Strategic Management Articles

Three Strategies for an Uncertain Future

Associations have put too much faith in too few products -- meetings, CE and publications. All are under stress from for-profit entities that are skimming the cream. Now add the uncertainties of travel, which are unlikely to abate soon and could be exacerbated by another tragic event.

One way to ameliorate this is to virtualize more. That doesn't mean just instituting distance learning or offering more listservers. It means really marrying the physical and virtual worlds of associating to mitigate risk and amplify income. This should be a very good time for state associations, which are not reliant on long-distance air travel for participation.

We've spent too much association capital on planning efforts that yield little strategy. Planning is connective tissue between good thinking and excellent implementation. Good thinking requires futures analysis, and there are methodologies for doing that. We call ours FutureScoping (TM). Good thinking also requires good data and information about the industry or profession the association represents. This goes far beyond the usual member needs and satisfaction surveys. Futures analysis and creating of preferred futures produce saleable products that need continual refreshment and, therefore, are always creating value. Associations can learn these methodologies and teach their members. This is an entirely new set of product lines that create revenue streams for those who use them.

Futures analysis allows organizations to anticipate, not predict, change and altering events. It enables organizations to constantly challenge the assumptions on which their planning and work are based so that course corrections can be made constantly. This doesn't mean that fundamental strategic ends are always in flux, but the means to achieve them are. Think of it like a riverboat captain sweeping a searchlight back and forth across the way ahead in order to avoid the shores and shoals. That's parallel planning.

Taken together, diversification, virtualization and parallel planning can give associations a new way of doing business in response to difficult times.

Bruce Butterfield is a CAE, FELLOW, ASAE, and PRSA, and is president and CEO of the Forbes Group.

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