Making your strategic plan visible

Do you make your strategic plan visible? I’m not even talking about the specifics of your actions or metrics. The vision, mission, values, and strategies should drive everything in the organization, from major investments to the phrases you use to answer the phone.

In theory.

In practice, you’re lucky if your board chair can come up with 50% of the mission on a pop quiz. Isn’t that about right?

Here are some tips to really embed your strategic plan and framework into your organization – to make it inescapable.

Start with the basics

Let’s recap the basics of a strategic framework first.

Vision is the world you want to live in, and it can be long-term and pie-in-the-sky. I like visions that are a little bit unattainable, myself. And it’s entirely OK if the vision isn’t attainable by your organization alone.

Mission is your association’s role in bringing about the desired future of the vision. If your association didn’t exist, and you called someone and said, we should create the National Association of Widget-Polishers, and your friend asked “Why?” your answer roughly equals the mission.

Strategies describe the choices you’re making to fulfil your mission. How specifically are you going to get towards your mission?

Values describe what you are not going to trade off along the way. If you can’t get your strategies done without sacrificing your values, you’re not going to get the strategies done. They create constraints for you.

That’s a lot to remember. How can we help everyone in the organization, along with those who might be looking for information on who the heck we are and what we do, keep in mind what the association’s own versions of all of these are?

Short is good.

First, think about pithiness. Why? Because it’s memorable. These don’t need to be three-word slogans, and they do need to be long enough to do their job. But it’s very hard to remember them if they get too long.
And when it comes to strategies, few is good. Because otherwise you lose focus. That’s because of spreading organizational resources too think, but it’s also partly because even the most dedicated senior staff have trouble remembering more than a few strategies. Even if you do all the other things suggested below.

Put it literally everywhere

Some associations have trouble finding their strategies, or the version of the mission statement on the website is different from the one in the annual report.

But there are many ways to provide a more visible reminder of the vision, mission, values, and strategies of the association:

  • One association I know has their (audacious, time-stamped) vision on the wall of their boardroom.
  • I’ve seen a few where the tent cards printed for the board members at each meeting have the vision, mission, values, and strategies printed on the side facing the member.
  • Many associations have nice one-page summaries designed and printed up – these can be used to distribute to other stakeholders.
  • The one-pager can be hung up in offices – the chief staff officer should have it in their office (framed, even?), it can go in the lunch room, at the reception desk…
  • Of course, the vision, mission, values, and strategies should go on the website. This doesn’t always go without saying.
  • Any orientation to the association – for staff, board, sometimes other stakeholders –  should include this information. It should also be included in any other orientation, e.g. orientation to a particular committee, with further information showing how that committee supports the association overall (e.g. the Finance Committee) or particular strategies (e.g. a task force).

Pocket it

An entrepreneur I met once turned around a manufacturing company with a focused strategy. A factory can be a stubborn place, so he devoted a lot of energy to change management. One trick he used was to have his new vision, mission, and strategy printed on a wallet-sized card, and he gave it to everyone who worked there, right down to the substitute floor-sweeper.

He also conducted pop quizzes on the factory floor, to make sure everyone had read and understood the information. This may be a bit excessive in a volunteer-based association, but might not be a bad exercise to put the board through, in a lighthearted manner.

Could you print up cards, and distribute to staff, volunteers, to members at events and conferences?

Repetition, and repetition again

In the US, I’ve seen trade associations and competitors meeting for specific purposes read statements about anti-trust at the beginning of every meeting. This is a pretty perfunctory exercise, but does remind everyone of this important topic. 
When’s the last time you started a board or committee meeting with your vision, mission, values, and strategies?

Use it as a template

Documents – reports, proposals, business cases, discussion papers – should use the strategic plan in particular as a framework. They should all situate themselves against the strategies (or tactics, as appropriate) to show how they support them.

Really, everywhere!

There are unlimited ways to embed your strategic plan and framework into your association. If you want to shift your culture to a more strategic one, this might not be the silver bullet, but it certainly can’t hurt.

We’re all driven by convenience; if we are to implement something, it helps for us to see it in front of our noses every day.

Use your imagination and apply this concept of ubiquity to your association. What can you come up with if you grab a pen and a piece of paper and spend five minutes? What could your leadership team come up with?

If you’d like help developing and embedding your strategies, please get in touch. If you’d like a copy of our white paper on tactical planning, which helps associations translate strategy into action, please click here.

Photo by Scott Van Daalen on Unsplash

Contact us at or call 416-737-3935 to discuss how we might be able to help.


We offer resources to help leaders of associations and other not-for-profits think about their approach to strategy and governance, from various perspectives.