Is your strategic plan doomed to irrelevance?

zvf7cz0pc20-dikasevaWhat makes a strategic plan irrelevant?

This isn’t usually a binary thing. It’s hard to imagine a strategic plan, especially in the association world, that’s utterly irrelevant. Much of it is probably going to be in about the right direction.

But some plans waste resources because they aren’t used – and some plans waste resources because they aren’t on-target. Sooner or later, you realize they just don’t or shouldn’t matter to what you’re actually doing.

Let’s start with ways the plan can be irrelevant from the outset.

You didn’t know what you should be tackling.

This could happen if you didn’t do enough research or analysis to know what issues you were facing. It also can happen if the thinking wasn’t wide-ranging or provocative enough for good strategic decision-making.

The decisions represented in the plan weren’t based in the realities of your situation.

This can happen no matter how much research you do. Did you have the right conversations? If not, plan either doesn’t address the most important issues, or you let ideas survive that should have been redirected or rejected outright.

You didn’t get cracking on it.

You didn’t actually take the plan-as-document and put it into action through plan-as-ongoing-activities. If you finish the plan and then immediately turn your attention to things that aren’t in the plan, it’s pretty clear that the plan won’t really matter in decision-making or action, right?

The imperative for emergent strategy

Strategies, like brands, are only all about the top-down planning if you’re not thinking holistically about them. Just like brands, strategies are about the lived experience. Emergent strategy, popularized by the great strategy thinker Henry Mintzberg, blew apart the bureaucratic top-down notions of the all-powerful strategic plan, and noted that the real strategies are expressed through actions.

I’d suggest that the irrelevant plan is one that doesn’t take the notion of emergent strategy into consideration. And here’s how that particular problem emerges:

The plan’s set in stone.

As the external situation changes, and as the organization itself morphs, if you don’t let the plan itself change too, whether in small or big ways, it gets less and less relevant.

There’s no room to breathe.

If the strategy locks in all the available resources and then some, you can’t seed new ideas; you can’t explore new opportunities; you can’t give yourself time to think. You do need to focus, but you shouldn’t hyperfocus.

You don’t report on the plan.

If you keep a parallel reporting structure, you’re not committing to your strategic plan, Both staff and board will likely stick with the reporting structure you know best. Report at the organizational level, and likely below that, based on your strategies and the metrics you set for them. (You set some, right?)

If you’d like to discuss ways we can help you create a dynamic and relevant strategic plan – or blow up the one you have – please get in touch.

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.