Monday, January 21, 2019

Strategy Development and Deployment

Couple of conversations this week with members of my association's Board on the differences between strategy development and strategy deployment.

I probably need to provide some background first. My Board recently decided to change our cycle of strategic planning. When I first came into the organization (12 years ago!) I put it on an annual cycle of strategy development and deployment. Essentially, at only one Board meeting a year would we do anything that looked like typical "strategic planning" work. We would do an environmental scan, compare its results to our current strategy, make necessary adjustments to that strategy, and codify a set of strategic goals and objectives for the year ahead. At subsequent Board meetings, revisiting that strategy was "off the table." The focus turned to deployment. Not "What should we be doing?", but "How well are we doing what we should?".

At first, that was a good thing. Given where the Board thought the association was positioned, the opportunity for an annual course correction made sense. But over time, as we worked out some of our strategic kinks, and got better and better at focusing the association resources on the things that mattered most, this annual planning cycle seemed to interrupt the flow of some of the long-term strategic commitments we had made.

So my Board just made the change to a triennial cycle. Not once a year, but now once every three years, would we have the kind of deep dive, strategy changing event like the one I described. For all the other Board meetings over that three-year span, the focus would remain on strategy deployment, on making sure we were executing our existing strategy as effectively as we could.

Now fast forward to today. I'm engaging with members of the Board's leadership to help determine the topics we will discuss at our next Board meeting in March -- the first meeting after our decision about the new development and deployment cycle was made. As a result, the two concepts are heavy on everyone's minds, and, believe it or not, it seems like many of us are operating under different definitions of those two words.

Here's my take. At the Board table, our strategy is defined by three factors. There's our mission, our overall purpose; from which we determine our ends statements, the outcomes that will result if we are successful in accomplishing our mission; and then our success indicators, the metrics by which we'll know that we are achieving those outcomes. That's what gets locked in for each three-year cycle. Changing any of those, or adding to them, means that you are developing new strategy, extending the association into areas not foreseen by the existing set of mission, end statements, and success indicators.

Strategy deployment, then, is everything and anything you do within those boundaries. The work you do to hit the goals attached to your success indicators, which result in the outcomes defined in your ends statements, which in turn achieve your mission. Looking at how well the association is accomplishing what it has set out to do, and discussing new ways to achieve it, or the allocation of different resources; that all falls within the boundaries of what I would call strategy deployment.

And that, I think, is where things get tricky. Because if something isn't working well, and you want to discuss a new approach, or have the Board allocate a new set of resources, you run the risk of straying into what others might think is new strategy development -- and that was among the concerns expressed in my conversations with Board members this week.

We need to stick to our strategy, some of them said, but it wasn't the strategy that I was proposing to change. Upon reflection, it was probably another instance of our imprecise choice of words causing confusion among well-intentioned professionals. I wasn't proposing that the Board discuss a change to our strategy. I was proposing that they discuss a change to the tactics that we have been pursuing in order to achieve our strategic outcomes.

And that, to my way of thinking, should be fair game at every Board meeting.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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