in place, we will be able to deliver a greater variety of higher quality education programs at a lower cost. It will also make it possible for prospective members to "test drive" the membership experience (which will directly support our goal of increasing membership levels by 15% in the next four years)..."

The first statement promises nothing of value. The second statement, in contrast, makes a simple, direct, and compelling link to the how and why of getting and keeping members.

Pitfall: Losing Sight of Goals Deserving of One's Time and Commitment

Strategic plans are often greeted with little enthusiasm by staff and volunteers because the long-term benefits are not obvious; it is difficult to see any direct relevance to the day-to-day activities of the organization. Is it any wonder, therefore, that the following scenario is played out in countless associations across the nation? During a meeting someone asks, "How does that relate to the long-range plan? And by the way, what are the main goals of the plan?" Suddenly, everyone else in the room is uncomfortable as they frantically search for a copy of the plan.

The moral? The strategic plan has become an irrelevant, benign document. It has little, if any, impact on  how the staff or the board behaves and ultimately no impact on the lives of the members. The challenge, therefore, is not only to create strategy but to make sure it "sticks" to the organization. Toward that end, a successful strategy must, as noted by the likes of Theodore Levitt and others:
  • express itself simply and clearly in only a few written lines;
  • establish truly worthwhile goals so that people will march to its tune; and
  • set short-term targets that deserve the time and commitment of staff and volunteers.

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