By Sally Holterhoff
Strategic planning…everyone is doing it:
businesses, schools, churches, governments, charitable groups, not-for-profits,
and professional associations. In the law library world, AALL is operating under
its third consecutive strategic plan (www.aallnet.org/about/strategic_plan.asp),
one that will take us through the year 2005. Turning to the 13 Special Interest
Sections of AALL, a quick website check shows that most either have a strategic
plan in place or are (like the ALL-SIS) in the process of drafting one. But in
the case of AALL, its sections, and countless other groups following this popular
management trend, the real question is: will all this planning actually result
in an improved future?
I must confess that not so long ago, I was a strategic planning skeptic. I'd
seen several groups (which shall go unnamed) put time and effort into a long-range
or strategic plan. The completed plan was nicely printed and distributed, but
then essentially forgotten until years later when someone noticed it had expired
(in more ways than one!). But then, as part of my service on the AALL Executive
Board, I was appointed to be a member (last year) and then to be Chair (currently)
of the Board committee that oversees the AALL strategic planning process. In
no time at all, I became familiar with the hierarchical format of a typical
strategic plan, which starts with statements of mission and vision, goes
on to set the stage with an environmental scan, and then identifies several
broad strategic directions. Each direction leads to a list of desired
outcomes. Set out under each outcome are specific initiatives
intended to achieve it.
When I began my Board term, in July 2000, the new AALL Strategic Plan 2000-2005
had just been approved, with four major directions, each with multiple outcomes,
and a total of 54 separate initiatives. I arrived too late to participate in
the actual creation of this plan, but just in time to contribute some of the
"blood, sweat, and tears" needed to implement it. As the old saying
goes, "the devil is in the details." Implementation of a strategic
plan means transforming carefully crafted phrases and lofty aspirations into
tangible results. If you don't implement your plan, you've wasted the time you
spent writing it. During my tour of duty with AALL strategic planning so far,
I've picked up a few general suggestions about the implementing of strategic
plans that could apply in a variety of situations. I offer these, not as expert
advice, but as practical tips about putting a strategic plan into action,
rather than "on the shelf."
Annotate each initiative in your strategic plan by stating five crucial
points: who, what, why, when, and resources needed. This annotated
version is now your implementation plan. Creating it will force you to
assign discrete tasks to specific entities within your organization, to develop
a good rationale for each initiative, to set deadlines, and to determine if
funding is needed. In some cases, you may realize that a new group (ad hoc working
group, task force, or special committee) is needed to accomplish a particular
initiative. Such an implementation plan has proved to be very valuable for the
AALL Strategic Planning Committee, despite all the work involved in its development.
It identifies over 40 AALL entities that have some role in carrying out a portion
of the current AALL Strategic Plan and answers the other questions mentioned
above. This working document is consulted frequently by the AALL Executive Board
and is revised and updated annually.
Prioritize the objectives of your strategic plan and set a realistic timetable.
Strategic plans commonly are written to cover a period of three, four, or five
years. If yours is such a multi-year plan, don't try to tackle everything in
the first year. Plan to address some of your plan's initiatives in each of the
years that it will be in effect, in order to avoid being overloaded or overwhelmed.
Being too ambitious about what you can accomplish right away may cause burnout
Communicate and motivate--keep your strategic plan on everyone's radar screen.
Reprint it in your newsletter, post it on your website, and refer to it as often
as possible in various ways. This will help you build and maintain momentum.
One method that AALL has found useful in this regard is an annual memo sent
by the Chair of the Board's Strategic Planning Committee to the leaders of the
dozens of groups within the Association. This memo reminds them about the current
AALL Strategic Plan and asks for comments and suggestions from them and the
members of the groups they lead. Many SISs began their strategic planning process
with a member survey. It makes sense to go back to those members, the people
whose input helped create the plan, and keep them involved in the follow-through.
Have alternatives if some initiatives don't work out as you had hoped.
When you work with volunteers, not paid employees, you can't fire individuals
who don't produce the anticipated results. You may have to try another approach
to accomplish what is needed. Stay focused on your destination but be flexible
about the path you take to get there.
Do all you can to keep the planning process dynamic and ongoing. Make
an effort to bring the vision and goals of your strategic plan into the ongoing
activities of your group, even though these regular activities are probably
not specifically mentioned in the plan. Whenever possible, use the goals you've
stated in the plan as a reference point for everyday decision-making. Referring
to the plan can actually enhance your group's ability to respond creatively
to new information or unforeseen circumstances, rather than being a limiting
Monitor progress and set up milestones. Establish a system of accountability
or a mechanism to measure progress. An assignment matrix or grid can be very
useful to keep track of ongoing and completed activities. The AALL Strategic
Planning Committee has developed several charts to match AALL entities with
the initiatives they are tackling and to record contact names and current status
of activities. These charts have also been useful to highlight initiatives that
need more attention. Working from the charts, committee members made a series
of phone calls to check with AALL groups which are (or could be) involved in
activities to further goals of our plan. We found these personal contacts to
be very productive. The information we gathered is now being used to produce
an updated version of our implementation plan. And the calls gave us the chance
to provide positive reinforcement that we hope will spur greater enthusiasm
and further activity within the groups.
Evaluate and acknowledge results. (This is advice that I am looking
forward to following myself, as various initiatives contained in the AALL Strategic
Plan near completion.) If all has gone well, the results will match or come
close to the original expectations expressed in your plan. In certain instances,
a goal that hasn't been accomplished quite as intended may still bring some
unexpected benefits. In any case, the tasks of this final phase are very enjoyable
ones: recognizing and celebrating completed tasks, encouraging efforts that
are ongoing, and showcasing the vision that has been realized by putting your
strategic plan into action. Oh yes, and starting to think about writing your
group's next strategic plan!