Monday, June 30, 2014

Linking Strategy and Execution

By Steven Worth

Every year some of the association community’s most innovative strategies and plans in which untold hours of volunteer and staff time have been invested lie unused and likely even unread on some shelf collecting dust. Then, as time goes by and memories grow vague and leadership changes, someone else calls for a planning session--and wise old veterans shake their heads at the futility of going through this process yet again. Sound familiar? It should, as this is a process that happens to virtually every organization at one time or another. This phenomenon even has a name: “SPOTS”—Strategic Plan On Top Shelf!

There are seven common causes for SPOTS.

The plan is devoted to fixing current problems rather than addressing the future of the organization

There is nothing more frustrating than when a strategic planning session “gets into the weeds”—focusing on specific fixes to operational issues. Such situations are uncomfortable for everyone. The volunteer leaders wonder (sometimes out-loud) why their time is being taken to fix problems that the staff should be able to fix themselves, while the staff chaffs at this unwanted meddling and wish (though rarely out-loud) they could exchange these nitpickers for the visionary leaders they need! The best way to avoid this scenario is to be sure at the outset that both volunteer and professional leadership understand the distinct but inter-dependent roles they fill in governance and operations. When everyone knows their role and has a feel for the critical differences between strategy and tactics, then the stage is set for proper and productive strategic planning.

The initiative lacks the support and commitment of the leadership and/or the constituents

The French “Sun-King” Louis XIV was famously quoted as saying “the state…is me!” Not to say that boards of directors consider themselves absolute monarchs, but perhaps there is a touch of sentiment in many association boards that they do embody the association. Legally of course boards of directors do shoulder absolute responsibility for the association, but boards of directors also are or should be representative of broader constituencies. In this context, association leaders should take time to survey where these constituencies are headed and to make sure the association has a good sense of their needs and how these can best be served. Plans are non-starters that are not perceived to be relevant to the membership at large. The best approach to ensure relevancy is to survey membership before the planning begins, then to report back to them how the plan takes their concerns into account.

No one is responsible for implementation or evaluation

It is easier by far to come up with great ideas than it is to work out the “how, when and who” of how they will actually be accomplished. No planning is complete—no matter how self-evidently brilliant the ideas--until this has been done!

The operational plan is unrealistic or without focus or direction

If you agree “there is no such thing as an idea that cannot be written,” then you can understand that there is no such thing as an operational plan that is not grounded in tactics that are well-reasoned, directed and supported by sound financial and logistical planning.

It does not inspire leadership or constituency to move the organization forward

All plans—particularly ones that seek to launch new initiatives—require effort if they are going to succeed; and this in turn requires some sort of enthusiasm on the part of those who need to make them work. If this underlying enthusiasm is lacking, then either the plan or the implementers need to change!

There has been no “reconciliation” of these new initiatives with currently budgeted programs

Great plans almost always require hard choices because they will inevitably need to draw from resources that are currently being used for other programs. This means that the job is not done once the initial planning has been completed—because all of these new ideas need to be reconciled with current utilization of resources. Choices always need to be made. If this part of the process is not observed then the status quo will invariably continue.

The organizational structure inhibits change or otherwise does not supply the supporting framework these new ideas need to be implemented

Too often planning groups fail to consider their association’s current structure and whether it is suitable for carrying out the plans they have just devised. This is in fact a critical issue. Organizations have certain “rubber-like” characteristics. They can be bent into different shapes, but then after time return to their original shape—and ways of doing things. If new plans containing new approaches have any chance of success serious consideration needs to be given to the structure of the organization that is intended to carry out these plans. It rarely works to put new wine into old wine skins. 

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