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Five Secrets of Effective Strategic Planning

Search America By Harvey Weiner & Mark Weiner 
Partners of Search America

In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.
- Eric Hoffer

Credibility-of-process is essential to successful strategic planning. Participants who feel manipulated or coerced to support your preordained conclusions will fight the process and ensure failure of the end result. However, if your intentions are principled, and the future of the club is your overriding concern, then these secrets, gleaned from over three decades of experience, will help guide you to a successful outcome.

1. First review the old strategic plan

A poor plan may be better than none, unless the old plan is so counterproductive that even discussing it will send everyone screaming from the room. Remember though, that old plan is the result of someone's prior effort and dismissing it out-of-hand is both short-sighted and insulting. Surely, there is something relevant therein as you initiate a new strategic planning session. Evaluate the best components of the old plan and attempt to integrate those ideas into the new plan, thereby crediting those who contributed to the old while acknowledging what has since transpired.  

2. Invite the right people to participate in the planning

The best plan is worthless if lacking the integrity which results from broad-based input and support. The plan must emerge from thoughtful, intense deliberation. When constructing your invitation list be wary of those who represent a single issue or personal agenda. Invite various ages and affinity group representatives. Clearly define the role of the committee, its mission and its limitations. Clarify each individual's member-centric task and require everyone to set aside parochial issues. Engage an independent facilitator for the opening, direction-setting sessions and seek expert input at critical choice points throughout. An in-house facilitator will have difficulty remaining impartial particularly when personal financial implications and the future direction of his/her club may be at stake. (Full disclosure: Yes, we do facilitate board and strategic planning retreats. But, so do many others, including local university professors. Find someone who can be counted on for objectivity and with whom you are most comfortable). Invite staff to contribute their perspective too. Avoid the perception that the plan, which ultimately emerges, reflects the thoughts of an elite faction within the club. Broad input contributes to broad support.
3. Maintain transparency throughout the process

Inspire trust and openness such that participants feel comfortable expressing opinions free of the fear of embarrassing criticism. Build an environment where everyone actively listens to and respects others. It's okay to challenge ideas but not each other. Avoid attaching the name of a participant to a particular idea to avoid criticism based on that individual's persona. Welcome new ideas and ways of thinking. Willingly shift paradigms. Though an idea in itself may be without merit it might trigger thinking in a more productive direction. Help newcomers to overcome feelings of intimidation by encouraging engagement in discussion. The only "bad" idea is the one unexpressed. Report progress to the membership but avoid reporting details or premature conclusions. Half-baked ideas can frighten or arouse strong passions among the membership, particularly when costs or traditions are involved.  

You must be clear about whether the intent of a meeting is to open the floor for ideas or this is decision-making time. Participants should understand what is expected of them and how their input will be treated. If seeking decisions you must be clear about whether consensus, unanimity or just a non-binding sense of the group is what you're after. 

4. Clearly communicate conclusions to the committee throughout the process and to the membership when completed.

Maintain minutes and meeting notes and keep them available for review. Participants should be able to read the thinking behind the decisions. This will minimize Monday morning quarterbacking and reinterpretation of the group's findings.

When it comes to defining the club, its brand, vision, mission, marketing position and core values, be accurate. Avoid the temptation to create a strategic plan that's really nothing other than marketing materials. If the strategic plan states it, then the club's leadership must be expected to live it. The effective final document will define a club about which its members and staff will say, without equivocation, "Yes, that's us."

5. Implementation

Keep the plan handy, available and refer to it often. This is now the club's "Bible" (at least until the next strategic plan takes its place years from now. The credibility of the process and resulting plan requires the acceptance and support at all levels of the club's organization. By referring often to the plan the organization will continually move in the right direction, setting priorities and developing best practices consistent with the plan. Consider it a members' touchstone, consulted frequently, just as the country's constitution defines the rights, obligations and limitations of citizenship. The effective strategic plan is the guide which informs the direction for this and future generations of club leaders and members. 

I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times. - Everett Dirksen

Little is static in a dynamic private club. Yet, the significance of faithfulness to tradition, core culture, values and a sense of continuity from generation to generation can not be overstated. Strict adherence to a plan, in its aging entirety, when some component may have outlived its usefulness, could call into question the validity of the entire document. So, as circumstances dictate, deal realistically with revisions to the club's strategic plan, while respecting the heart of the document. When conditions warrant, consider minor surgery, revising just those relevant parts. Don't abandon the entire plan when only an element calls for modification. Keep the strategic plan current and relevant. Keep it alive; remain faithful to it, until you change it.

Harvey & Mark Weiner, two generations of thought leadership in Private Club Executive Search & Consulting, are partners in Dallas-based Search America Trusted advisors since 1974. 800.977.1784    Search America

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