The paradoxes of association strategic planning.Uncommon insights into process of thinking strategically.
The Widget Pronounced "wih-jit," for decades, the term has been a popular word for a generic "thing" when there is no real name for it. It is often used to describe examples of made-up products along with other fictitious names; for example, "10 widgets, 5 frabbits and 2 dingits. Brokers Association has a diverse membership formed of a variety of special-interest groups and broadly dispersed dis·perse
v. dis·persed, dis·pers·ing, dis·pers·es
a. To drive off or scatter in different directions: The police dispersed the crowd.
b. geographic groups. It has severely limited resources. How can it efficiently build a consensus around key strategic questions without an expensive process that allows for wide participation?
The Widget Professionals of America has spent two years developing a vision statement, a mission statement, and a set of measurable goals that focus the organization's energy on educational activities. Now, two months after the association has completed its strategic effort, a surprise piece of legislation has come up that can have a modest but real impact on their work. Should the association follow the plan?
The Widget Manufacturers Association has crafted a strategic plan for the next three years. Staff, responding to changes in member's expressed needs, has made small changes in the association's programs that are outside the plan. Should those programs be allowed to grow, or should the plan control? If the association allows such changes to occur, why should it have bothered to plan?
Strategic planning Strategic planning is an organization's process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy, including its capital and people. has been around longer than most business concepts. And with time, some intriguing new perceptions about the process have evolved, with the result being that organizations are beginning to recognize that some rethinking is necessary.
Before considering the insights that lie in the paradoxes of strategic planning, I want to explain what I mean by strategic planning. I am referring to a process by which an association undertakes the following steps:
1. It assesses the organization and the environment in which it operates. The organization's assessment takes into account each of the following factors: (a) member and prospect demographics The attributes of people in a particular geographic area. Used for marketing purposes, population, ethnic origins, religion, spoken language, income and age range are examples of demographic data. ; (b) trends in membership recruitment, retention, and satisfaction; (c) current member needs survey data; (d) other market research data; (e) the association's strengths, weaknesses, and core capabilities; and (f) the social, technological, economic, and political trends that affect the association and its members.
2. It develops a mission statement. This involves reviewing the existing mission statement, if any, and developing answers to a few key strategic questions: Who do we want our association members to be? What are our core activities?
3. It develops general goals in key areas of association activity. These goals tend to include statements about providing member services, increasing membership in the association, undertaking educational activities, representing association members' interests to government and the public, developing statistical data and technical standards, and so forth.
4. It outlines the projects, programs, and activities that will lead to the achievement of the goals, usually across one to three years. A number of variations on this theme appear from time to time. Measurable objectives may be developed somewhere between steps 3 and 4. Some organizations have developed statements of organizational values; some like vision statements unconstrained by perceptions of resource limitations. The more effective plans have a clear expression of the priorities of the activities.
The strategic planning process may be anything from an instruction to staff to draft one and present it to the board to a board retreat to a multi-step process involving a broad range of the membership.
With that as a common base of understanding, let's explore some of the paradoxes that begin to appear when we take a good look.
The first paradox - and perhaps the most significant, though it is frequently unnoticed - is that the very term strategic planning is an oxymoron - like jumbo shrimp. Henry Mintzberg Professor Henry Mintzberg, OC , OQ , Ph.D. , D.h.c. , FRSC (born September 2, 1939) is an internationally renowned academic and author on business and management. He is currently the Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill , professor of management at McGill University McGill University, at Montreal, Que., Canada; coeducational; chartered 1821, opened 1829. It was named for James McGill, who left a bequest to establish it. Its real development dates from 1855 when John W. Dawson became principal. , Montreal, Ontario, Canada, expressed this clearly in his book The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning (The Free Press, 1994). Strategy, he argues, is broad-ranging, intuitive, right-brain, and synthesizing; it requires a deep understanding of the underlying nature of the members' trade or profession and uses both hard and soft data. Planning, on the other hand, is focused, analytic, left-brain, linear, and logical; it requires the ability to break things down into their parts and organize them, and it focuses on hard data.
If this is so, and I believe it is, why does the board or planning committee planning committee n (in local government) → comité m de planificación feel it is competent to do both strategy and planning when each activity requires different skills?
The obvious solution to the paradox is to separate the activities. Charge the board and the senior staff with steps 1 and 2 - the environmental scan and the articulation of the mission, including the answers to the crucial strategic questions. I would rename Re`name´
v. t. 1. To give a new name to.
Verb 1. rename - assign a new name to; "Many streets in the former East Germany were renamed in 1990" this activity strategic thinking.
Call upon the association staff and the rest of the volunteer infrastructure of committees, task forces, and the like to plan the activities that will lead toward the achievement of the mission. This activity I would label planning.
Still, this division of labor is not as clear-cut as it might seem. Staff and volunteers should have the opportunity to contribute information and opinion to the board. Likewise, the board should review and ratify ratify v. to confirm and adopt the act of another even though it was not approved beforehand. Example: An employee for Holsinger's Hardware orders carpentry equipment from Phillips Screws and Nails although the employee was not authorized to buy anything. staff and committee plans and monitor their effectiveness.
Strategy amid change
Another apparent paradox is that the interest in strategic thinking is increasing at a time when the environment is perceived to be increasingly volatile and fluid. Peter Vaill Peter B. Vaill, Ph.D is currently University Professor of Management at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He is one of the nation’s most influential organizational change theorists, one of the few senior scholar-practitioners in that field. , of George Washington University George Washington University, at Washington, D.C.; coeducational; chartered 1821 as Columbian College (one of the first nonsectarian colleges), opened 1822, became a university in 1873, renamed 1904. , Washington, D.C., refers to "a world of permanent white water," a powerful metaphor for our age. For associations in the health care, telecommunication, digital technology, and financial services The examples and perspective in this article or section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject.
Please [ improve this article] or discuss the issue on the talk page. industries, the question is about the utility of trying to think strategically in an environment that is increasingly dynamic.
The very fluidity of the world requires that organizational leaders think about and try to understand the underlying nature of the developing trends and how their organization can respond to the new needs of its members. Failure to think strategically about how to respond to a changing environment abounds. There is an apocryphal a·poc·ry·phal
1. Of questionable authorship or authenticity.
2. Erroneous; fictitious: "Wildly apocryphal rumors about starvation in Petrograd . . . story about the Buggywhip Manufacturers Association voting down a proposal at the turn of the century to become the Association of Manufacturers of Acceleration Devices. With the development of the polio vaccine Two polio vaccines are used throughout the world to combat polio. The first was developed by Jonas Salk, first tested in 1952, and announced to the world by Salk on April 12, 1955. It consists of an injected dose of inactivated (dead) poliovirus. , the Sister Kenny Foundation disappeared. But the March of Dimes
focalisation, focalization, focusing - the act of bringing into focus its mission on the fight against crippling crip·ple
1. A person or animal that is partially disabled or unable to use a limb or limbs: cannot race a horse that is a cripple.
2. A damaged or defective object or device.
tr.v. childhood diseases, survived and thrived. The Association for Information and Image Management The Association for Information and Image Management or AIIM (pronounced aim) is an international industry association focused on enterprise content management (ECM). was the result of the foresight of the leaders of the microfilm A continuous film strip that holds several thousand miniaturized document pages. See micrographics.
Microfilm and Microfiche and microfiche Pronounced "micro-feesh." A 4x6" sheet of film that holds several hundred miniaturized document pages. See micrographics. association, who recognized the rapid technologic shift to digital imaging.
The plan and the process
The plan is the least important outcome of the planning process. William Renfro, a futurist and author of Issues Management in Strategic Planning (Quantum Books, 1993), points out that "the most likely future isn't." As we try to look into the future, our vision is blurred. The further out we look, the less we see. So-called "wild cards Symbols used to represent any value when selecting specific files. In DOS, Windows and Unix, the asterisk (*) represents any collection of characters, and the question mark (?) represents one single character. In SQL, the percent sign (%) and underscore (_) are used for matching text. " abound. Who predicted the collapse of the Iron Curtain Iron Curtain
Political, military, and ideological barrier erected by the Soviet Union after World War II to seal off itself and its dependent eastern European allies from open contact with the West and other noncommunist areas. , the eruption eruption /erup·tion/ (e-rup´shun)
1. the act of breaking out, appearing, or becoming visible, as eruption of the teeth.
2. of AIDS, the shifting fortunes of the Republicans and Democrats? Not many.
Why, then, get involved in strategic thinking and planning? Three reasons: First, the process itself brings consensus, which associations must have to move forward. Second, most of the time, lots of the environmental factors that affect us don't change all that rapidly. And third, the process of thinking about the future and its impact on the association breeds flexible thinking that enables the organization to respond when unanticipated events occur.
Efficiency versus participation
If consensus is to develop, the process should encourage participation. But the broader the involvement in the drafting of the mission, the longer it will take, the more the time commitment of the strategic thinking and planning groups will increase, and the more costs will rise. How can you balance participation and efficiency?
Many strategic thinking processes are designed as weekend retreats of the board or other leadership groups. The task of the facilitator is, in part, to push the participants through the process in the available time. When time and dollar resources are limited, this looks like a good solution. In fact, in some circumstances ("ripeness" for one, which I discuss later), it can be the best solution.
Since the regular meetings of the board are subject to the "the immediate drives out the important" syndrome, it is frequently helpful to have the retreat as a separate event that compels the board to focus on larger, more future-oriented issues. In order to encourage participation without overloading the organization's resources and time, members' and appropriate nonmembers, including other stakeholders Stakeholders
All parties that have an interest, financial or otherwise, in a firm-stockholders, creditors, bondholders, employees, customers, management, the community, and the government. in the field, can be solicited for their comments and ideas about what the crucial future issues may be. Some organizations have done a Delphi study as a way to solicit wide participation without spending too much money.
It's preferable that the board (if it is not too large) be joined by the perceived leaders of the future and those members of the organization who are known for their insight and broadness of vision. The board's primary legal and ethical responsibility is to the future of the organization. Therefore the board should be the primary body responsible for the development of the organization's strategic approach to the future. That does not mean, paradoxically, that it should be the sole body involved in the process.
The group can and should do the environmental analysis - assessing trends and analyzing the strengths and weaknesses, the core competencies A core competency is something that a firm can do well and that meets the following three conditions specified by Hamel and Prahalad (1990):
v. dis·sem·i·nat·ed, dis·sem·i·nat·ing, dis·sem·i·nates
1. To scatter widely, as in sowing seed.
2. the assessment and the draft mission statement widely and solicit comments and suggestions.
The group should reconvene reconvene
to gather together again after an interval: we reconvene tomorrow
Verb 1. reconvene - meet again; "The bill will be considered when the Legislature reconvenes next Fall" and revise the documents in light of the comments received. The environmental analysis and the mission statement should not then be shelved. The board should regularly return to the assumptions and the statement and review them for continued validity. In addition, part of every association board meeting should be allocated to a general discussion of emerging trends and issues, not just today's emergencies.
Two paradoxes in one
Mission statements should be focused and flexible. They should shape the plans and be shaped by actions taken outside the plan.
Statements like this seem a little like something you'd read in Alice in Wonderland Wonderland
See also Heaven, Paradise, Utopia.
land of joy and beauty without disease or death. [Welsh Lit.: Mabinogion]
fabulous and prosperous island; legendarily in Atlantic Ocean. [Gk. Myth. , don't they? While the strategic decisions should shape the activities of the association and give direction to those formulating the more detailed plan, things will be evolving and changing in the outside world that you did not think of. At the margins, committees, members, and staff will be making some decisions that were not encompassed in the plan. The market will be changing.
Too rigid an enforcement of the limits drawn by the strategy can stifle the creative growth of the organization. As one wag put it, "Life is what happens while you are planning." Channels of communication must be kept open so that developments at the margin of the association can be recognized and incorporated into the plan.
The frequency of strategic change
Strategic thinking is best done regularly, but strategic changes don't occur very often. Most associations are highly democratic. They frequently are made up of a variety of subsegments that may be based on geography, size, specific industry segments or professional specialties, or just special areas of interest. As part of voluntary membership organizations, unhappy members can easily withdraw. Consensus on controversial matters - and significant change is almost always controversial - takes time to evolve. Major strategic shifts don't occur often.
I am referring to a change like the change the New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of Hotel and Motel Association made when it decided to become the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association. It approached other related trade associations in the state and offered them council status within the redefined association. The association of amusement parks This page contains a list of amusement parks by
I referred earlier to the Association for Information and Image Management and its transformation more than a decade ago from microfilm and microfiche to digital. The association has recently redefined its mission even more broadly to encompass changes in its technologically driven world. But these tectonic tectonic /tec·ton·ic/ (tek-ton´ik) pertaining to construction. shifts happened less than one per decade.
The Society of Nuclear Medicine made only two strategic decisions in the 1980s. One was a decision to increase its international membership and one was to redefine its mission to expand beyond the dissemination dissemination Medtalk The spread of a pernicious process–eg, CA, acute infection Oncology Metastasis, see there of science and education to encompass representation of the members' interests to government. This is not to say that it did not have some international members who came in unsolicited or that it did not occasionally get involved in Washington. It did. But neither activity became part of the organization's focused attention until the decision was made. And the decision was not made until it had fully ripened - that is, until a significant part of the leadership was ready.
Leaders as planners
Board members are responsible for the future of the association, but the most experienced leaders should not necessarily be the only ones doing the planning. One potential problem is that in the case of an association, board members are also customers of the association's products and services. This is different from other kinds of organizations, where board members might be casual customers - for instance, GM board members probably drive the product, but are not the core customers. And in most charities, the board members and the client or customer are not the same people.
The danger is when the board member confuses the role of leader with the role of customer and the board becomes a focus group. That, in and of itself, might not be so bad, but by becoming involved as a leader, the individual demonstrates a greater commitment and level of interest in the activities of the association than the rank-and-file member. Product decisions made by the board without data on member needs may be skewed skewed
curve of a usually unimodal distribution with one tail drawn out more than the other and the median will lie above or below the mean.
skewed Epidemiology adjective Referring to an asymmetrical distribution of a population or of data .
The problem may be compounded when you consider using past chief elected officers in the strategic thinking group. They tend to be fond of what they did and how they did it. This is not, of course, uniformly true, but I certainly would not recommend giving the assignment to make strategic decisions to the past-chief-elected-officer committee.
Strategic thinking and decision making must involve the board but also should involve those members with the broadest and deepest vision as well as the up-and-coming leadership who will be involved in the supervision of the execution of the plan.
Two planning levels at once
A board's very focused attention on the trade or profession can lead to such severe tunnel vision tunnel vision
Vision in which the visual field is severely constricted.
n a defect in sight in which a great reduction occurs in the peripheral field of vision, as if one is looking through that the board can miss a trend, not directly threatening, that can have significant impact on its organization. Remember that in addition to planning in the context of what is going on in your particular field, you must plan for the association as a corporate entity. That means exploring what social, technological, economic, and political trends will shape the future for associations generally and your association in particular. The fact that you are reading this publication, which is designed to keep you up to date on these issues, is a strongly positive sign. Be sure to also look to the expertise of your staff and what they learn from their participation in their professional activities to keep you informed about developments in the larger world of associations.
* The board should be the primary body responsible for the development of the organization's strategic approach to the future. That does not mean, paradoxically, that it should be the sole body involved in the process.
* Because the world will continue changing even as you form a strategic direction, it's important to remember that too rigid an enforcement of the limits drawn by the strategy can stifle the creative growth of the organization.
Henry L. Ernstthal, CAE (1) (Computer-Aided Engineering) Software that analyzes designs which have been created in the computer or that have been created elsewhere and entered into the computer. , is president of Ernstthal & Associates, Washington, D.C. With Bob Jones, he co-authored Principles of Association Management, Third Edition (product AMR (1) (Adaptive Multi-Rate) A variable rate speech codec selected by the 3GPP for the 3G evolution of the GSM cellphone system (WCDMA). Using the Algebraic CELP (ACELP) compression technology, AMR provides toll quality sound at transmission rates from 4.75 to 12. 216472), which is available from the American Society of Association Executives The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) is a non-profit professional organization for executive directors and executive vice presidents of professional societies both in the United States and abroad. , (202) 371-0940. Fax: (202) 408-9634. ASAE ASAE American Society of Association Executives
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