I was recently asked what I believed to be the "essentials" of strategic planning in a professional association, such as a law firm network or bar association.
There are at least four such characteristics, which I could describe as cornerstones. Without each one, the strategic planning process probably will fail:
In a voluntary professional organization, such as a bar association or law firm network, it is imperative that all members perceive the strategic planning process as an honest, well-informed inquiry, and not merely a facade to achieve a result that has already been predetermined by the officers.
Although the work usually should be delegated to a small committee, there also must be a way to include every member of the organization at all meaningful phases of the planning process. Waiting until the draft plan is circulated to the membership for comments is not good enough.
It also should be inclusive of ideas. Deciding that some topics are "off the table" no only excludes possibly good ideas, but it also undermines legitimacy.
Too many strategic planning groups in professional associations assume that they already know everything that they need to develop the organization's strategy. One of the most valuable questions that the group can ask, during the first hour of their work, is "What don't we know?"
Strategic planning cannot take place in secret. Some organizations mistakenly believe that they should not reveal to their members anything about the issues that are being considered until the draft plan is published. Frequent progress reports to all the members is the better approach. It supports legitimacy, demonstrates inclusiveness, and keeps open the introduction of information needed for well-informed discussions and decisions.