By Frank J. Rich
Every day most of us go to work. We do so with the expectation that what awaits us is familiar and within our ability to accomplish. The usual preparation notwithstanding, some of us keep a schedule of “continuing education” (CE) to ensure the competency we might otherwise take for granted. Apart from professionals, most of us find our own path to CE, either by personal study, structured programs, or by the hand of a coach. Common among all approaches is that we see opportunity in the exercise. I regularly read books, view CDs, and attend online seminars to achieve the same result.
Recently, I took such an opportunity at an association meeting my wife and I attended. The main purpose of the 2-day session was to prepare a strategic plan of sorts, and for this the association hired a professional management consultant to facilitate the process. I met him the night before the planning session was to begin. The more we spoke the clearer it became (at least in my humble view) that Andy had all of the right principles firmly in place, and that the collaborative results of the ensuing sessions would bear fruit. Andy Hoh was doing it right, and I was encouraged that my wife would be in good hands over the next two days.
A strategic plan is usually not something you can accomplish in just a couple of days. Few of us are capable of pulling together the thoughts that inform a realistic view of the future in the short span of a day or two. The competition, internal and market initiatives, resource development, and technology forecasting, to name a few, can be complex issues to plan. Consensus, which must follow, is not always a given under the circumstances.
I took the opportunity to join the group for a short segment of the sessions, having already reviewed what had gone before it with my wife. It was a good learning experience. Not only was Andy a capable facilitator, he was equipped with the knowledge of best practices, and a style that transferred it easily. Taking the opportunity to “check” the competition proved to be as valuable as I had hoped it would be.
Andy began by asking board members to visualize their future. It’s no surprise to discover the opportunity in our future when we take the time to consider it. You’ll see the same advice from Jack & Suzy Welch in their weekly column: “Start with a clear purpose and vision in mind.” A mission statement resulted. Next, he asked the most fundamental of all questions, “What do we want to accomplish more than anything else?” It’s the right stuff. It’s hard to know how to get somewhere if we don’t know where we’re going. As Andy listened to responses, he wrote them down on a flip chart and organized them on the walls of the room for easy reference. Why? Because “what’s not on paper turns to vapor.”
Andy moved quickly through the process, ever sensitive to the need to do “real work” and in the time allotted. Another honored principle was revealed—to do what you can, with what you’ve got, in the time you have—and gave needed perspective to the process. Right again! When Andy moved the discussion to goals he was careful to encourage specificity, measurability, attainability, realism, and targeted output. Few goals without these guidelines end in the desired results.
Organizational strengths and weaknesses were next; the stuff of opportunity. Without problem identity there can be no solution. We cannot solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Root cause analysis followed in an effort to avoid a cursory view of the opportunities for the association. Symptomatic failure is the number one reason for not achieving one’s goals. When we see blue lips on a friend, it’s fair to conclude that he is oxygen deprived. The same holds true for organizations. Without a careful analysis of the symptom (problem) we often throw good money after bad. Too many organizations are starving for oxygen.
After the strategies were in place it was time to put together an outline of the action plans for each of the strategic initiatives put forth by the team, a critical element of which is team building. This was a loosely constructed group of volunteers, not people with clear ties to an accountability system. It was necessary for Andy to do two things at this point: emphasize ownership of the goals and their outcomes, and encourage a spirit of teamwork that positioned team members’ success above their own. This may be the most significant accomplishment of any group effort because the yoking of determinant minds is like going against the goads.
Responsibility for tasks within each of the strategic initiatives was assigned, and the group concluded with an enthusiasm for the desired outcomes that I thought might not be impossible to achieve under the circumstances. They agreed to keep short accounts of progress in each area of development, and established a review and reporting mechanism to do so. On the way home my wife continued the discussions of the two days, reviewing for me the process and excitement in the opportunity to realize the mission of the association—unity and prosperity for all members.
Andy had done his job well. He had prepared the group to do the thinking and the doing of strategic planning. What an interesting idea—think about the future by looking at how we got to the present, then project a better future. I think we can all take a lesson from this story of planning for achievement.