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Planning for action.


Strategic plans that are practical and measurable do the job.

How many times have you and your staff developed an annual or longer-term business plan that involved hours of thought-provoking discussions, numerous written drafts, and a polished presentation to leaders--and then watched it languish, forgotten in your drawer or on a shelf?

The planning process exists to continually help your association pursue desired results. While planning, you design the desired outcome as well as a strategic action. As in all planning approaches, you incorporate the classic components of a strategic plan: external forces in your operating environment, internal strengths and weaknesses in your association, priority goals and urgent issues, a focused mission statement, major objectives, supporting action plans, and a budget.

This article is not about the classic components. Instead, it explains

* how to make the written plan practical for implementation while you are in the development stages--your plan should be action oriented, not an esoteric documentary; * how to package and communicate your written plan so that everyone understands the focus, direction, priorities, constraints, and underlying theme during the period for which the plan was developed; and * how to assign responsibility and use tools to ensure continuous progress and results.

Developing the plan

Once your association has completed the thought-provoking exercise of identifying external and internal threats and opportunities, priority goals, and an operating mission statement, you can take these further steps to ensure your strategic plan can readily be implemented:

1. Assign responsibility for each external opportunity and threat you've identified to relevant staff or committees so that opportunities are maximized and threats are minimized or overcome. The department or committee receiving each assignment should incorporate these factors into its objectives and strategies during the planning period.

An external force is usually related to political, technological, economic, social, or competitive factors that are beyond your direct control.

For example, a hypothetical external force for the Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA), Washington, D.C., might read as follows: "The U.S. economy will be vulnerable; budgets will be tighter; resources will have to be maximized more effectively." The impact of this external force may be that "members' decisions will not be based on loyalty but on economics."

Assignment of responsibility might read like this:

* Membership department: Assume flat growth rates. Increase creative retention efforts. * Marketing department: Sell cost-benefit relationship of products and services. Use buzz word and concept of return on investment. Identify tangible benefits. * Research department: Develop how-to manuals for efficient resource management. 2. Assign responsibility for internal strengths and weaknesses so that the former are maximized and the latter are minimized or overcome. This is the same process as above. An internal force is specific to your organization, and it is something over which you have direct control. Internal strengths and weaknesses may involve staff, volunteers, structure, products, and services.

For example, internal strengths and weaknesses and appropriate responsibility may include * Strength: Desktop publishing capability and utilization. Responsibility: Communication department increases usage and trains staff in other departments. * Strength: Improved cross-selling results and opportunities. Responsibility: Marketing department increases multiple product promotions, staff sales training, tracking, and analysis. * Weakness: The proprietary research data base has not been used to its full extent. Responsibility: Research department explores feasibility and demand for customized research, electronic linkage to data base, and other delivery systems. 3. As staff develop their first drafts of objectives and strategies, they should answer these questions in writing to enhance the practicality and measurability of each strategy:

* Why do I want to implement this strategy? What external or internal force is addressed, or how will it help achieve the mission? * When will this strategy be implemented? * What resources (such as labor, printing, postage, contractors) are required to implement or maintain this strategy? Resources are defined in words at this stage, not in numbers.

For example, within a finance department, you might find the following answers:

Major objective: To improve financial operating effectiveness and controls. Strategy: To complete a feasibility study of an effective purchase order system and implement appropriate systems and procedures. Why? To improve internal controls over expenses within budgetary guidelines. When? First quarter 1991. What resources are required? Staff time for analysis, development, training, and implementation; software for supporting system controls, processing, and reports; forms and supplies for ongoing use. 4. At this point, a review of all the objectives and strategies is completed at a senior staff meeting. Depending upon the answers to the questions above, strategies are maintained, dropped, revised, or deferred.

At BOMA International, strategies were prioritized relative to their impact in successfully fulfilling the next year's operating mission. Based on this priority ranking, resources were applied to the most critical strategies. For example, one priority strategy for BOMA in the finance division is to develop a peer referral service. The service is a priority because it supports a critical part of BOMA's mission--to fulfill members' information needs. 5. Now the number-crunching begins. Staff must translate the resource requirements for proposed strategies into financial projections. Starting from zero, staff review their strategies for the planning period. After identifying categories of resources--such as postage, printing, contractors, and travel--they should assign each strategy to the appropriate category of resources.

For example, a marketing department would review all the projects for the upcoming year that require external printing expenditures. Under the category printing, the department lists all proposed printing projects and projected dollar amounts. Previous years' actual performance should be considered only from a historical perspective. Never merely apply a percentage increase.

Additionally, develop association-wide assumptions and distribute them to allow departments to incorporate consistent underlying factors. Such assumptions include membership growth rate; inflation rate; travel, hotel, and meal costs per trip; postage rate increases; new sources of revenue or expense; and so forth. 6. The budget data entry is completed, reviewed by the senior staff, and revised until an acceptable bottom line for strategies results.

The bottom line is mandated by the board of directors and must be followed by staff. If you are the facilitator of the planning process, be prepared for the highs and lows of participants' feedback. The lows are the "interruption," time, and effort required in effective planning. The highs are the rewards of creative brainstorming, clearer focus, and achievement of results.

The facilitator should begin discussions by taking a moment to step back and remind everyone how the planning process fits together and why you are doing it: to gain focus and direction for the next period of operation.

Communicating the plan

Before presenting your plan, it is critical that you solicit input from your board of directors. If these leaders feel they have been a part of the planning process, they are more likely to make sure the plan is approved and implemented.

Methods for soliciting board input and increasing support and commitment to the plan include * sharing the external and internal forces you identify with your officers, suggesting an operating mission statement, and jointly finalizing these critical factors. * sharing the agreed-upon association-wide assumptions with officers and the finance committee; and * presenting a final working draft of the plan and the budget to officers and the finance committee and then finalizing the plan and the desired bottom line together.

When the final plan is ready for presentation, mail the package at least two or three weeks in advance of your board of directors meeting. This way, board members will have sufficient time to read and digest the document (see sidebar, "What to Include," for a list of plan elements).

When preparing for your presentation, it may be helpful to have a strategy meeting with senior staff. Appoint someone to act as devil's advocate at the meeting. Identify areas that may be vulnerable to questioning and debate. Then prepare to defend them. Come to the presentation prepared with further details, graphs, and handouts that may be needed to sell a particular strategy.

In your presentation, emphasize the focus and direction of the organization's mission statement. It is critical that everyone acknowledge this mission so that resources can be focused and expectations met. If you perceive that leaders do not agree wholeheartedly with the operating mission, return to the beginning of the presentation and highlight key factors in the external and internal environments that require a commitment to this particular direction. Resources must be focused effectively if the plan is going to be successfully implemented.

Implementing it all

The final stage in turning your strategic plan into a results-oriented management tool is taking the approved plan to the project level. At BOMA International, each approved strategy is assigned to a senior staff person who is responsible for its implementation.

Depending upon the nature of the strategy and the project-management ability of the senior staff, you may have to use different tools to get results.

One such tool is the inclusion of planned strategies in personal performance goals for the fiscal year. Performance reviews and merit raises can be based on implementation of the assigned strategies. These goals should be delegated all the way down staff lines to ensure that everyone is focused and committed to achieving the strategies. BOMA distributes parts of the written plan to all staff so that every person understands the overall mission and other departments' objectives and strategies.

Another useful tool is a task schedule for specific projects. A project leader is assigned to develop the schedule with participation from other affected participants. Close monitoring and follow-up are required. Never assume a task has been completed. Verbal and written confirmations of each task's status are key to success. The schedule should break the project down into very detailed tasks and should include distribution dates and sign-off dates for required materials. Project meetings can be held on an as-needed basis.

Periodic financial reports and reviews of overall strategies are additional tools for monitoring results. Senior staff can justify significant variances and project year-end performance periodically, using the most recent information to update projections.

Focusing on your mission

The most significant factor in achieving the results specified in your strategic plan is commitment to the mission statement. If a new idea arises at any time, ask how it will fit with your operating mission.

At BOMA International, for example, ideas for new revenue-producing publications were generated. But because the operating mission clearly identified the fiscal year as being one of restructuring, retrenching, and focusing on performing fewer activities with higher quality, this strategy was deferred. On the other hand, plans must be flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities and react to market conditions. Continual adjustments are part of an effective management process. Just keep in mind that these adjustments should be made to achieve the mission. By avoiding adjustments that don't help you achieve your mission, you'll keep focused and head off confusion.

It's not out of the question to change a mission mid-year because of dramatic changes in the environment. But if you do, it is critical to conduct a thorough analysis of all strategic and financial implications and then fully communicate the change and reasoning to all staff and leaders.

The planning process is evolutionary. Your association may currently be performing with a minimal level of planning, or you may be very sophisticated. You may find that only partial or summarized components need to be presented this year, with more depth being appropriate the following year. Expect that your staff and volunteers will evolve into more sophisticated planners with each planning period undertaken.

Getting your plan off the shelf and into action requires commitment, focus, preparation, and constant monitoring of results. With these elements and a practical plan, you can improve your achievement ratio no matter what evolutionary stage your association has reached.

Nancy R. Daly is chief financial officer at Building Owners and Managers Association International, Washington, D.C.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related article; ground rules for implementing business plans
Author:Daly, Nancy R.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Aug 1, 1991
Previous Article:The focus group.
Next Article:Expanding the horizon.

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