Thomas Edison said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” He was bright enough (pardon the pun!) to know that a vision without action is insufficient. The same can be said of a thorough strategic plan that has yet to be executed. All too often, associations put a commendable amount of effort into writing a thoughtful and ambitious strategic plan that, unfortunately, is never fully implemented.
Well, dust off that plan. Let’s put it into action! I’ll walk you through all the steps—from the brainstorming process through a basic implementation—and provide you with some great tools to keep your strategic plan alive. I’ll even show you how to demonstrate your association’s value to your membership.
How to implement your strategic plan
I had the pleasure of collaborating with Jerry Panz, RCE, CEO of the Wilmington-Regional Association of REALTORS®, in 2011 to develop a presentation on “How to Implement Your Strategic Plan” for the AE Institute. We developed a work group of AEs from various-size organizations across the -country—at the state and local level—to find out what the biggest challenges were in implementing strategic plans. The key issues we found were:
- Not getting support from leadership and the board of directors
- Not knowing what to do with the plan after it was developed
- Not knowing how to track progress
- Difficulty in holding committees and staff accountable for their tasks
- Being overworked because staff has to step in to make sure the committee work gets done
- Getting sidetracked by new initiatives that aren’t aligned with the strategic plan and that sometimes require unbudgeted dollars
- Proving to members that the strategic plan would boost the value of belonging to the association
After hearing this feedback, we developed a process, created forms, and cultivated other resources (all available online at REALTOR.org) to help AEs implement its strategic plans. Now let’s look at how one association put their plan into action.
Gaining leadership and director support
I recently worked with the Emerald Coast Association of REALTORS®, Fla., to implement their strategic plan. Judi Rutland, ECAR’s current president, and Association Executive Cliff Long met with me during the leadership summit. Like many REALTOR® associations, ECAR hired a consultant to help -develop a strategic plan. The consultant worked with staff and leadership to brainstorm, visualize, and analyze how to meet member needs. By the end, the association did indeed have a stellar document, but needed guidance for putting it into action.
When I met with ECAR’s board, I stressed that the implementation process we were about to embark on was a fresh beginning. I asked the ECAR board to forget about what had been done in the past (the pet projects, and the sacred cows); support was needed for this new process today and in the years moving forward. Leadership and directors need to be able to take action when deadlines keep slipping, offer support to committee chairs and vice chairs to find out what assistance is needed, and ensure that new initiatives align with the association’s overall goals. Gaining their support before implementing any strategic plan goes a long way.
The ECAR plan had a mission, vision, and objectives. These are the “big picture” descriptions of what your association stands for and what it wants to achieve in the future. I refer to the objectives and strategies as the “what” and the initiatives or action plan as the “how.” The ECAR plan was missing the “how.”
For example, if one of your objectives is to increase member communication, how will you do that? Well, one initiative may be to improve your association’s Web site. Another may be to conduct a survey to determine your members’ preferred method(s) of communication.
After reviewing their strategic plan, the ECAR staff and I met to brainstorm and identify an action plan for each objective. Each action plan included a person who would be responsible for implementation, specified the staff or committees that would be responsible for carrying out the initiatives, and established target dates. Then each action plan was linked to its main objective in a tracking form with a start date, end date, area of responsibility, and check boxes for “on target,” “won’t reach target,” or needing “BOD action.” (The tracking form is included as part of this article and will help you track progress for your own association during the year.)
All of the staff was included in the brainstorming process, enabling those from other areas to offer suggestions outside their areas of expertise. Often committee chairs and vice chairs are involved in the brainstorming process, which helps to not only gain their input, but to gain member perspective and get buy-in from the planning phase.
ECAR’s plan was to meet with staff or committee chairs each month to obtain a status update and alleviate any roadblocks. For example, a vendor may not have deliverables on time, necessitating that the CEO ensures that obligations are met. If a committee is delayed in reaching its objectives, a meeting with the chair, vice chair, and/or president may be needed to determine ways to get them on track.
Identifying the initiatives, determining who will be responsible for completing them, and establishing a timeline is a great start. But how will you ensure that the initiatives will actually be completed? One of my colleagues suggests keeping the board of directors updated. If the committee and staff are aware that the board will be apprised of their progress (or lack thereof), they will be more inclined to complete their action plan.
With this in mind, the tracking form can also be used as part of your staff’s performance review process, showing how well they are meeting their goals and deadlines. Additionally, it can be used as a “status update” at your monthly board and membership meetings.
How to handle new initiatives
With new leadership often come new initiatives that may or may not align with your strategic plan. Staying on course can be difficult, especially if leadership has a personal agenda that they’d like to accomplish within their year, or if a committee wants to change direction. Dave Phillips, CEO for the Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS®, recommends that AEs assess the new initiative to ensure that it aligns with the association’s strategic plan.
If it does not, then consider recommending the new initiative for the following year. If it does align with your strategic plan, determine whether the new initiative will be funded from reserves or whether a current initiative will be forfeited to fund the new one. Before Phillips’ board allocates $500 or more from reserves for a new initiative, they address the following questions:
- How does the action relate to our mission statement?
- If we were in an unfavorable cash position, would we be willing to take money from another program to fund this?
- Would you be willing to stand up at the general membership meeting and explain/justify this expense to the members?
- Is this action a benefit for our primary customer?
- Has this program been vetted through a committee or work group prior to coming to the board?
Jim Peters, strategic consultant, author, and former AE, has created a program analysis form that he uses to justify new initiatives. It identifies the scope of the membership that will be affected by the new initiative, determines whether there is a need, considers how the initiative is tied to the strategic plan, and assesses the resources (staff and dollars) needed. The person proposing the new initiative completes the form and submits it to the committee for review. If approved, the initiative is then sent to the board for review and approval.
Here’s where the tracking form comes in handy once again: by allowing you to provide an update of your successes to your directors and members. The tracking form will not only assist with accountability but it also gives you a way to promote the many valuable services you’re providing based on your membership needs.
We all hear endlessly about the importance of making sure that members understand the value of their membership. Having a plan that meets your members’ needs, tracks its successes, and ensures that new initiatives are on track can accomplish this. Although the process may take a bit of time, it will be well worth the effort in the long run.
REALTOR AE, Spring 2012