In the last couple years of doing strategic work for associations I’ve had requests to facilitate strategic planning sessions.
Some groups I’ve been able to help. Others I haven’t.
Reasons why some associations can’t be helped have piled up in to recurring themes. Some I see as perpetual problems that need immediate leadership attention. Others are quick fixes that can get groups pointed in the right direction fast.
The perpetual problems are the reasons why I can’t help a group. And they appear in questions asked by either the incoming president, current president, or association executive. These questions make me wonder who worked with them before, how they measure success, and whether this exercise is an item on the checklist or a document that creates alignment and execution for all those involved.
Below are some of the common questions I receive…
Will you submit a proposal to facilitate our strategic plan so we can make a decision on who is the best person for the job?
No, first we have to talk about your group’s objectives, how you measure the success of the plan, and what impact this new plan will have on all of the stakeholders and constituents. It would be unethical for me or anyone to submit a proposal any time before we have a conversation because my work is centered around driving measurable outcomes, not activities. We customize the process together from start to finish. That includes the proposal process.
We have a tight budget. Can you give us a deal?
There are so many things wrong with this question. A strategic plan represents the future of your organization. Do you really want to skimp on it by hiring a “yes man” facilitator? Also, asking for a deal on your facilitator poses a poverty mentality. It tells me that you don’t value the value that your own organization provides and chances are you won’t take the strategic planning process seriously from start to finish. Money isn’t a resource. It’s a priority. What’s more important than your strategic plan?
Will you facilitate our group of 50 people?
Are you having a party or do you want to focus on the future? Rounding up 50 people’s opinions is managed chaos. There’s a tendency to invite the entire board, committee chairs, and outside influencers to get involved. Bad idea. 15 participants max, 20 with staff included will help focus on the critical issues with less overlap in discussion.
Our president has hand-picked our group of participants. Can you help?
No, your strategic planning participant group must represent a cross section of knowledge, skills, and customer segments to create equal representation. If the president invites specific team members to cash in old favors, has their own agenda, or doesn’t properly tap into the talent pool then strategic outcomes will be slanted. Only a few people win.
Are you a certified strategic planner?
No, I don’t even know what that means. A certification suggests that someone has filled out an application, past an approval process of rigorous standards, and can use the letters behind their name to justify themselves in front of their customers. Moreover, a certification emphasizes a path of consistency which is self-limiting in of itself. Not very strategic in my opinion. My best customers care about outcomes, not credentials.
We don’t purposefully measure the impact of our strategic plan because then we are held accountable. Will you still work with us?
No, the three things I care about are loving my family, improving my skills, and creating impact so everyone wins. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like turning away business. But its far worse is to accept a role where you check items off the list and can’t prove you made a difference. There are consultants who will take that assignment. I won’t.
The reasons why strategic plans fail is because associations don’t have a plan, there is no consistent clarity around the plan, and there’s a lack of execution on the plan. Strategic planning is a process, not an event. It takes buy in from all key stakeholders and an optimistic outlook on the future. There is a tremendous opportunity to use the resources you already have in order to create something breakthrough, not the same old same old. If you can be ruthlessly honest about the current state of affairs, care about making some serious impact, and willing to do what it takes, let’s schedule a conversation. If not, don’t ask me to facilitate your strategic plan.