Strategic Planning for the New Year

Here it is, not even Christmas yet, and I’m talking about the new year? What gives?

We all know that it is easy to get caught up in day-to-day activities and “emergencies” that command so much of our time. But we also know that, every once in awhile, it is a good idea to take a step back and reflect on where we have been, and where we are going. While this seems obvious, and may apply to so many aspects of our lives, it is applicable to the operation of community associations as well.

Between dealing with budgets gone awry, owners who install decks without approval, board recall efforts and all of the other details required to keep the association functional, how is it possible to focus on the big picture? While I don’t have any expertise in strategic planning, I have participated in several strategic planning sessions, as many of you may have. The better sessions concluded with goals and measurable action items so that progress, or absence of progress, could be determined.

In the community association context, strategic planning fits nicely in the corporate governance model. Directors of corporations, including nonprofit corporations, are often charged with providing strategic and policy oversight. We all know that most directors of community associations also wear officers’ hats as well, and it is often difficult to separate the two roles. In addition, in many associations the directors are also what I refer to as “operating directors;” in other words, they are also responsible for actually doing stuff, not just responsible for seeing that somebody else does stuff.

But if the directors can find their way to spend an extra couple of hours (early in the new year is often a good time), they could put on the strategic and policy making hat and plan for the upcoming year, attempting to be proactive, rather than just reactive. This could be as simple as putting together an action calendar with the manager to make sure things are being done in a timely fashion throughout the year. It could be as complex as discussing what to do with the recreation center and an aging population five years down the road, determining members’ desires, and setting goals for the association’s role in whatever action is decided upon.

There are many people who actually facilitate strategic planning sessions, and keep the participants on track. Otherwise, it is easy to lose perspective, move off on tangents, lose focus, and ultimately waste everybody’s time. I recommend using a facilitator initially, but if your budget doesn’t allow it, the board can put together and handle its own session. It should, however, make sure that it keeps realistic goals and measurable outcomes.

You might be surprised what comes from the session, and next year, when you are once again reviewing where you’ve been and where you’re going, you will have at least a road map to see if you were able to stay on the road, or if you need to create a new map.