Eve Humphreys, MBA, CAE
Eve Humphreys, MBA, CAE, is executive director of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America in Washington, DC.
Most associations have a strategic plan, but it may be a plan that sits on a shelf collecting dust. Effective strategic planning involves keeping a close eye on the future state and constant collaboration.
The common struggle for most associations is not how to develop a strategic plan, but asking: How do we operationalize and use it?
An effective strategic plan is successful when it’s integrated into all areas of the organization’s culture, structure, and procedures.
How do associations make sure that actions and programs are driving strategic initiatives forward and moving us closer to the future state? It comes down to three key focus areas.
How engaged is the board of directors? How strong is the partnership between board members and association staff? How committed are volunteer leaders to the strategic plan above any individual agendas? These are questions to ask about the organizational culture that can make or break a strategic plan.
A strong relationship between staff and the board is critical, as both play essential roles in the monitoring of the various working groups of the organization. The way in which the organization values individual contributions will set the stage for how people participate in discussions and how committed they are to organizational decisions. This cohesion allows for agenda setting, rather than committees guided by the interests of the chair or members. Organizations that value diversity and inclusion improve the credibility and trust of board members and staff, which then improves the engagement and work of volunteers.
It’s very easy for committees to veer off track into projects or programs that sound good at the time but are not aligned with the strategic plan.
To operate a strategic plan, first you need a supportive organizational structure. In most associations, work of the organization is led by the board and executed by committees, task forces, staff, partnerships, vendors, and other groups. For an organization to have the desired strategic impact in their field, the work of these groups must be aligned with the strategic plan.
But how can an organization make sure that these many groups, charged with vastly different tasks and programs, are in alignment? It takes strong leadership and vigilance on the part of each of these working groups to maintain their adherence to the strategic plan. It’s very easy for committees to veer off track into projects or programs that sound good at the time but are not aligned with the strategic plan. Working groups that operate in isolation or silos, without being accountable to strategy, weaken the overall impact of the organization. Each committee, task force, workgroup, and staff member should develop annual goals that clearly tie back to the strategic plan. These goals should be reviewed and monitored by the board on a regular basis throughout the year. Board and staff members serving as liaisons to committees can serve important roles in making sure committees stay on track.
The process by which a strategic plan is developed, communicated, and executed is critical to its success. The creation of the plan must include a diverse group of stakeholders, including board members, volunteer leaders representing key areas of membership, staff, and possibly key partners or collaborators. Inclusiveness increases the engagement of those that are responsible for the execution of the plan. The plan must be relevant and realistic relative to the scope and size of the organization.
Once developed, the plan must be championed by all, and a systematic process for developing organizational procedures that support and advance the plan must be in place. An approach that is fluid and flexible to changing factors is also necessary.
Having a strategic plan in name only can have dire consequences for the organization. It opens the door individual agendas, rather than a cohesive agenda. The allocation of resources turns inefficient and ineffective. Engagement and commitment from the volunteers and staff become more difficult to maintain. Opportunity costs are high.
On the other hand, an effective strategic plan that focuses the work of the organization allows for a more agile and flexible organization.