Associations love their strategic plans.

It’s typically a given that associations should all have strategic plans, and when you get right down to it, the structure and sometimes the actual content of strategic plan is similar across many associations. Let me guess: Your association has three main pillars of your plan that are some version of Education, Networking and Advocacy, right? Amazing that I knew that. If everyone has the same strategic plan, then really how strategic is it?

If you’ve followed my writing at all (or picked up on my snark in the last sentence), you know I’m not a big fan of strategic planning. I of course recognize both strategy and planning are incredibly important, but I’ve always hated the way we combine the two activities, and I still believe the process as it is frequently practiced doesn’t generate a lot of value.

A few years ago, I (and others) tried to announce the “death” of strategic planning, but with zombie-like tenacity, the strategic planning advocates created a “new” brand of strategic planning with “living documents” and “evolving strategies.”

But let’s put aside the dead-or-alive debate for a minute and take a closer look at how strategic planning actually plays a role in your culture, because I think it has an impact most association executives don’t even consider as they embark on a new strategic planning process.

Culture is about what’s valued. It focuses the attention, resources and behaviors of your staff and volunteers. Your emphasis on the importance of strategic planning impacts your culture. You may think the impact is good (we value being strategic, we value good planning), but check and see if these (not so desirable) cultural elements might be reinforced by your strategic planning process:

  • The board interferes with us doing the work, so we use the strategic plan to shut them up.
  • The job of senior people is to think and be strategic; the job of junior staff is to follow orders.
  • We only need to be strategic every three years or so.
  • Targets matter more than innovations.

The way we do strategic planning in the association community can actually create cultures that value the things in that list, and that’s not cool. So go ahead and do strategic planning. I’ll concede defeat (for now). But take a hard look at your process and the implications it has for your culture because that could end up robbing you of even more value.

Jamie is an author and culture consultant at Human Workplaces who uses culture analytics and customized consulting to drive growth, innovation, and engagement for organizations around the world. He brings 25 years of experience in conflict resolution, generational differences and culture change to his work with leaders leveraging the power of culture. The author of two books — "When Millennials Take Over" and "Humanize" — Jamie has a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in OD from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.

Jamie is an author and culture consultant at Human Workplaces who uses culture analytics and customized consulting to drive growth, innovation, and engagement for organizations around the world. He brings 25 years of experience in conflict resolution, generational differences and culture change to his work with leaders leveraging the power of culture. The author of two books — "When Millennials Take Over" and "Humanize" — Jamie has a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in OD from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.

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