Most Associations’ Strategic Plans are Upside Down

 In Edumacation

The traditional strategic planning model is a pyramid, with everything cascading outward from one-line Vision and Mission statements down to a broad base of aligned action items and measures.

On paper, this looks perfectly reasonable, but it never really delivers the outcomes you are looking for; unless your desired outcomes are to do marginally better at pretty much the same things you’re doing now.

That model might work for planning, tracking and reporting; and it might suit the lifecycle and culture of some. But it is not strategic and it does not lead change.

To instigate and sustain change you need to turn the pyramid upside down and give people what they need to challenge the status quo. If you want people to change your organization, they need more at the top and less at the bottom:

1)    People need meaning. In order to offer up their best, people need to know who their association is and what it stands for. They need to feel part of something bigger. Most associations exist to serve a meaningful purpose, but this critical core is obscured in vague, general mission/vision statements. Instead, go deep. Remember why the organization started, ask people what’s important to them, have some heartfelt conversations. Find the right words, as many as you need, to interest the people who share your purpose and to challenge them to do something meaningful together.

2)    People need context. Don’t edit down your future. The mind doesn’t naturally connect the mission: ‘advance our great cause’ to the action: ‘keep the member database updated’. This is where you need wording that captures what you can realistically achieve; how it will be achieved; and what is expected of people. A detailed forecast paints a credible picture of your unique definition of excellence.

3)    People need practical direction and leadership. Every association has an endless list of action items. In order to change anything, priority setting is where you must become truly strategic and disciplined. Edit down your priorities to the right number of goals, in the right order, at the right time. This is where your inverted pyramid should narrow.

Setting 2 – 3 credible, well-resourced priorities at a time is the peak formula. Add a fourth and achievement drops off by 50% across the board. (Franklin-Covey)

It’s okay (or required) to have a longer prioritized list below, but you need to measurably and visibly achieve something before moving on to the next thing.

People want their work to add value, and they will work with you to change things if you can offer more than a vague promise and a list of tasks. Create credible optimism with a strategic plan that shows people a meaningful alternative, details the first step or two, recognizes the inevitable difficulties, corrects, demonstrates achievement and then moves on to the next step.

The bonus: Your credibility, the greatest asset you have as a leader, will grow.

Is your organization ready for real change? Take our change readiness questionnaire to find out.

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