Strategic Planning Insights for REALTOR® Associations
A strategic plan should be seen as a leadership tool
Many associations creates strategic plans that are never implemented because individual leaders are allowed to determine the direction of the organization rather than following the direction set by the strategic plan. While the National Association of REALTORS® Organizational Alignment Core Standards require state and local associations to create a strategic plan, it is up to the staff and leadership team to insure that the plan is seen as a decision making document. It’s important that future leaders, prior to agreeing to serve in a leadership role, commit to using the strategic plan that is in place.
Selecting the right team
Organizing the strategic planning team is a critical step in the planning process. The members of the team should represent a cross-section of an association’s population; using the members of the leadership team as the strategic planning team is not recommended.
Gathering information from the membership
Strategic planning teams should have access to data gathered from the membership in the form of surveys and/or focus groups. When focus groups are conducted they should be audio recorded and copies of these recordings should be provided to the members of the planning team prior to the retreat.
The planning process
To be effective, a strategic plan must provide the leadership team a prioritized list of measurable goals, referred to as strategic initiatives. This plan should help the association focus on doing the things that fulfill its purpose and avoid investing resources in activities that are not in line with its mission. The following steps are recommended in developing an effective strategic plan:
1. Mission statement – Why does our association exist? What is its purpose?
In facilitating a strategic plan, I begin by asking the planning team to validate/revise its existing mission statement, because this is the core component of a strategic plan.
2. Optimum performance – What indicators would exist if our association was fulfilling its purpose 100%? What should our leadership dashboard look like?
The team is then asked to identify the characteristics that would exist if the association were operating at 100% optimum performance, meaning that it is fulfilling its mission statement to the best of the association’s ability. Such a characteristic might be: “If the association were performing at the highest level of performance, 90% of its members would attend at least three association events per year.”
3. Prioritize characteristics – If our association cannot resource all of the things that it must do, which ones should we focus on first?
The team then has the opportunity to determine the order of importance of the characteristics that they defined in step #2. This phase of the process ensures that the leadership team members have a working tool that tells them not only what the association should do but the relative importance of each characteristic. The importance of each item will be determined by the benefit that it provides to the members.
4. Identify the performance gap – Compared to what our association is doing today, what do we need to start doing in order to fulfill our purpose 100%?
Using the list of prioritized characteristics from the previous steps, the planning team will evaluate each item based on its current status in the association – Is it being done at all? If it is being done, is it being done well?
5. Identifying services and resources that are no longer needed – Is our association allocating resources today to do things that are no longer required by its mission statement?
This is an extremely important step in the process, because it requires the planning team to identify services that the association is currently providing to its members that are no longer justified by the mission statement. Leaders must ensure that resources are being allocated in the most effective and efficient manner, which requires that every activity being sponsored and resource being provided must be supported by the strategic plan.
Length of the planning session
Ideally the team should plan to work together for two days.
Implementing the plan
Once the board of directors approves the strategic plan developed by the strategic planning team, action can begin on each of the strategic initiatives. The leadership team should focus on the five initiatives that have the highest priority and do the following:
a) Assign a work group to develop an action plan for each initiative that identifies the tasks to be performed; a timeline for the completion of each task; the personnel resources that will be needed, both staff and volunteer; and funding requirements, if appropriate.
b) The board of directors and the association executive should review the action plans for each of the five initiatives to determine how many of them can be worked on simultaneously based on the required resources. It is better to work on one or two initiatives at a time to ensure that their completion produces the desired outcomes and member benefits.
c) For each of the initiatives that will be addressed, individuals need to be assigned to complete the steps in the respective action plans. Action plan items might include such things as doing research, conducting focus groups or surveys, or interviewing and recommending a service provider to be hired to perform a specific task.
d) The role of the board of directors is to oversee the work of the people who are completing the action plans. Once the directors approve an action plan, they need to let the people assigned to complete the tasks do their jobs without interference from the leadership team.
Addressing new issues that come up after the plan is adopted
During the period of time that the plan is in place, issues may arise that are not addressed in the strategic plan. When this occurs, the members of the board of directors will be able to assign a priority to each issue, based on its impact on the mission statement, and revise the list of prioritized goals.