Atlanta Association Management Companies Should Follow These Basic Steps When Writing a Strategic Plan for Their Community

 Plan development is the first component of strategic planning. During this stage, the following steps should be completed. 

1. Assess the association’s history and significant accomplishments. Develop a history of the association. List important milestones that brought the association to where it is today. In order to help visualize how the association has changed over the years, include items where impact occurred in the association’s operations, such as: hiring additional staff, upgrade computer hardware/software, changing processes significantly, raising dues, building additional facilities, rebuilding/renovating existing facilities, etc., by dates and quantities/dollars, as appropriate.

2. Assess the association’s current status. Determine the association’s current status by looking at such things as the state of the facilities, infrastructure of the operations, the financial statements, the demographics of the population, and so forth.  

3. Evaluate the association’s current governance structure. Review the operations to determine how responsibilities are assigned, defining communications and authorities. Examine policies, procedures, and desk guides available to determine the chain of command within the association’s staff, within the board, and for oversight and communications between the staff or property management company and the board of directors. Critical is the point of contact for the staff or management company and the board, to preclude misunderstandings, duplications of effort, things falling through the cracks, etc. Determine the board’s responsibilities versus that of the staff or management company’s responsibilities. An example of a delineation of responsibilities between the staff or management company and the board is covered in Policy Governance, which simply stated, assigns the board’s function as that of policy making, the “what is” of the subject/issue, while the staff’s or management company’s function is that of carrying out the policies, the “how to” of the subject/issue.  

4. Develop mission and vision statements. The vision statement is the image or state to which the association aspires. It emphasizes the dream of where the association will be at a specific time. The mission statement is the organization’s purpose stated in a memorable phrase.  It should be geared toward fulfilling the association’s purpose and what it is intended to do with some specifics contained in the governing documents. Mission and vision statements should not be a list of goals.  

5. Determine operating values. Also called guiding principles, these values state the association’s intentions and expectations. They are used to judge the association’s policies and actions, as well as individual conduct. Associations should include values such as: the importance of customers and customer service; commitment to quality and innovation; importance of honesty; integrity and ethical behavior; corporate citizenship; respect for the employee and duty the association has to its employees; and importance of safety and protecting the environment, etc.  

6. Perform a needs assessment. Determine the needs of the association by analyzing the present state of the community, addressing any critical issues, and identifying the Association’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

a. Determination of key result areas. Define five to ten areas in which the association must be successful in order to accomplish its mission, based on customer expectations.

i. Determine customer expectations. Determine the customer [members, suppliers,and employees] expectations of the association as stakeholders. Group the expectations into five to ten key results areas. 

7. Determine critical issues. List the critical issues faced by the association that must be addressed for the association to achieve its mission and vision, based on an assessment of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

a. Assessment of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT)

i. Strengths. List the organizational attributes that promote the association’s ability to meet its mission and vision.

ii. Weaknesses. List those organizational attributes that hamper the association’s ability to meet its mission and vision. Some examples include inadequate technology or use of technology, lack core competency training, poor service, and so forth.

iii. Opportunities. List those factors, internal and external, that would enable the association to meet its mission and vision. Some examples include technological advances in needed areas, consolidating functions, etc.

iv. Threats. List those factors, internal or external, that would hamper the association from meeting its mission and vision. Some examples include high rate of foreclosures, drawn out worker strike, change in developer focus, etc.

8. Define the roles of key players. Who will be the key people responsible for each aspect of the strategic plan? Answer questions such as: What level of control will the board have? Is the manager going to be a proactive leader or an administrator? Are the homeowners going to be active as committee members or are they going to be less involved? Role definition is extremely important so that efforts are not duplicated—or neglected overall. One way to establish a team and define specific roles is to adopt a model similar to a city council and city manager form of government. The city council (board of directors) sets policies, votes on contracts and bids, and is the on-site eyes and ears (oversight) of the community. The city manager (management) should be the professionally educated, proactive, paid leader who manages the day-to-day operations, brings issues and solution options to the table, and then implements the board’s decisions. The citizens (homeowners) should attend meetings, serve on committees, and elect competent individuals to the board of directors. This concept of team roles goes much deeper than this discussion allows, especially in the areas of compliance, budgeting, and homeowner interaction.

9. Educate and communicate the plan. Without education and communication, team members can neither perform their roles nor effectively interact with each other. Make sure that every player has the necessary documents and basic knowledge to perform effectively. Further ensure that each of the players communicate with each other—provide updates as necessary and always ask for others’ input. Better to catch a potential problem earlier rather than later. In the event that there is a change in management, association boards should also be sure to communicate their strategic plans to the new manager, and revise it, if necessary.

10. Listen and take notes. During the strategic planning process it is important for all parties to actively listen and take notes. Many type-A personalities, who may be involved with the association at any level, will want to solve the community’s issues quickly and efficiently. If they do this without listening to the board of directors, homeowners, and vendors, they may be executing a plan, but not a quality strategic plan.

11. Develop and prioritize long-range goals. Develop long-range goals to address the critical issues identified through the needs assessment; then prioritize those goals. 

12. Develop short-term goals and action plans. Establish short-term goals and specific action plans along with scheduled completion dates. 

13. Monitor the progress. Establish a monitoring process to assess the progress made on both short-term and long-range goals. 

Plan execution is the second phase of strategic planning. In this step, an association puts its plan into action through the allocation of resources.

A useful strategic plan exhibits many characteristics. Specifically, it should be:

1. A set of priorities. Setting priorities allows for the plan to be adjusted according to changing needs or resources. 

2. Achievable, measurable, and time sensitive. Remember, it’s better to do a few things well than many things poorly. The plan should contain goals that are measurable and have deadlines. 

3. Flexible and responsive to changing conditions. The plan is a road map that may contain unforeseen detours such as unexpected crises, new opportunities, or changes in resources. 

4. Short and simple. Plans that are more like a book will sit on a shelf. Keep it focused on the most important things to accomplish.

5. A unit, not a menu. A useful plan is not a wish book. Everything in the plan needs to be accomplished.

6. The means to an end, not an end in itself.The plan is the process by which it reaches its destination; it is not the destination.

7. Based on a three- to five-year period.The strategic plan should be a living document that has a one-year drop off and a new year added so that it always covers the same time period. 

8. Budgets. An association should prepare budgets to fund programs. Instead, many develop programs based on their budgets. Simply put, an association should be strategy-driven, not budget-driven. If the plan development phase was put together well, then the plan execution phase is much easier. Many of the previously discussed items such as teamwork, roles, communication, and education are important and apply to the plan execution phase. Hold periodic meetings to review progress on short-term goals and plans. Without periodic meetings and reviews, the community will not move forward and achieve its goals.

Lastly, adaptability is crucial to the plan execution phase since all plans will have flaws. If the team members are not adaptable, there may be simple issues that will not be resolved in a reasonable manner and the community will suffer.

 

 

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