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How to Create a Strategic Plan for Your Community in 5 Steps

Community association boards are regularly faced with a number of challenges requiring their input and quick decisions. While these matters need to be addressed with regular frequency, they can be overwhelming and become the only function of the board and management. The use of a strategic plan can be instrumental in guiding the board and allowing a balance of regular problem solving plus moving the community in a forward direction.

Strategic planning is an organizational management activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, ensure that employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals, establish agreement around intended outcomes and results, and assess and adjust the organization's direction in response to a changing environment. It is a disciplined effort that produces fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, who it serves, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future. Effective strategic planning articulates not only where an organization is going and the actions needed to make progress; it also provides a way for the organization to measure its success.

I know some skeptics will say you can't apply this approach to associations. Others may feel that the only requirement for the board is to maintain the property. But, using a strategic plan and tracking the results will allow the board (current and future) to demonstrate goals, results and needs to the entire membership.

Are you willing to go beyond management?  If so, here are the steps in getting a strategic plan developed:

1.Get Ready. With the help of the entire board, members of the board or a committee along with a management team member, outline a few key issues you wish for the process to address (e.g., owner participation, large scale projects, property value stabilization). Establish a reasonable timeline for the process to occur. Begin to gather data using existing statistics, studies, surveys, etc. Be sure to reach out to current and past committee members and board members for their insights.

2. Articulate a Mission and a Vision. Draft both a mission and vision statement. This mission should outline the purpose of the organization and the vision should articulate what success looks like. Consult your governing documents for some initial language on your mission.

3. Assess the Situation. Once an organization has committed to why it exists and what it does, it must take a look at its current situation. Determine the organization's strengths, weaknesses, and performance - information that will highlight the critical issues that the organization faces and that its strategic plan must address. These issues could include a variety of primary concerns, such as funding issues, new program opportunities, changing regulations or changing needs in the client population, and so on. The point is to choose the most important issues to address. The Planning Committee should agree on no more than five to ten critical issues around which to organize the strategic plan.

4. Develop Strategies, Goals and Objectives. This part of the planning stage can be time-consuming. You will need to allow ample round table time and thoughtful discussion on the approaches to resolving critical issues and agreeing on the goals. There needs to be a specific emphasis on strategy to achieve the goals. Goals should be specific and not too broad. Do not be alarmed if discussions take you back a step or two; it is part of the process.

5. Complete a Written Plan. The plan should be simple, easy to read and allow for timely review and approval. Disseminate the plan to the board. Make a determination which parts, if any or all, should be communicated to others (committees, members, etc). It is important that the plan be used when the budget process begins to be sure that any necessary funds are aligned to meet objectives in the plan.

The strategic plan and process can be as simple or detailed as you desire. The strategic planning process is an important part of most organizations’ operating rhythm. The leadership challenge, however, is to make sure that it’s more than just an exercise. To do this, I recommend an annual review of the plan, at a minimum, to see what objectives have been accomplished, what may need to be adjusted based on changing issues, and what may need more resources.

About the Author

Nancy S. Hastings, CMCA®, AMS®, PCAM®, is the Regional Vice President for east coast operations. Before that, she served as the president of Associa Mid-Atlantic, where she focused her efforts on ensuring exceptional management to clients and communities. Hastings is the current President Elect of the New Jersey Chapter of CAI, an active member in the Pennsylvania/Delaware Valley Chapter of CAI and was the 2016 recipient of Associa’s Roger Kramer Memorial Award for Leadership.

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