Optimizing the Impact of Your Strategic Plan
A multi-year strategic plan can be a powerful tool for an association. However, it can only achieve optimal results if a board takes certain steps to ensure that its goals are current and relevant. The following suggested best practices will help increase the impact of your organization's strategic plan:

How often should a strategic plan be reviewed and updated?
  • A board should review its plan often, focusing on monitoring progress and identifying major obstacles or opportunities that require immediate board guidance. Some boards make it a standing agenda item for every board meeting. Others review their plan less frequently and use a quarterly schedule.
  • A strategic plan is a living document and a board should update it on an annual basis by holding a specific strategic planning session. During that meeting, a more thorough evaluation of progress to date should be considered so that the plan will continue to deliver maximum impact. Only rare cases driven by significant internal and external factors will generally require an updating of the plan more than once per year.
What kind of significant internal or external developments would require a board to consider updating its strategic plan prior to its annual strategic planning session?
  • From an internal perspective, boards should monitor sudden changes in available resources or financial conditions (either positive or negative); changes in cost structure for programs; unexpected industry events and developments that impact members, vendors/partners and other key stakeholders; growth of new member segments, significant shifts in member needs; etc.
  • From an external perspective, boards should monitor changes in the political landscape; new legislation or regulation; economic changes (either positive or negative); new technologies; industry shifts; new competing organizations; marketplace consolidation; etc.
Additional Advice to Consider
  • Commit to the strategic planning process. Many associations don’t. Accept the discipline of the process and follow through with it.
  • Celebrate even the small achievements generated by the strategic plan. It can be hard to accomplish major items quickly, but small steps can lead to big achievements down the road, and every step forward is important.
  • As part of the annual strategic planning process, it is critical to ask questions about what is new or different in the industry and to poll staff, committee members, strategic partners, sponsors and members to identify new trends and needs. These exercises are extremely helpful in assessing whether a strategic goal from two or three years ago is still relevant. After the discussions, decide if the strategic goal is relevant, needs to be modified or needs to be eliminated.
  • There is nothing that says a strategic goal cannot be altered or altogether eliminated if it is no longer relevant. Eliminating unnecessary goals will also help free resources to address more pressing issues that arise after the plan has been approved.
The takeaway is that a strategic plan must be reviewed and adjusted on an ongoing, regular basis. Too much effort is spent creating the plan — and its potential impact is too great — to abandon it. An organization that keeps its strategic plan relevant and uses it to help make decisions throughout the year will be more successful than an organization that lacks strategic direction and focus.
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