Strategic planning is one of the ways sport leaders can minimize uncertainty, create a galvanizing vision to rally the troops, express shared values that reflect a higher purpose, and set priorities of the most important goals the organization wants to achieve on behalf of its members and its membership.
So that worked well enough when we had the benefit of time, certainty, and a steady flow of revenue. But what now? How do we plan in these uncertain, unpredictable, and volatile times?
Move over strategic planning … it’s time for a new way to plan.
This blog is about sharing what we have discovered through our own approach with a view of supporting sport and our clients. Over the past eight weeks, the SLSG team has been doing our very best to adjust to this new reality. For us, our work lives have changed very little. As consultants, we have home offices, business software, online meeting capabilities, and the systems already in place to work virtually. Truth be shared, our biggest adjustment is having to adapt to the increase in Zoom calls and a decrease in air travel. As a company, we have a 10-year strategic vision, shared values, and priority areas that we revisit each year. We are strategic and dynamic, which allow us to respond nimbly to emerging situations. For instance, within a few days of Canada declaring a state of emergency, here are two questions Steve Indig and I asked:
These two questions offered simple and easy to implement solutions. Internally, we set up weekly Monday Meet-Ups for our team members so that we could touch base, exchange ideas, respond to the environment and offer support. One of the great initiatives that came out of these calls early on is a new SLSG service to allow online voting and virtual AGMs through our Simply Voting Platform. When considering the second question, we were reminded of requests from clients to initiate a SLSG Podcast. Instead of waiting until April as originally planned, we launched Conversations Matter: You Ask, We Share! within a week of the world shutting down. And instead of it being monthly, we decided to make it weekly, based on the response and gratitude from our clients. These two simple examples reflect what many of our clients have had to lean into over the past two months – in what ways can we shift and shape ourselves to respond to this ever-changing and unpredictable environment?
We believe that what allowed us to respond in a manner that was helpful, strategic and that reflected our values, was our ability to shift away from what we had set out in our plans, and to lift our heads and ask ourselves, ‘what is the world calling on us to do, now?’ And this is how we are now supporting our clients who are calling and asking us to help them with their strategic planning process. We’ve had a dozen or so conversations with sport leaders over the past 8 weeks on the topic of strategic planning and we are sharing some of the considerations here as a way of broadening our impact. Here are some of the dynamic steps we are recommending, as you look to plan, strategically:
Step 1: Start with why – By connecting to your purpose as an organization, you are often better able to tap into the reasons you exist and for whom you exist to serve. Who are we now? What are the values we most want to reflect during this global pause? In what ways can our values shape our next move? In what ways can our planning reflect the responses to these questions? What might be new ways for us to map out our future priorities? In the absence of a clear, predictable future, how can our planning process be designed to bring more stability?
Step 2: Look in the rear-view mirror – Start by reviewing your current plan. What are the current goals and objectives (or whatever planning terms you use) that are still left to accomplish? Are they still SMART (Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Relevant. Timely)? What did you learn about your previous planning process that might be beneficial to know and import in this new, dynamic, unknown environment? What is no longer relevant? How well did you measure your progress? There is much you can learn about how you last planned that can inform your new way of planning.
Step 3: Shrink your timeline – For most sport organizations, strategic plans follow the Paralympic and Olympic schedule – what used to be called quadrennial plans are now called strategic plans within a four year cycle ( ). It is nearly impossible to imagine what the world will look like within 6 months, let alone four years from now. In what ways will this pandemic change the way we practice sport from playground to podium? What might the Paralympics and Olympics look like? Will it even be possible to host world events within the next few years without drastic changes that might mean a complete re-imagining of ancient traditions? To get grounded, we are suggesting that people think differently about how they plan. Rather than a long-term plan, consider a 3-month plan that allows you to learn, pivot, and leverage emergent opportunities. In the world of evaluation, we call this Developmental Evaluation, where organizations are encouraged to take a stab at what their preferred future looks like and then make frequent course corrections as they keep their eyes glued to what emerges. Consider this more of a sprint, not a marathon.
Step 4: Communicate transparently and frequently – Consider how being open, humble, and proactive can elevate trust levels. For instance, some of our political leaders are seeing a favorable swing in public opinion polls due in part, to how well they are communicating. In times of uncertainty, the human mind wants to come back to homeostasis – or what is known, predictable, familiar. When considering how you might plan dynamically, we encourage you to consider who (audiences), needs to know what (key messages), how (omni channels), when and where (timing and location), and why (rational). The 5Ws + 1 H is a hallmark of good journalism and leaders will benefit from practicing this mantra repeatedly until it becomes embedded in all decisions-making. So, as you consider your next planning cycle, in what ways can you engage your various stakeholders such as they see your planning as a reflection of your values and an extension of your commitment to your mission? Gone might be the days of shiny nice plans that serve as a hallmark of our planning process. Instead, we might benefit from an Infographic approach that communicates the essentials while commanding confidence in what might be a reasonable and foreseeable future over a shorter time span.
Step 5: Evaluate progress – One of the weaker areas in sport is the capacity to monitor and evaluate progress beyond the field of play. Too often, most of the organization’s evaluation resources go to ‘field of play’ and ‘podium’ performances which are much easier to measure than the less tangible goals of strengthened alliances among PTSOs, or increased feelings of satisfaction from registered participants on safe sport issues. Remember that not everything that counts can be counted … although my evaluation friends might dispute this ( ). Even love is quantifiable they will tell me. However, when we consider the function of measurement in sport organizations, we know that in part, we measure what we must, to satisfy the hand that feeds us. We also measure because we care about knowing if our hard work and public and private dollars are being well spent. One newer way of thinking about this is the concept of Failing Fast. The term was coined at the dawn of the 21st Century to encourage businesses to undertake bold experiments to determine the viability of a concept rather than proceeding cautiously. I appreciate the energy behind this statement and the muscles required for sport leaders would include curiosity, being nimble, assessing risk of and risk of not, and transparency. Perhaps we can take a page from the mindset of athletes and coaches when we consider how failing fast can support better decision-making during uncertain times.
As we each look to make sense of this emergent reality, we at the SLSG are here to help you figure out the best path forward from a legal, financial, planning, leadership, and risk management perspective. In the end, if we are truly in this together, sharing what we know about what is working, and what isn’t, will be one way for us to not only survive, but thrive.
Let us know your thoughts about this blog as we care about providing useful and practical information to support sport leaders. Send me a note at DBL@sportlaw.ca