Everyday, Everyone Strategy

Imagine someone observing your association for a week. Somehow, they can hover everywhere, unseen, watching – as both staff and volunteers make countless micro-decisions. Where do they spend their time and their energies? What do they do – and what do they not? What is obviously important to them – and what is avoided? What are people urgent about – and what gets ignored? What doesn’t even get noticed at all?

So, at the end of the week, would this omniscient observer be able to articulate your strategies? Would they have seen an organization where everyone seems to be heading in the same direction based on a  collective understanding of what’s important and how to be successful? Would they have seen and heard references to a shared plan at all?

Or would they have had trouble identifying your strategic logic and seeing your operational priorities?

Not all associations have a solid set of strategies at all. But even for those that do, it’s very common to not fully embed those strategies fully into the activities of the organization. But how does this happen?

  • The box got checked and then we were done: the strategic planning process ended with the board decision, and then the document was filed away appropriately, and that was that. It wasn’t ever intended to change anything!
  • We got back to our day jobs: A strategic planning process can be time-consuming, and often resources allocated are very limited. Once the strategy is written, the other, neglected priorities swamp the leadership… and the moment for purposeful implementation passes.
  • Strategy is seen as solely a leadership activity: Perhaps there’s a perception that strategy doesn’t have to reach beyond those who set the strategy. Everything below that is operational and functions in a totally different sphere.
  • Decisions aren’t genuine: Sometimes strategies are passed by the board, but the decision is not robust. It won’t stick. It wasn’t thoroughly supported by data, or a small-but-vocal subset pushed it through despite objections, or the ramifications weren’t well-thought-out. Staff may hesitate to implement, feeling there isn’t full support for the strategy, or the board may start backpedaling. (Or both.)

So of course we do need strategic clarity around the board table. And then translating it into action helps the association in a number of ways:

  • It focuses resources on the right priorities. Strategy is all about making choices. Wal*Mart and a high-end boutique are making entirely different choices – both may be valid, but they’re very distinctive. But those choices need to be made across the whole organization for the strategy to really work. Everyone rowing in the same direction helps you get there faster.
  • It helps you learn. The more everyone understands about the strategic logic and the hypotheses the organization needs to test, the smarter you can be about getting those results back and applying them to the next activity.
  • It encourages the right kind of effort. A strategic plan doesn’t settle all arguments forevermore and doesn’t make everything easy. What it should do is focus differences of opinion on issues that are truly relevant to the organization’s success. It helps you direct energies into solving difficult – but meaningful – problems.
  • It helps you tap into your whole organization. Good ideas come from everywhere, and implementation requires everyone. Strategy isn’t a top-down military endeavour any more. The more people who understand the strategic thinking, the stronger all your teams are, whether staff groups or volunteer committees.

In my session at the Engaging Associations Forum in July , we will share ways for associations to weave their strategies into the everyday life of an association. Because strategy isn’t a document, or a single event. It isn’t just for the board and the senior management. It’s for everyone, every day.

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