A strategy session is arguably the most serious and important thing that any association can undertake. As we often tell participants of our association strategy sessions: “This is not an exercise.” It may feel like an exercise because we often have our board and leadership together away from the day to day, but ultimately we are there to make strategy.
Think carefully about the intent of your session. Do you truly intend to make strategy that will guide and constrain future actions and investments? Do you intend to see actual progress within a year and dramatic progress within 3 years as as a result of your session? If you plan to have an interesting exercise and make some vague proclamations about the future, you will see minimal results. With the wrong strategic intent, you will be having the same strategy conversation again and again.
How do you take an association strategy session seriously? While there are a number of tactical things you can do (which we will talk about in the next blog), the most important way to ensure progress is to openly discuss and agree to the seriousness of your session, the expected outcomes and hardcore objectives. Your Executive Director, Board Chair and facilitator should discuss and agree to the following well in advance of the session:
- What specifically will be different or better as a result of the session? What do we truly hope to accomplish during the session?
- Will the team create a strategy during the session that actually binds this board and future boards?
- Will most of our association’s strategic spending in the coming years be largely dictated by our decisions in and shortly after the session?
- Will most of our structure, resourcing and hiring decisions be dictated by our decisions in the session?
- Will the decisions in this session likely cause us to stop, de-resource or back-burner some of the projects we are working on today?
If you answer the above questions affirmatively, you have strong intent to be successful. Your next challenge is to convince all your session participants that they are making strategy that will impact your association (and often your industry or profession) for many years to come. Not everyone will believe you and not everyone will want the responsibility that comes with this level of seriousness and obligation. From our experience many participants will be truly surprised at the expected impact of the session and most of them will step up to make an effective strategy.