I was first introduced to strategic planning ten years into the start of my professional career when I joined the management team of a big financial institution. Then I got more familiar with it when I became a member of the C-suite of an international association. So, 30 years later, I am now confident to facilitate a strategic planning session.
All organizations, including associations, have aspirations and goals to optimize performance and growth and strategic planning is an indispensable tool to visualize and actualize them. Among the benefits of strategic planning are: having a shared mission and vision; a consensus definition of success; targeted resource allocation and efforts; a tool to communicate intended focus and impact; and, a historical perspective and learning of the organization.
On the flipside, a strategic plan is only a reflection of a moment in time (usually in times of change). Its authors cycle off without new ownership, the voice of members is not often heard, process expertise is wanting and it is created for, rather than, with the relevant stakeholders.
As a first learning offering to its members this year, the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (Pcaae) organized a webinar on “Strategic Planning: Best Practices and Next Practices.” The speaker was Lowell Aplebaum, CEO and strategy catalyst at the US- based Vista Cova. Vista Cova partners with organizations on strategic visioning and planning to create strong stakeholder connections and to reimagine value and engagement.
What I have picked up from the webinar are the following strategies and tools to complement the strategic plan.
1. Listening as a Board competency. As one of the Board’s tasks is to provide strategic direction to the organization, a competency needed by the Board is to listen to key stakeholders, notably members. This could be done by conducting surveys, doing monthly calls and member site visits, and organizing partner, audience and focus advisory groups. As Lowell said on the importance of listening: “This is the reason why we have two ears and one mouth.”
2. Building a plan-ahead team. A plan-ahead team separate from the Board can be organized to assist management in collecting relevant information, developing scenarios, posturing broad direction and robust moves against scenarios, setting trigger points, and providing recommendations for action.
3. Developing a program impact matrix. This decision-making tool assists the association to manage and assess the potential impact of the benefits that its project, product or service have on its members. It includes, among others, a review of all programs and corresponding member experiences, fiscal and mission impact, and conversation around possible sun setting of outdated services.
4. Creating space for innovation. There is also need to hear voices of innovation coming from the Board, staff, members and volunteers and, at the same time, having tolerance for risk and failure, as well as for curiosity and learning.
5. Sustaining communication, relationships and community. This may include communicating with members through town hall meetings and hearing varied voices, connecting with association leaders and developing a Board relationship dashboard, as well as building platforms for community, content and relationships.
All these actions and activities, which are outside the strategic plan, are part and parcel of a holistic approach to member engagement and association relevance.
Octavio Peralta is currently the executive director of the Global Compact Network Philippines and the founder and volunteer CEO of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives, the “association of associations.” E-mail: email@example.com