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ISAE Blog

Culture Trumps Strategic Planning

Posted by Jay Dziwlik, MBA, CAE on May 31, 2017 12:00:00 PM

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Strategic planning is critical to every association, but many strategic plans have a fatal flaw even before they get put on paper, before the first SWOT analysis and even before the expensive facilitator has coached you toward a plan. The fatal flaw is the culture of the association. You know culture, like norms and values of the association: the way an association works every day.

The environment in which we put together the strategic plan highly influences an association’s strategy and its effectiveness. If your strategy was to bake a cake, where you do that would affect the process and end result. Baking a cake on a campout versus in my kitchen has many apparent and subtle requirements of equipment, resources and skills required to get the desired result from the same ingredients and recipe.

Peter Drucker, the famous business guru, is quoted as saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast every time.” Here are a few examples.

Level of Trust – If we don’t have a culture of trustworthiness or a culture of trusting others, it is really hard to get any work done. Employees, directors, volunteers and boards all need to have mutual trust to get work done. Strategy without trust will never get implemented.

Response to Risk and Failure – Nobody and no plan is perfect and there needs to be some conversation on how the organizational culture will deal with risk and failure. What are the boundaries and playing field for staff, as well as volunteers? What are the expectations of success and failure? Some associations are not good with managing risk or handling failure.

Commitment of Resources – Few things can break morale and people faster than setting a strategic task without allocating the right resources. The same is true of utilizing resources for non-strategic goals. An association’s culture needs to be unified around allocating resources to the strategic plan and this sometimes means cutting programming that is not strategic.

Unity – The board, staff and volunteers need to be actively committed to the plan not just in words, but also in actions and deeds. The time for vigorous debate is at the formulation of a plan and that debate is always based on the idea and not a person. Division in a culture will doom any plan.

Fair Fighting New strategies will bring plenty of opinions and decisions toward that end. An association culture needs to have a way to vent opinions, ideas and decisions in a healthy way. It is important to cultivate a healthy way to work out differences.

If any of these examples are out of whack, then it threatens all of your work efforts, especially the strategic plan. Like Drucker said, your plan is eaten up by your culture.

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Topics: Strategic Planning

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