43% of association CEOs/Executives say they conduct strategic planning every three years.

The words “strategic planning” can strike dread into the hearts of even the most seasoned executives and board members. Is there ever a right time?

It’s not always easy to say, especially in light of the pandemic, which suddenly made the concept of long-term planning a lot more complicated. But one thing remains true: Strategic plans are an organization’s guiding force because they are a roadmap that carefully determines what should happen next.

An effective strategic plan needs to be intentionally tied to the organization’s vision, mission, and primary initiatives so it stays on track and does not abandon the organization’s unwavering commitment to its well-defined purpose.

Now that we know how fast everything can change on a dime, it might be time to consider more condensed time periods. The question remains: Is it better to plan for more attainable short-term goals, or play the long game?

In a recent poll conducted by Avenue M in early December with 23 association CEOs/Executives, 43% of CEOs/Executives say they conduct strategic planning every three years, 30% say every four to 10 years, 13% say every two years, and 9% say annually.

One CEO panelist said the frequency of their organization’s strategic planning had changed in recent years. The organization’s last strategic plan was created seven years ago, now the group conducts planning every three years.

Another executive, whose organization conducts planning every two years, shared, “Our organization needs to love an annual process that creates a ‘living strategy.’ I don’t think organizations can thrive with strategy planning as an ‘event.’ It needs to be embedded into the organizational DNA.”

One panelist, whose group conducts planning every four to 10 years, said unfortunately the group’s planning frequency had not changed in recent years, but it should.

Another, whose organization undergoes planning every three years, said that while the frequency has not changed, “We revisit goals associated with the plan yearly.”

Conducting more frequent strategic planning while keeping yearly track of goals and objectives seems to be a popular option. Here are some timely resources on how to stay on track and keep your main objectives in focus.

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Read our quick summary of the following articles and click the links below.

When a Narrower Strategic Plan Makes Sense
Organizations often embark on longer-term strategic plans, but now that we’ve all experienced dramatic change firsthand, perhaps it’s time to consider strategic plans with more manageable–and realistic–timelines.

The Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE) needed to reassess just how forward-thinking it could be given how quickly things can shift, especially internationally.

CPSE decided on a two-year plan, which was more realistic for accomplishing its immediate goals rather than tougher ones like international growth.

Three Steps to a More Focused and Effective Strategic Plan
Having lots of goals in a strategic plan doesn’t mean it will succeed. It’s important to focus on a few key priorities to achieve real results.

Measuring the success of a strategic plan based on how many activities are included or tasks completed is not necessarily effective, but associations have long relied on evaluating the success of strategic plans based on the idea that more is better. Often, less is more.

Here are three vital steps for creating a successful, laser-focused strategic plan:

  • Radically prioritize
  • Turn priorities into clear objectives and key results (OKRs)
  • Assess progress and adjust as needed

It’s also important to keep in mind that strategic plans are not a one-off exercise that can be relegated to the shelf until next time. They are living documents designed to guide an association’s ongoing progression and financial success.

Should You Change Your Strategic Plan?
The pandemic disrupted many associations’ long-term expectations as organizational goals and priorities were temporarily sidelined. But that doesn’t mean the whole strategy needs to be scrapped. It can be retooled, making it relevant for what’s happening now.

As difficult as this period of disruption has been, boards need to look at it as an opportunity rather than an obstacle and reimagine the organization’s direction.

It’s not necessary to rework an entire strategic plan. Instead, it’s a great time to find out which audiences should be a priority and aim for strategic insight rather than shifting the course of the entire organization.

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Contributor: Lisa Boylan

(Image: Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE)