Where’s the Strategy?

Association Trends did a survey of association executives and reports on it in a recent issue. It talks about their confidence in their industries, in the U.S. economy, and their projections about things like upcoming meeting attendance.

I first learned of this report from Jeff De Cagna, who I fully expect to post on this topic, because he and I were both a bit surprised at some of the data that they reported on the association executives' response to the economic crisis.

Case in point: 45% of those surveyed said they expect "across the board" budget cuts. I run the risk of interpreting these results too much, but wouldn't across the board cuts imply that everything you do is strategically equal in value? If you cut EVERYTHING, then you're cutting the programs/effort that brings in the most net revenue or value to members, along with things that contribute less to the bottom line or member engagement, right? Or does everything contribute equally? It surprises me that nearly half are planning on across-the-board cuts. It makes me wonder about how clear they are on strategy and the impact of their various programs.

Of course when the executives were asked about what management areas were the most important to focus on during 2009, the number one answer was strategic planning to provide 'value.' Thirty-five percent named this as the most important management area to focus on.

What does "strategic planning to provide value" actually mean? Why did they add the "to provide value" clause? Were the execs in the survey only allowed to choose one area to focus on? Is that why only 7% are going to focus on new product development (how are you going to provide value in a changing world without introducing new things on a regular basis?)? Even better, only 3% are going to focus on organizational structure/culture/governance. Seriously, am I the only one who thinks that structure, culture, and governance are likely to be major factors in why an association is in a tough spot right now? Strategic planning is what they do anyway.

As I said, I may be over-interpreting the results of a survey where I don't know the details of the design and implementation. But survey results aside, dear readers, how is strategy REALLY playing a part in your decisions right now? How did you used to have strategic conversations? How do you have them now?

It's not only that the economic landscape has changed dramatically. We don't ONLY have to retool our programs or change our marketing tactics. We might have to change the structure or process of our strategic conversations. Going back to "strategic planning," even if we were good at it in the past, might not work today. Leadership is the capacity within the system to shape its future. That capacity is not static.


  1. 27.03.2009 at 9:48 pm

    I saw this survey too and was pretty amazed by how little it made sense. I couldn’t find any additional info or analysis about it online either. The highlighted question was “the most important management areas to focus on during 2009”. The choices were, in order of importance (least to highest for professional societies):
    -volunteer management/training (0%)
    -legal issues (0%)
    -HR management (0.6%)
    -International/global operations (1.2%)
    -Meeting management (1.8%)
    -Technology application and integration (4.1%)
    -Organizational structure/culture/governance (5.3%)
    -Marketing and communications (5.3%)
    -New program/product development (5.9%)
    – Membership decrease/growth (multiple generations) (15.9%)
    -Revenue decrease/growth (25.9%)
    -Strategic planning to provide value (35.9%)
    So like you mention, it’s totally unclear whether these ALL had to be rated in order of importance or whether respondents were supposed to pick their top one or three or whatever. But the first thing I thought was, if this was related to a question on the CAE exam I’d have contested it as being nonsensical.
    The “strategic planning to provide value” choice makes no sense (unless there’s some inside joke somewhere about “strategic planning to waste everyone’s time”). Plus, all strategic planning is about membership issues, about new program/product development, about revenue, and, if it’s good, about technology. None of those can be separated out!
    Then, we’re left with mar/com, HR, legal, volunteer management, international, meetings and governance. HR and legal will never be top of the list of management issues to focus on, they are part of the framework that underlie normal operations. Governance too, unless you were specifically merging or changing to a different model. International is irrelevant unless you are international. Mar/com really covers product development, and meetings, and volunteer management, and revenue.
    Huh?? Basically none of these line items are of baseline or equal weight to begin with so this particular snapshot makes no sense whatsoever.

  2. 20.04.2009 at 9:41 am

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