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Living the Strategic Plan

Strategic Visioning
By Ken Hutton, Executive Director

Once upon a time, it was called "Long Term Planning." Only conglomerates did it. A conglomerate was defined as a group of diverse companies under common ownership and run as a single organization. Most failed. One of the few survivors changed the approach to "Strategic Planning." General Electric was that survivor, but where they are today is not my idea of survival! Maybe, that's why I prefer the phrase "Strategic Visioning."

Google the definition for "Strategic Planning" and you'll find at least 15 concepts or descriptions. Do the same for "Strategic Visioning," and the response pattern is very different. That's to be expected. "Visioning" is more than "Planning." I particularly like what the Software Engineering Institute has to say on the subject:

"Strategic visioning is more than writing vision statements that are framed and hung on a wall. Strategic visioning is not something to be put away on the shelf in a thick binder. Strategic visioning is to proactively plan for the future, the future of the organization for which you work as well as your own future within that organization."

If companies have not handled this task well, how is it that an association is expected to do the job? In the age of globalization, demographic shifts, technology, and the resulting increased value of time, associations face competition for goods and services as never before experienced. The challenges facing associations today to engage the time of its members or prospective members is simply daunting and require the association’s leaders to “define strategic and tactical plans, and begin removing barriers to reach its ‘end-in-mind’ vision,” as noted by Charis Healthcare.

To get started, I have first conducted a Members’ Needs Analysis to begin to obtain an understanding of what it is the members want. Remember, your Directors may not always be representative of the membership. I then challenged the Strategic Visioning Task Force (composed of Officers, Directors and regular members but not totaling more than 12) with the following:

Challenge #1: In this information-rich economy, develop the capacity to assist ASSNx members in sifting through the massive pile of information to find the "valuable stuff."

  • Understand how search technology works.
  • Understand how search technology can be tailored for ASSNx members.
  • Think like an information concierge rather than a publisher.
  • Make helping members find critical information and knowledge a key part of the “value-add” for the association, whether or not ASSNx published that information in the first place.

Challenge #2: Innovation is the most critical capability for associations to develop today to maximize the opportunities for success tomorrow. The powerful forces of demographic, economic, scientific, social, political and technological shift are converging and forging an entirely new society.

Challenge #3: Before complaining about the inability to attract younger folks to the association, examine the Board and determine if it truly reflects the membership.

Challenge #4: The primary role of the Board is to develop a sharp, comprehensive vision of the world in which the association operates—for better or worse—so that the Directors can make more intelligent strategic choices.

Following an intensive discussion, the task force needs to develop three strategic initiatives which will drive the association over the next two or three years to gain the members’ long-term commitment. As Rebecca Rolfes notes in her book, "The Competition Within: How Members Will Reinvent Associations", “long-range commitment is built on short-term satisfaction consistently delivered.” The trick, Rofles observes is that the “nature of all associations…is essentially the same. They offer a community of like-minded souls that will welcome you with meetings large and small…They offer education…advocacy…research…regular communications… [and] standards-setting bodies for their industries or professions.” The association with true leadership (volunteer and/or management team) will use the strategic vision to take the association from where it is today to where it needs to be in tomorrow’s competitive landscape in order to separate itself from this typical nature of attributes.