What is Strategic Planning?
Strategic planning is the process of determining an organization’s current situation, defining where it would like to go and outlining how it will get there. Just like businesses and governments, associations and chambers of commerce have found that strategic planning is a valuable tool for organizational health. The process is one of the characteristics that distinguish successful organizations.
Planning involves evaluating an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Identifying member needs and assessing future economic, political, social, and technological trends are essential. Considering various options and organizational responses are also parts of strategic planning. The planning process leads to a set of goals for the organization to pursue, usually over a three to five year period. It results in a consensus among the organization’s leaders about what is to be done.
What are the Benefits of Strategic Planning
Good strategic planning encourages innovation and flexibility, helping to improve organizational communication and enhancing teamwork and trust among leaders. The process forces the organization to deal with tough issues and make hard decisions. Through planning, leaders must respond to the reality that the organization cannot do everything. Planning requires allocation of limited resources, which leads to an understanding that more resources may be needed to achieve objectives. The process helps anticipate and avoid problems and lessens the impact of crisis and change. By forecasting probable future changes, planning helps anticipate change rather than just reacting to change.
Many times a new leader wants to pursue a personal agenda. Many organizations struggle with the regular change in officers and board members. This turnover often results in shifts in priorities and organizational direction. Planning helps to maintain organizational consistency by getting current and future leaders to agree on a set of priorities and to get them to focus on the long term. In this way, a change from one group of leaders to another should not disrupt the organization in pursuing a set of common objectives.
Members must be involved in the planning process. They are the owners and customers of the association, and as such have a direct stake in the direction of the organization. However, gathering input from the broad membership base can be difficult. Rather than trying to call everyone together for a general meeting, implement techniques such as focus group discussions and surveys to collect their input. Questions to ask inlcude:
- Why did you join this organization?
- What are you expecting the organization to do for you?
- How well is the organization meeting your expectations?
- List all the organization’s programs and services, then ask “Please rate each of the following programs and services on a scale of one to five with five being excellent and one being poor.”
- What are the most important issues facing your business?
- Do you have any suggestions for how the organization should help you respond to these issues?
Surveys must be carefully and fairly administered with the data compiled accurately. Share the data with the planning committee. Take the time to thoughtfully analyze what the members had to say. Determine how the organization can and should respond. Surveys give members the opportunity to be involved in the planning process in a very tangible way. Asking members to complete surveys communicates the message that the organization is interested in them and values their opinion.
Useful Terms in the Strategic Planning Process
Mission – The purpose for existence; a crisp one or two sentence phrase easy to articulate
Vision – A statement of aspiration; how the organization will affect the future community, members, and other stakeholders.
Values – Guiding principles of the leadership and staff
Goals – The core competencies to which resources will be allocated; Goals should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
Stategies – Approaches and programs for achieving the mission and goals
Tactics – Assignments, accountability, and deadlines
Performance Measures – Methods to measure progress
Program of Work – An annual detailed plan of activities linked to the strategic plan.