“We’ve been talking about this for years, but we don’t come to a resolution.”
“We can’t seem to get anything done.”
“Things take forever around here.”

Sound familiar?

Sure, some organizations move forward decisively and quickly with their strategic agenda.

But for many, that’s not the case. It’s common to get bogged down, mired, stymied.

Here are 5 reasons it might feel like you’ll be stuck here forever – and how to dig yourself out.

1. Because we don’t recognize when a decision is needed.

If an issue goes on long enough that you get used to discussing it without doing anything about it, it tends to fade into the background.

Response:

On the small scale, set up meetings so that you are clear about why a discussion is happening – do you need a decision? Are you just sharing background information? Is it OK for you to just be thinking about this topic, or is it time to take action?

On the more strategic level, sometimes you need to bring the relevant people in the room and set an agenda with one item – figure out what you are going to do about X. You don’t need to know the answer, but map out how you are going to get to one. Or decide explicitly to defer that decision, and take it off your to-do list until the time is ripe.

2. Because we don’t have the proper information with which to make a real decision.

Associations need to have a nuanced and constantly updating understanding of their environment and stakeholders, keeping an eye on strategic issues and taking advantage of digital data gathering.

Sure. In theory.

In practice, budgets are tight and data isn’t always there to tell us what we need to know.

But that doesn’t always matter when it comes to making decisions, especially about new ideas.

Response:

Roger Martin talks about the difference between using reliable and valid data. Reliable data can be used to predict a process, to recreate something which has happened in the past (think manufacturing processes). On the other hand, when you are trying to create something new, you need valid data which helps you recognize the value of your solution. This means you put the emphasis on the right variables, on asking the right questions and this often means looking for information in unusual places.

So, think through what information you really need to answer the question. Be creative in how you can get to an answer – or enough of an answer. Are there proxies, leading indicators, rough estimates, analogues, talking to people who know?

Don’t confuse the methods you’d use to evaluate a tried-and-true process with a new out-of-the-box concept. Don’t assess them the same way.

3. Decisions made aren’t real, so nobody commits to them.

Are there pronouncements from on high, which then nobody actually does anything about? Do you have a fancy strategic plan which nobody remembers the contents of? Do you have a lot of policies in a binder someplace?

Response:

This is a cultural issue, so it would take time, and sometimes new people around the table. But start with habits of follow-through and follow-up, and you can see change surprisingly quickly.

4. Decision-making isn’t taken seriously

Too often, associations faced with serious, even existential issues, are making decisions based on a half-day strategic planning session. Often these are held with no inputs except the contents of the board members’ brains, and no staff present except the CEO who also has to facilitate the meeting themselves. Is it any surprise that the strategies that emerge look a lot like “what we’ve always done”?

Response:

Invest time and money in a process that respects the seriousness of the strategic issues the association faces.

5. Because we don’t recognize what it takes to really achieve our aspirations.

We engage in magical thinking. We don’t get real about what it will really take to make an aspiration happen. You really want to be the go to source or lead in your sector or have the voice of government? What are you going to do to earn that?

Response:

Start to design solutions that will truly take on the challenges you face. No more airily saying you will take on a new segment or fight against the great content coming your new better-funded competitor with no investment, no new resources.

If you’d like to talk about how we can help with making robust strategic decisions – and making them happen – please get in touch. And come see me speak at the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition with Nancy Barrett of AMCES, at our session Act on your Tactical Planning – August 14th in Toronto.

Photo by Erik Dungan on Unsplash