Strategic Planning - Let's Try Something New!

Published November 11, 2009

We had the opportunity to attend an interesting session on strategic planning at the Sport Leadership Conference in Vancouver earlier this month, involving presentations by Richard Way, Carolyn Trono of Rowing Canada Aviron and Peter Montopoli of the Canadian Soccer Association.

Strategic planning has been around since 1957 when an American named Phil Selznick first coined the term. It was a new take on traditional, rational planning that attempted to accommodate growing uncertainly in the post-war world. For 50 years now strategic planning has been a necessary thing for organizations to do, but most organizations do it poorly. The preparation of strategic plans consumes considerable energy and resources, yet the majority of them end up sitting idle on shelves as opposed to being valued as the powerful management tools that they are.

However, we think there are a number of forces aligning in the universe that bode well for a rethink on how we go about the business of developing strategy in Canadian sport. Here is a quick snapshot:

  • In 2001 the Canadian Sport Policy (CSP) was enacted that identified four broad priorities for the Canadian sport system – participation, excellence, capacity and interaction. Bingo!! An excellent organizational framework from which to plan. Forward thinking NSOs recognized this immediately and many have established sound planning documents aligned with the CSP.
  • Soon after the LTAD framework was introduced. The framework is values-driven and identifies seven stages of athlete development, applicable to all sports. The LTAD movement has made it apparent that a sport organization’s core business is sustainable long-term athlete development. For each stage of LTAD, we can then ask the questions: what does the athlete need? What must coaches do to provide it? What organizational infrastructure is necessary to support it? This provides further guidance and clarity in the planning process. Progressive sport organizations are developing strategic plans aligned with LTAD, and a small handful of sport bodies are recognizing that their governance structure can similarly be adjusted to also better support the organization’s core mission of LTAD.
  • In the last decade or so, there has also been a trend away from ‘management by objectives’ to ‘management by values’ and from deficit-based approaches to asset-based approaches in planning and strategy. Informed by academic models of appreciative inquiry (AI) and positive organizational scholarship (POS), the traditional SWOT analysis is giving way to more strength-based models for planning. Consider for a moment that half of the SWOT analysis dwells on negatives (the weaknesses and threats assessment): it is therefore no wonder that the traditional strategic planning process saps the spirit! A new model called SOAR is starting to be noticed and it involves conversations among stakeholders about organizational strengths, market opportunities, collective aspirations and measurable results. The proponents of SOAR say that instead of plans sitting unused on shelves, strategy can become a living, energy-creating part of everyone’s job.
  • Lastly, we have observed small and subtle shifts in attitudes among sport leaders, and an emerging consensus that rich collaboration between NSOs and PTOs is the only way forward. As Pierre Lafontaine has been saying for several years now, his organization is not in the business of Swimming Canada, but rather the business of Swimming in Canada. From a planning standpoint, there is virtually no logical reason that the strategy of a national body and the strategies of provincial bodies should not be fully aligned. We all have the same core business – sustainable LTAD – we are all on the same team, so as Richard Way urges, let’s all wear the same uniform. We haven’t seen it yet, but one or two NSOs are about to take their first steps down the path of NSOs and PTOs developing strategy together.

This synergy of developments represents an exciting breakthrough. For this reason it is dismaying to watch a handful of national bodies take aggressive, top-down approaches to their relationships with provincial associations. But on the flip side, it is breathtaking to see traditional bodies like the Royal Canadian Golf Association (RCGA) and the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) take bold steps towards charting a collaborative, aligned future with their provincial branches. Soccer in Canada – the combination of the CSA with Provincial and Territorial bodies as well as District Associations, Clubs and Teams – verges on a one billion dollar enterprise, and that is worth planning for!

It has been said that traditional strategic planning, which we all know and do, is based on a model of fear, scarcity and competition. We plan in order to escape a current predicament. An appreciative inquiry approach to strategic planning, on the other hand, is based on a model of strength, assets and collaboration. We plan in order to move towards a desired outcome. As problems and challenges arise, we re-frame them to opportunities. It becomes second nature to imagine future action by considering where it is strong, what the opportunities are, what we aspire to see happen, and what would indicate progress.

If you would like to learn more about a new approach to planning and strategy in your sport, please contact us. Rachel Corbett of the Centre for Sport and Law is trained in the planning area, is a full member of the Canadian Institute of Planners, and bears the professional designation of Registered Professional Planner (RPP) in Ontario. Dina Bell-Laroche is an experienced facilitator with expertise in strength-based planning, including appreciative inquiry, SOAR, and values-based frameworks. Rachel and Dina are uniquely qualified to guide you through your planning processes.

Originally published: Centre for Sport and Law Newsletter (2009) Vol. 5(3)

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