Executive Director's Desk - June 11, 2015


Strategic Planning; those two words can strike fear into the heart of any library director. I field questions about this topic on a regular basis. Who should facilitate? How much does it cost? How long does it take? Who should be involved? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers or absolute rules.

First, it’s important to define strategic planning and determine its goal and I found the following explanation which sums it up perfectly. “Strategic planning is a management tool. Its purpose is to help an organization do a better job – to focus its energy, to ensure that members of the organization are working toward the same goals, to assess and adjust the organization's direction in response to a changing environment. In short, strategic planning is a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future.” (Adapted from John M. Bryson, Strategic Planning in Public and Nonprofit Organizations).

There are a number of frameworks and methodologies for strategic planning. However, most share a few similar attributes. According to Dr. Jagdish Sheth, a respected authority on marketing and strategic planning, it involves big picture thinking and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances. It consists of the following three elements:

  • formulation of the organization's future mission in light of changing external factors such as regulation, competition, technology and customers
  • development of a sustainable strategy to achieve the mission
  • creation of an organizational structure which will deploy resources to successfully carry out its competitive strategy.

How these steps are implemented depends on a number of factors including your organization’s mission and vision, budget, board makeup and available time.

The numerous challenges of developing an effective strategic plan did not deter the MLA board of directors. Last year with the 2010- 2015 strat plan quickly winding down, President Asante Cain jumped right in and started the year-long process of developing the 2015-2018 MLA Strategic Plan. We needed to guide MLA into the future as it fulfills its mission: Helping libraries and library professionals succeed. We gathered information from member surveys and MLA committees, listened to director views, investigated both library and association trends and came up with an outline for the plan. The board of directors discussed at length what has worked in the past, where MLA could use improvement in meeting member needs and carefully examined the organization’s mission, vision and values. The board continually asked and answered the question, “Are we doing the right thing?”

We enlisted the direction of nonprofit management facilitator Diana Kerns, NEW, Inc. who guided the board and staff through the hard work of developing goals and refining objectives.  A dedicated strategic planning subgroup finalized the plan and during this week’s retreat, the board will be coached on how to best facilitate the plan.

A number of strategic goals and objectives outline the work ahead for the MLA board, staff, committees and members. The new strategic plan involves innovative ideas for professional development, member engagement, advocacy and membership. It’s a refreshed and energetic framework that helps MLA identify the needs of its membership and define what it does best. Features of the plan will be posted to the MLA website in the near future.


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