Earlier this year, I organized and led a visioning retreat that included about 30 stakeholders and association leaders across an industry. Our objective was clear – determine the optimal state for the industry movement, a vision for the future, and three to five aspirations to inform stakeholders at all levels about how they can contribute to a better future. Simple, right?
Halfway through our retreat, someone asked, “Will you define or clarify what you mean by the movement? I don’t understand what it is. This makes it difficult to envision its future, much less think about the aspirations that support it.” This led to a wonderfully generative dialogue; however, the initial question about defining the movement has challenged my thinking about the strategic planning process ever since.
Coincidentally at this time, I was reading Change by Design by Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO. His wonderful thinking and insight further challenged my thoughts following the retreat. This, combined with a lot of other thinking and literature out there, helped inform some ideas on how to (re)approach the strategic planning experience. The trick is to not only re-think how we design the process (and its purpose), but also, and more importantly, who is involved.
Simply put, we need to engage the right team of individuals to design the purpose that will inspire the strategic plan. How do we go about (re)designing purpose, and who might be involved?
In his book, Tim Brown talks about the importance of “interdisciplinary teams” that have “T-Shaped people with diverse backgrounds and a multiplicity of disciplines.” Since we are examining purpose design as part one of a strategic planning process, an interdisciplinary team could look like this (if they are T-Shaped people):
- One or two staff members, including the Association Executive (organization expert and believer)
- One board member or committee chair (content expert and organization believer)
- One or two informed stakeholders who are passionate about the industry/organization (environment experts and industry believer)
- One or two “design thinkers” who could be from the outside but are passionate about contributing to new ways of thinking (innovative thinking experts and purpose believer)
- One consultant to facilitate the creative process (process expert and purpose/organization believer)
The above make-up of multifaceted individuals creates an interdisciplinary team whose sole purpose is to explore what compels us to go somewhere (motivation) and design who or what the organization aspires to become (purpose). This group does not create the strategic plan or even begin to focus on what objectives will bring it to life; they simply collaborate to design and articulate the organization’s vision
for what it could/should be. It is also more realistic to accomplish this agenda with five to eight people, as opposed to 30 (especially if you get into defining gray areas, like “what movement means”).
Once this process is complete, the leadership has something to share with the full board, staff, members, stakeholders, volunteers, etc. for feedback. Building the momentum through stakeholders is especially important for member and relationship-based organizations. Momentum is not enough, which is why the nature of velocity – the speed at which the organization is moving forward, creating and operationalizing its plan, and achieving its aspirations – comes into play.
We will explore velocity and a new approach for the strategic planning process in Part 2 of this blog series. First, though, we need to assemble the right people to design your purpose.