Associations Unorthodox Shift #2: Crowdsource strategy

Last Tuesday, I began this series of blog posts on the six shifts presented in my new e-book, Associations Unorthodox: Six Really Radical Shifts Toward the Future, created in collaboration with CHIEF. If you have not done so already, I hope you will download the e-book, and read the Shift #1 post, right away. Also, please join me on September 26 from 2 pm-3:30 pm EDT for my webinar on the e-book, presented in collaboration with Peach New Media. As always, I invite your feedback in the comments below, or you can join the Associations Unorthodox conversation on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #auxsix.

The Problem

For many decades, having a strategic plan has been the sine qua non of association management practice. Despite its inherent contradictions and obvious weaknesses, the work of strategic planning continues unabated in associations, perhaps because boards and CEOs have been told at every opportunity their organizations must have a strategic plan. It is a potent dictum of association orthodoxy, and yet, in reality, strategic planning today is a largely pro forma exercise designed to extend the seductive yet perilous illusion of organizational control. It hardly makes sense for associations to devote their limited time and financial resources to the work of deep and detailed planning for a future that continues to unfold in unexpected ways on a daily basis. Intense and accelerating societal transformation demands a serious and holistic approach for creating radical new value for future generations of stakeholders with different sensibilities and desires than their predecessors.

The Opportunity

The era of strategic planning is over. In a volatile and uncertain world, the real work of strategy is not more centralized planning, but purposeful and rapid learning, which associations can pursue more effectively by engaging their stakeholders through crowdsourcing. The crowdsourcing of strategy can help associations shift the energy of preparing for the future away from the status quo beliefs of the organizational core and toward the “status go” orientation of stakeholder networks operating at the edge. This process makes it easier to identify serendipitous opportunities for collaboration and experimentation, as well as surface hidden assets that can be used to make innovation happen. By crowdsourcing strategy, associations can shorten the learning curve around what they “don’t know they don’t know,” and help staff and voluntary leaders develop a richer understanding of stakeholder outcomes, exercise sharper strategic judgment and build more adaptive and resilient business models.

Additional Thoughts

Beyond strategic planning’s well-known failures, it is a school of management thought that is not well-suited to dealing with the “progress challenges” facing all associations today. Progress challenges is the term I use to describe the deep and intractable issues that exist at the nexus of three areas of concern: 1) broader industry or professional “wicked problems,” 2) the structural weaknesses of association’s business model and 3) the most important outcomes an association’s future stakeholders are seeking to achieve. Associations must make sustained and meaningful progress toward overcoming these challenges if they are going to have the chance to thrive over the next decade and beyond. For some associations, the progress challenge is how to help stakeholders adapt their own business models to compete in a world that no longer conforms to anyone’s orthodox assumptions. For others, the progress challenge is demonstrating to the next generation of stakeholders there are viable and worthwhile career pathways in fields that may appear to be in inexorable decline.

While associations cannot plan their way out of the dynamic conditions responsible for creating their progress challenges, they can work to influence and reshape them by embracing approaches, such as crowdsourcing, that capitalize on the loss of control. By allowing control over strategy to flow away from organizational elites, and toward passionate and connected stakeholders, associations can make the most of their progress challenges as wellsprings of learning and innovation. Crowdsourcing taps into the imagination of stakeholder networks that extend far beyond the boundaries of the association’s membership, unleashes their energy for purposeful collaboration and surfaces previously inaccessible tangible and intangible resources that can be used to create radical new value. Instead of functioning as the primary creators of strategy, senior association leaders operating in a crowdsourced model play critical roles in orchestrating collaboration, championing new ideas and investing in opportunities for genuine innovation.

To begin making the shift to crowdsource strategy, association leaders can reflect on the following key questions:

+How can your organization benefit from not having a strategic plan?

+Through the crowdsourcing of strategy, how can your association build relationships with stakeholders who may never want or may never be able to join as members?

+What assets, capabilities and resources does your association need to locate to create radical new value for its current and future stakeholders?

+How can your association prepare to capitalize on serendipity? 



Jeff De Cagna

Jeff De Cagna is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, and a contrarian thinker on strategy, business models, governing and the future of associations.

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