Monday, June 29, 2015

Strategic Priorities Define the "Businesses" You Are In

I'm describing in a series of blog posts the different elements that make up my association's Strategy Agenda--a new term I've introduced in my organization to represent the essential work product of our Board of Directors. It is comprised of four distinct elements, each one nesting in the one that precedes it, and describes what we want to achieve and how we will measure our success in achieving it.

Two weeks ago I focused on the highest of the four elements: the mission. This week, I'm going one step down the outline to talk about the second element: strategic priorities.

The simplest way to describe what we mean by strategic priorities, I think, is to say that our strategic priorities describe the handful of ways we are able to fulfill our mission. By way of example, our association currently has three of them. Although we don't always phrase them this way, to emphasize their connection to our mission, we could say:

Our mission is to strengthen the fluid power industry, and we do that by:
(1) Serving as a forum where all fluid power channel partners work together;
(2) Promoting fluid power technology and fostering an innovative environment for the fluid power industry; and
(3) Building and connecting our members to an educated fluid power workforce.

In day-to-day parlance, we often abbreviate those sentences into keywords, but the keywords are less important than the sentences themselves. They essentially describe the major "businesses" that our association is in. We bring our industry together for networking and collective advancement, we promote our industry to external audiences and create spaces for technological innovation to occur, and we educate future employees and help connect them to our industry. These are the things that we do and must do well if we are to fulfill the mission we have set out for ourselves.

And although there is no magic to the number three (indeed, some people have accused us of packing several different "businesses" into those three statements), there is magic to the concept of "a handful." In my opinion, no organization can be in more than five businesses--at least not if it expects to be effective at all of them. Keeping the list short helps provide focus both to the strategic concepts and discussions that follow on the Strategy Agenda, and to the organization's use of resources and development of staff talents.

It is therefore critical for an association to get clarity around this concept before moving on to ends statements and success indicators (the next two elements in the Strategy Agenda). But understanding clearly what the association does--and by inference, what it doesn't do--the process of describing the ends or outcomes to be achieved and the success indicators or metrics by which that achievement will be measured becomes much simpler. By understanding what businesses you are in, the discussion about what you will achieve and how you will know you achieved it almost automatically lives within the bookends of the association's areas of focus and core competencies.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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