It's a challenging balancing act. To be honest, (A) makes (B) difficult, and (B) makes (C) difficult. If you successfully orient your Board members with your track record of activity over the past year, how do you keep them from digging into those weeds, and if you successfully keep them focused on the horizon, how do you temper their ideas with the honest limitations of the checkbook and staff hours?
So it was an interesting week for me to stumble across this post by Anna Caraveli at The Demand Perspective blog. In it, reflecting on work done by Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad, she dissects the good and the bad of traditional strategic planning processes. For me, the big takeaway comes near the very end:
Do not expect your organization's direction to emerge from a formal process all at once. Instead, develop capabilities for systems-wide innovation, reinvention, reconfiguration, openness and flexibility through which your association will be constantly renewed and re-aligned with the market.
Her caution is well noted. Expecting my association's direction to clearly emerge from our day-and-a-half strategy session was exactly what I was doing (unconsciously, I think). And this desire--to come to closure and have a plan set firmly in place--is really the only thing that makes the dreaded transitions from (A) to (B) to (C) necessary. Viewing the retreat as a singular event--a place where decisions are made--forces the conversations we will have there into certain channels--channels that are more focused on their own need for completion than the reality of the market in which the association operates.
But looking at the retreat as part of an on-going process, the need for closure dissolves harmlessly away. Yes, let's take a look at where the association has been and what we've been able to accomplish (or not) over the past year. And yes, let's talk about the changes in the marketplace that are affecting our industry and all of our businesses. And then let's try to put both discussions into the same box and decide how they're connected (or not) to each other. It'll be messy, but at least we'll be dealing with the reality of our environment.
Then, rather than forcing ourselves to make decisions about what to do next or differently, lets take a look at how adept our system is at capturing and acting on this kind of intelligence. How often do we have that conversation? Seriously, have we ever had that conversation? For many associations, the unfortunate reality is that there usually isn't time. Rather than create a process that engages leadership at a level it can be most effective, they struggle to wordsmith a set of goals and objectives so everyone can leave the meeting feeling like they accomplished something.
It's closure, but it's a false sense of one. You may have your direction, but you've left the organization no better able to adapt to the next shift in your environment. Hopefully, when that shift occurs, it will coincide with the timing of next year's retreat.