A while back, a colleague of mine in one of Action Strategies’partnering firms in association governance, management and strategy – Tecker Consultants wrote something that I think is very profound”: “Just because you have a plan, it might not be strategic”.
In my years of dealing with associations and nonprofit organizations, I have seen my share of strategic plans and strategic communications plans. Unfortunately, many plans that purport to be “strategic” are not. Plans that are job descriptions for the organization, “to do” lists for functions or business lines, tactical action plans for programs, menus of interesting projects or collections of unrelated good ideas are not strategy. Scenarios, work plans, dashboards and scorecards can be useful tools in strategic planning if done right and used appropriately – but they are not strategy. And, just using the adjective “strategic” in the title of a planning document does not make it strategic.
In an address to list a serve discussion of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), Glenn Tecker of Tecker Consultants wrote the following:
Just using the adjective “strategic” in the title of a planning document does not make it strategic. The discipline of strategy exhibits a certain logic. Strategy and strategic thinking is a cultural commitment in an association community. It takes place at all levels of the organization and provides a way for us to think about things. It fuels innovation, enables transparency and accountability and informs decisions about appropriate roles and responsibilities.
Essential attributes of that logic include:  consideration of current and future conditions relevant to the choices to be made;  assessment of the capacity and position of the organization,  clarity on the outcome desired and what will constitute success;  identification of alternative paths to reaching the desired outcome; and  selection of those paths with the highest probability of success based on what we know about the character of the environment and the capabilities of the organization. If planning ignores any one of those essentials, it ain’t “strategic”.
Folks like Tom and Donna who understand strategy also know that good strategic planning has always been a process and not just an event that produces a written product. The process of planning strategically also involves: [a] determining metrics and measures that enable the organization to monitor progress in achieving desired outcomes; [b] linking work, resource allocation and accountability to the outcomes desired; and [c] installing methods for nimbly adjusting the strategy based on changes in the environment or experience in implementation.
When the process of planning is boring, it’s usually because people are not talking about things that really matter. Almost by definition, a conversation about things that don’t really matter is not “strategic”. In mission driven organization’s like associations, if the focus is on the organization rather than its mission, its most likely not thinking strategically. If the organization’s measures of success are all “output” measures [how much and how many we do] and there are no “outcome” measures [value received], its most likely not planning strategically. Absent clarity and consensus on the outcomes to be achieved, it is not possible to rationally determine what work needs be done, who should be doing what, or whether what we are doing is working .
…Detractors of the value of strategic planning in associations usually are defining it wrongly and then criticizing their incorrect definition. Unfortunately, their incorrect definitions are often based on experiences they have had with poorly executed planning that they were told was “strategic”.
Bravo Glenn! The same especially applies to association and nonprofit communications or even government relations. I would go one step further though. It is from these strategic plans that communications and even the very essence of outreach efforts in the NGO sector strive upon. Too often, the tendency is to put tactics before strategy jumping upon the latest impulse idea of what’s “hot” and how an organization should make a name for itself. The best practices of communications plans and strategic communications demand nonprofit professionals take leadership with their board and ask the simple question:
“Why are we choosing this communications tactic (or vehicle) and will it reach or overall goal of changing behaviors?”
What are your thoughts?