How Often Should You Update Your Strategic Plan?

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By Carol-Anne Moutinho, MBA

How will history remember this past decade?  Never in our lifetime (or some may argue in human history) has so much changed in such as short period of time.

Technology has of course been the catalyst to much of this. Innovation and advances in the collection and use of data, robotics, fintech, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence are transforming entire industries before our eyes. Globalization, in addition to real-time and all-the-time connectivity and access to information has led to hyper-awareness about everything from global issues like climate change and socio-political unrest, to the latest gossip about our favourite celebrities.

In short, the global situation over the past decade has become increasingly VUCA – Volatile,  Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

So, what does this have to do with strategic planning for associations? 

For many associations, three and five-year planning cycles are no longer practical given the volatility facing their organizations and their members.  New approaches to strategy focus on adapting, innovating and experimenting an organization’s way to success.  To be effective, today’s strategic plans need to be living documents that evolve continuously over time. This often requires an association to update its strategy every 12-18 months, and even more frequently in some cases. 

How Often Should Associations Review Strategy?

Every association is different.  Below are some factors to help determine how often you should revisit your strategic plan:

  1. Volatility of the Environment

The more unpredictable and volatile the organizational environment, the more frequently an organization should refresh its understanding of the environment – and its plan.

2. Organizational Growth Stage

Organizations that are in the start-up and/or rapid growth and expansion phase will need to engage in more frequent high-level planning activities than organizations that are more stable and established.

3. Maturity of the Strategic Planning Process

Organizations with a newer or less-firmly-established strategic planning process may need to undergo more frequent revisions and ‘tweaks’ than organizations with a process that is mature.

What Elements of Strategy Should be Reviewed?

As with the frequency of strategic plan development, which elements of the plan to update will also depend very much on the level of volatility and organizational life-stage of the individual association. While some elements of the plan will need to be changed, adapted or updated, others can simply be ‘validated’ or ‘gut-checked’ to ensure they continue to align with the organizational and environmental realities.

As the visionary, and guiding statements of the association, the higher-level elements (vision, mission, high-level goals and priorities) are more likely to remain consistent over time. More tactical elements, (such as strategic objectives, enabling strategies and supporting business and implementation plans) are likely to be the areas that evolve more frequently.

Following are some guiding questions to consider when evaluating which parts of your plan need to be reviewed:

Vision, Mission, Values

  • Does our overall focus continue to align with the realities of our members and organizational environment?

Strategic Goals and Priorities

  • What ‘business’ are we in?

  • Does our environment suggest we should re-evaluate our organization’s key strategic areas of focus?

Objectives, and Strategies 

  • What in our environment will impact our current goals, objectives and enabling strategies

  • Which of these need to be updated, changed or retired?

  • What new objectives and enabling strategies should we consider to position ourselves and our members for change?

  • Where are there opportunities to experiment, prototype or test new ideas?

Carol-Anne Moutinho, MBA is TPG’s Principal, Strategy and Organization Design. For more information and resources related to future-focused strategy for associations, please connect with us.