As a newly minted association professional, a phrase I often hear is strategic planning but until recently, I had no idea what that process was and why it is such an integral part of my association’s success. Many meetings and lots of research later, I have a much better understanding of the process and how the strategic plan can be utilized to bring an association’s vision to life. Here’s what I learned.
What is a Strategic Plan?
Simply put, a strategic plan is your association’s roadmap to reaching your vision. It’s designed to act as a guide that drives your staff, Board of Directors and volunteers in the right direction for success. Designing a strategic plan is a multi-faceted process that is typically broken up into several sessions with key stakeholders, board members and in most cases, a facilitator to lead the sessions. The end result is a living document that clearly defines what your organization’s long term and short term goals and how you plan to achieve them.
One of the most important things I’ve learned about strategic planning is that the first step in the process is to assess your association before you dive head first into long term goals. It’s almost instinctual to visualize where you want your association to be and start from there, but this isn’t the way to go for strategic planning. While keeping the end result in mind isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s important to also look at the bigger picture. Start by revisiting who you are, who you serve and where you are today. From there you can begin to think about how you can realistically get to where you want to be tomorrow.
Go Back to Basics
Another thing I’ve learned about strategic planning is that the process may be tedious but it isn’t complicated. In fact, most steps in the strategic planning process you’ve already done countless times in group projects when you were in college. Key components to building a solid strategic plan include completing a SWOT analysis, identifying smart goals and conducting surveys, interviews and focus groups. Oftentimes we tend to think others view our association the same way we do, but that is not always true. The research you conduct to support your decision-making will allow you to take a more educated approach to setting realistic, relevant goals for your association.
Facilitators are Your Best Friend
Don’t underestimate the benefits of having someone outside of your organization lead your strategic planning sessions. The facilitator’s role is to organize the session and lead the conversation to keep your team productive and on track. Facilitators help you stay focused only on topics that contribute to building your best strategic plan. Consider enlisting a facilitator to bring organization and unique perspectives to your next strategic planning meeting.
The strategic plan is not final and that’s okay. The document should change as your association’s needs change.
Don’t let it collect dust. The strategic plan should guide all of your organization’s initiatives because it’s a reflection of your vision. You should refer to your strategic plan often and actually implement the tactics within it.
Evaluate the success of your strategic plan by measuring your goals and analyzing your tactics frequently. Make adjustments to your plan accordingly.