The Mezzanine Group: Strategic And Tactical Planning For Professional Associations And Not For Profits, April 2012


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Like most not-for-profit organizations, professional associations understand that strategic planning is a key activity they should undertake periodically as part of good stewardship of the organization. However, they do not always follow a very systematic approach to this critical endeavour, and often struggle to realize the value in the process. This white paper outlines how professional associations can undergo a strategic and tactical planning process which can lead to tangible benefits for all stakeholders in the organization.

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The Mezzanine Group: Strategic And Tactical Planning For Professional Associations And Not For Profits, April 2012

  1. 1. STRATEGIC AND TACTICAL PLANNING FOR CANADIAN PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS AND NOT-FOR-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONSLike most not-for-profit organizations, professional associationsunderstand that strategic planning is a key activity they should un-dertake periodically as part of good stewardship of the organization.However, they do not always follow a very systematic approach tothis critical endeavour, and often struggle to realize the value in theprocess. This white paper outlines how professional associationscan undergo a strategic and tactical planning process which can leadto tangible benefits for all stakeholders in the organization.April 2012
  2. 2. WHY IS STRATEGIC PLANNING IMPORTANT?The benefits an organization can derive fromstrategic planning are enormous.Fundamentally, it is a way for organizations toensure they are doing the right things in orderto fulfill their mission. It is widely interpreted asone of the key ways for Boards to exercise theirduty of stewardship. Done well, it can ensurealignment among all the elements of theorganization, and improve member satisfaction,employee morale, financial sustainability, andthe overall profile and brand of the association.Unfortunately, done poorly, it can be a frustratingexercise that goes nowhere and saps goodwillfrom all involved. THIS PAPER OUTLINES HOW ORGANIZATIONS CAN UNDERTAKE STRATEGIC PLANNING TO MAXIMIZE THE BENEFITS AND AVOID PITFALLS. IN SHORT, IT IS IMPORTANT TO BE STRATEGIC ABOUT YOUR STRATEGIC PLANNING. The Mezzanine Group 02
  3. 3. WHEN TO WHEN IS STRATEGIC PLANNING THE WRONG MOVE?There are a few situations where it is BEGIN?not wise to undertake a full strategic MOST ORGANIZATIONS FOLLOW THE RULEplanning exercise. OF THUMB THAT STRATEGIC PLANNINGFor example, if the organization is SHOULD BE UNDERTAKEN AT LEAST EVERYexperiencing a crisis that threatens its FIVE YEARS OR SO. HOWEVER, THERE AREexistence, such as a catastrophic loss A FEW CIRCUMSTANCES WHEN AN EARLIERof funding, or a crippling lawsuit, or- STRATEGIC PLANNING PROCESS MAY MAKEganizational capacity is better used to SENSE:address more immediate concerns. • Major change in the organization’s externalAnother example is if there is about to landscape, such as threats to revenue streams,be a significant change in personnel increased competition for members, or shifts inor in strategy. For instance, if a current relationships with other bodies (e.g. national/CEO has indicated a wish to retire, and provincial associations, or governing bodiesthe search is underway for their re-placement, it is generally smart to wait such as the Royal College in the medical context).until the new leader is in place beforedoing strategic planning. Having said • Major regulatory, economic or competitive changesthat, if the search is expected to take affecting the professional lives of members. Thesome time, and there are pressing con- organization may need to respond to these issues,cerns to be resolved in the meantime, a particularly as they relate to the value propositiontruncated process may be a possibility, the organization offers to members, or emergingwhile leaving the door open (and fund- needs members may be available) for the new CEO to dostrategic exploration of his or her own. • Major change internally, (e.g., a leadership transition, particularly if unanticipated). This is especiallyLikewise, if a merger has been agreed important if the organization has experiencedto, it makes sense to do strategic plan- significant conflict, such as removal of a CEO orning with the newly merged organiza-tion rather than trying to merge sepa- board member(s). Once the situation has stabilizedrate plans. and new leadership is firmly in place, strategic planning should be considered as a way to move the organization forward. The Mezzanine Group 03
  4. 4. KEY QUESTIONS TO ASK ?THERE ARE SEVEN KEY QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK TOSHAPE YOUR APPROACH TO YOUR STRATEGIC PLAN. ? 01 WHAT IS AT STAKE?START BY ASKING HOW If things are business as usual, with few significant changesSIGNIFICANT THE PRES- on the horizon, a fairly basic strategic planning process maySURES AND OPPORTUNI- suffice. It is important, however, to validate this perception with a range of people (typically senior staff and board mem-TIES ARE FOR YOUR bers, and possibly strategic partners) to ensure that everyoneORGANIZATION RIGHT sees the organization and the environment the same way.NOW. WHAT IS IN PLAY? On the other hand, if the organization or its environment is going through a great deal of flux, or there are severe resource constraints – or even exciting, but game-changing, opportunities on the horizon – then a more extensive strategic planning process makes sense. There may be more fundamental issues to address. What is at the core of what we do? What role should we play in a changing environment? How can we protect our medium-term or long-term viability? If these are the types of issues your organization is facing, your investment in the strategic planning process should be deeper, and the scope of issues you address should be broader. The Mezzanine Group 04
  5. 5. 02 WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS PROCESS? Setting objectives for the strategic planning process is critical. What strategic questions do you want this process to answer? What issues do you want the approach to tackle? Are there organizational issues, such as staff/board alignment or organizational design, that you are hoping this process will help to address? Be explicit with your objectives. This will be enormously helpful to ensure that the process stays on track. These objectives must be aligned with what is at stake for the organization to be truly successful. 03 WHAT SHOULD BE IN SCOPE?Many organizations are complex, with various means of revenue generation (such as apublication or journal, a conference, or a fee-for-service business), or perhaps a diversemembership base. Before you start strategic planning, you should determine what is on thetable. Every part of your organization, or only some parts, and why? What happens if theprocess uncovers a need to examine other parts of the organization? Is the organizationwilling to consider discontinuing certain parts of its operations?Do you need to update the mission, vision, or values? This may not need to be a major partof strategic planning, particularly if there is agreement among the board that the currentmission, vision and values are generally aligned with the organization’s aspirations. If thereis a major disconnect, however, an exercise to update the mission, vision and values maybe warranted, even before significant strategic planning is undertaken. Alternatively, youcan decide to go through the strategic planning process and then review the mission,vision, and values at the end, in order to ensure alignment and determine whether toaddress any disconnects through either the strategic plan itself or through amendments tothe mission, vision, and values. The Mezzanine Group 05
  6. 6. 04 WHO SHOULD BE INVOLVED IN THE PROCESS?FINAL DECISIONS ARE These should include members and employees at a minimum, but could include other organizations your mem-TYPICALLY MADE BY THE bers may also belong to (whether in Canada orBOARD, WITH INVALUABLE elsewhere), eligible non-members, competitors (e.g. aAND SIGNIFICANT INPUT provincial organization if you are a national organization), or other relevant groups. Taking a 360-degree approach to theFROM STAFF, BUT OTHER process requires time and resources, but also adds enor-INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS mous value. It is critical to develop and implement a commu-SHOULD BE CONSULTED nications plan for all stakeholders to build momentum and interest in the plan.AND ENGAGED IN VARIOUSWAYS. Often a strategic planning committee will be struck, which might have a few board members, some senior staff, other volunteers, and sometimes representation from member groups, or more junior staff. Committees of this kind can be incredibly valuable as a sounding board for processes or ideas, and can offer unmatchable insight. It is impor- tant, however, to be clear on the role of these committees throughout the project, and to provide them with adequate support and guidance. Clear terms of reference and consis- tent ongoing management are both critical. Regardless of how other elements of the approach are handled, the ED or CEO of the organization as well as the Chair or President of the Board both have critical roles to play. They must be prepared to devote significant time and - possibly more importantly - mindshare to this process. As the most senior stewards of the organization, they will generally feel an enormous sense of responsibility around this process, and it will become more absorbing as it goes on. Although demanding, this process can be incredibly rewarding, both personally and professionally. The Mezzanine Group 06
  7. 7. 05 WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW TO MAKE STRATEGIC DECISIONS?EVERY ORGANIZATION HAS THE ORGANIZATION’S STRUCTURE AND THE ISSUES IT FACES SHOULD DRIVE THE RESEARCH AND ASSESS-WAYS OF UNDERSTANDING MENT CONDUCTED, BUT THERE ARE SOME STANDARDITS STAKEHOLDERS AND METHODOLOGIES THAT MOST STRATEGIC PLANNING PROCESSES SHOULD AT LEAST CONSIDER:ENVIRONMENTS ON ANONGOING BASIS, BUT THE • Define the key stakeholders: This may include members, volunteers, staff, board, any industry partners or sponsors,STRATEGIC PLANNING government funders or partners, clients of services offered (e.g., of revenue-generating services), other organizationsPROCESS IS A TIME TO STEP (particularly those with interdependencies such as sharedBACK AND TAKE A services or partnerships), strategic partners, and others.SYSTEMATIC APPROACH TO • Plan for consultation with each key stakeholder group:THIS ASSESSMENT. THIS • For members, a robust member needsPROVIDES A SHARED FACT assessment yields enormous value, typically obtained through qualitative research (one-on-one interviews orBASE FOR DECISION- focus groups), as well as quantitative survey tools.MAKING AND CAN SHORTEN • A multilevel assessment of staff perspectives isSOME DISCUSSIONS BY generally needed to understand organizational issues. If the staff group is large enough, consider conductingBRINGING IN EVIDENCE TO a survey to get their perspectives.EVALUATE. • Scan the external environment based on secondary research and other means, e.g. participation in conferences, seminars, or webinars. • Evaluate the organization’s performance, including financial results, membership levels, program delivery, any compliance or policy issues, or other relevant measures. If a previous strategic plan had already laid out measures, then this can provide a good starting point. Once this research has been conducted, it should be distilled into an analytical framework and presented to key decision-makers. A SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) is a common way to provide an analytical framework to enable decision-making. The Mezzanine Group 07
  8. 8. 06 HOW WILL YOU DEVELOP THE STRATEGIES?THIS IS OFTEN THE MOST SOME POINTS TO CONSIDER FOR THE STRATEGYCHALLENGING ELEMENT DEVELOPMENT PROCESS ARE:OF THE STRATEGIC • If the situation is highly complex, very politicized, orPLANNING PROCESS – involves a large number of board members who are notACTUALLY DEFINING WHAT deeply conversant with the issues, it may work best to have a smaller group such as a strategic planningTHE ORGANIZATION WILL committee come up with the strategies for the board toDO, BASED ON THE review.ANALYSIS OF ITS • If the Board is relatively small and tends to take a strategicINTERNAL AND EXTERNAL view, it may be worth considering facilitating strategySITUATION. THIS SHOULD development with the Board itself, although this approachBE A SOMEWHAT typically requires at least two full-day board meetingsCREATIVE PROCESS, WHILE spread over a period of weeks or months.STILL GROUNDED IN THE • Strategies should collectively address the most significantREALITIES OF THE threats and weaknesses identified in the SWOT analysis,SITUATION. CONSULTATION to protect and strengthen the organization. They should also build on the organization’s strengths and capitalizeSHOULD BE BROAD, BUT AT on the opportunities that exist in the environment, to beTHE STAGE OF STRATEGY efficient in using the resources available.DEVELOPMENT, THENUMBER OF PEOPLE • Scenario analysis can be an important part of strategy development; if there is a set of choices in front of theINVOLVED MAY BE LIMITED organization, you will want to assess the implications ofTO FACILITATE ARRIVING each option. And if there are a number of different futuresAT MEANINGFUL that the organization may face as a result of externalCONCLUSIONS. forces, it will be important to undertand your range of possible responses. The Mezzanine Group 08
  9. 9. 07 HOW WILL YOU MANAGE THE PROCESS?REGARDLESS OF MANY ORGANIZATIONS CONDUCT STRATEGIC PLAN-WHETHER INTERNAL OR NING USING INTERNAL RESOURCES. IT IS ALSO COM- MON TO ENGAGE A THIRD-PARTY FACILITATOR OREXTERNAL RESOURCES CONSULTANT, EITHER FOR CERTAIN COMPONENTSARE USED FOR THE OF THE PLAN OR TO SHEPHERD THE PROCESS END-STRATEGIC PLANNING TO-END. IN DETERMINING HOW TO MANAGE THE PROCESS, IT IS USEFUL TO UNDERSTAND WHERE ANPROCESS, IT REPRESENTS EXTERNAL RESOURCE CAN ADD THE MOST VALUE:A SIGNIFICANTINVESTMENT OF • Conducting objective research on the membership andORGANIZATIONAL potential member populations.RESOURCES AND SHOULD • Facilitating decision-making, in order for staff and BoardBE INCLUDED IN THE leadership to participate rather than having to run theORGANIZATION’S process, especially where there are contentious issues to be resolved, or when the organization is facing criticalOPERATIONAL PLAN FOR strategic decisions.THE YEAR AS WELL AS THEBOARD WORKPLAN. FAIL- • Building common ground, particularly if the groupsURE TO ANTICIPATE THE involved (e.g. staff and Board) have a challenging working relationship, or limited familiarity with each other.TIME REQUIRED TO EN-GAGE IN STRATEGIC PLAN- • Offering analytical resources and an outside perspective,NING, FOR STAFF BUT which is more important where the issues are complex andALSO FOR VOLUNTEERS, require significant work to distill into recommendations.CAN LEAD TO FRUSTRA- • Bolstering internal resources, which are often not sufficientTION AND BURNOUT. to dedicate adequate time to the process, or may lack specialized skills such as survey research or analytics. The Mezzanine Group 09
  10. 10. TRANSLATING THE TACTICALPLAN INTO ACTION: PLANNINGTACTICAL PLANNING PROCESS TACTICAL PLANNING SHOULD BREAK THE STRATEGIES DEVELOPED DOWN TO MEANINGFUL ACTIVITIES (e.g. PROJECTS), AND THEN ASSESS HOW THEY MIGHT BE IMPLE- MENTED: 01 What specifically should be done? What projects are re- quired to make the strategies successful? 02 How will you determine successToo often, strategic planning processes fizzle for each strategy, and for eachout once a high-level plan is approved by the project? How will you measure that success?board.  This is understandable; there may besome fatigue as a result of the effort that has 03 What dependencies exist be-gone into the strategic plan, and the people tween projects?involved may have deferred other work and feelan urgency to get back to their “real jobs.” 04 What resources – financial, personnel (paid staff or volun- teers), or other – are requiredHowever, the real work of the organization for success?should be driven by the strategic plan. Thishappens most effectively when tactical planning 05 How long will these projectsknits the strategy together with implementa- take to reach fruition and tran- sition to business as usual?tion. If the results of the strategic plan are notintegrated into the workings of the organization, 06 Who needs to be involved withthen a large part of the investment in the pro- these projects, both internallycess will be wasted. and externally? The Mezzanine Group 10
  11. 11. MOVING FORWARD WITHTACTICAL PLANNINGTACTICAL PLANNINGMARKS THE TRANSITIONFROM DECISION-MAKINGTO IMPLEMENTATION, ANDTHEREFORE FROM BOARDTO STAFF. THIS PART OFTHE PROCESS NEEDS TOBE MANAGED CAREFULLYSO THAT IT DOES NOTTAKE TOO MUCH TIME ORENERGY. ESTIMATES OF Frequently, the tactical planning process leads toTIME AND RESOURCES pruning of desired activities. This enables theSHOULD BE MADE AT A organization to make choices before time and en-HIGH LEVEL. BOARD ergy is devoted to tactics that they are notMEMBERS MUST BE resourced to pursue, and it forces prioritization.AWARE THAT THE As part of this, it is crucial to recognize how muchESTIMATES MAY CHANGE (or how little) organizational resources are avail-WITH TIME AND able for new strategic activities. While an ambitiousORGANIZATIONAL organization with mission-oriented staff and boardLEARNING. will want to do more than is possible with current resources, it is important to focus everyone’s ener- gies on the truly mission-critical tactics which will generate real results, and not squander resources on too many ideas. The outcome of the tactical planning process is then translated into the operational plan and budget for the first year of the strategic plan. Over the life of the strategic plan, each year’s operational plans should begin with the strategic plan, as well as progress made to date. The Mezzanine Group 11
  12. 12. A STRATEGIC PLAN IS A LIVING DOCUMENT: MEASUREMENT & TRACKING ONCE THE COMBINED STRATEGIC AND TACTI- CAL PLAN HAS BEEN DEVELOPED, THE BIG- GEST DANGER IS THAT IT WILL BE SHELVED AND IGNORED AS THE ORGANIZATION GETS BACK TO ITS DAY-TO-DAY OPERATIONS. THE MAJORITY OF THE INVESTMENT IN THE PLANNING PROCESS WOULD THEN BE WASTED, SINCE THE PLAN DEVELOPED HAS NOT BECOME ROOTED IN THE ORGANIZATION.So, how can the value of the strategic plan be maximized?• First, the strategic plan should drive operational planning. Without this a strategic plan is an expensive stack of paper.• Management team meetings should be oriented around the strategies.• Board reporting should be structured so that Board members can see progress towards execution of the tactics (e.g. changes implemented, people hired, training completed) as well as achievement of the strategies (e.g. progress in terms of measures of succes identified).• The strategy should be reviewed at least annually at both the senior management level and the Board level, typically leading up to the Annual General Meeting.• Many organizations find it useful to undergo a strategic review halfway through a strategic planning cycle, especially if the environment or the organization is going through a great deal of change. The Mezzanine Group 12
  14. 14. ABOUT THE MEZZANINE GROUP The Mezzanine Group is a Toronto-based consulting and marketing outsourcing company that specializes in Business to Business (B2B). For more than ten years, Mezzanine has helped executives in small and mid-sized companies, large enterprises and professional associations achieve growth through effective strategic plans and marketing implementation. We know growth - we were named one of the fastest growing companies in Canada for four years by PROFIT Magazine.The Mezzanine 416 598