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Strategic plans must change over time to stay fresh

Peter Caulfield
Strategic plans must change over time to stay fresh

The 2014-17 strategic plan for the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia (APEGBC) came into effect on July 1.

The 2014-17 strategic plan for the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia (APEGBC) came into effect on July 1.

CEO Ann English said the latest version of the plan reflects the changing regulatory, social and economic landscape in which APEGBC finds itself.

"We really needed to have a road map to meet the challenges and opportunities facing the engineering and geoscience professions in the years to come," she said.

One of the challenges the association faces is ensuring APEGBC’s various stakeholders continue to recognize the value of the organization.

"Our strategic plan identifies three distinct stakeholder groups to which it seeks to provide value," English said.

"They are members and future members, members’ employers and clients, and government and the public."

Before the current strategic plan was developed, APEGBC did some preliminary research, which involved focus groups, a survey of association members, a communications audit and staff strategic analyses.

"Based on this, the framework for the plan was then developed by the association’s council over the course of two planning sessions," she said.

Like English, Michael Anderson, president and CEO of the Canadian Society of Association Executives, believes strategic plans need to reflect the changing business environment in which associations operate.

"Because the value proposition is always changing, one of the biggest challenges associations face today is showing members and potential members the value of membership," he said.

A related challenge is changing demographics.

"Association members are getting older and they need to be replaced," he said.

"Where will the new members come from? These are issues that need to be addressed in strategic plans."

Denise Baker, executive director of Vantage Point, which provides training and education for associations, said strategic plans should have about a three-year time horizon.

"Anything longer than that, you’re trying to predict the future," she said.

Baker said associations shouldn’t take any shortcuts at the research stage.

"Seek out the political and sector trends that affect your members, their customers and other stakeholders," she explained.

After it’s been written, a strategic plan should be short and sweet as well as visually appealing.

"And once it’s done, don’t keep the plan a secret, except for the operational details," Baker said.

"Tweak it a bit for external consumption."

Many of the strategic plans of associations in the B.C. construction industry are broadly similar. This includes the way in which they are created.

For example, many associations bring in an outside facilitator to guide the planning sessions and they have an operational plan to implement the strategic plan.

The contents of the plans also have many similarities, although with individual characteristics.

For example, The B.C. Road Builders & Heavy Construction Association president Jack Davidson said his organization’s plan has a number of "asks" for  the federal and provincial governments.

They include the reduction of red tape, sustained investment in core infrastructure and protected access to aggregate resources.

Some associations’ strategic plans need to take account of geographic or historical particularities.

For example, the B.C. Construction Association  (BCCA) is an umbrella organization of four regional associations around the province – the Vancouver Regional Construction Association, the Vancouver Island Construction Association, the Southern Interior Construction Association and BCCA North.

"Each organization has a slightly different focus," said BCCA vice president Abigail Fulton.

"As a result, the BCCA needs to align its strategic plan with the plans of its member associations."

The provincial construction association has a new strategic plan every three years and reviews it once a year.

"Often there’s a theme to the plan, such as the effect of the economy on the construction industry," Fulton said.

Vancouver Island Construction Association (VICA) was created in 2011 as an amalgamation of several smaller island-based construction associations.

"Before the merger, the association representing contractors in southern Vancouver Island had a strategic plan," said director of operations Rosie Manhas.

"Now, VICA has a strategic plan that covers all its members on the island. Most of the larger contractors are in Victoria and Nanaimo, but the interests of most members, large and small, are similar."

Manhas said that, in future planning sessions, VICA might include more staff.

"They have day-to-day interaction with the membership and therefore a lot of valuable information about members’ concerns," she said"

ICBA president Philip Hochstein said his association’s strategic plans have had an unexpected pay-off for some of its members.

"Most small businesses don’t prepare a strategic plan," said Hochstein.

"But, many board members who have attended the strategic plan sessions have started preparing one for their own companies."

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