August 2010 President's Column
Being Strategic about Strategic Planning
By A. Todd Brown
"I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been."
-- Wayne Gretzky
I'm not an ice hockey fan except perhaps during the Stanley Cup championship playoffs, but I was intrigued recently by a story associating Wayne Gretzky's approach to playing the game with strategic planning. Gretzky has been heralded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, offensive professional ice hockey player of all times. His scoring ability is legendary. Gretzky reportedly achieved "rock star" status not because he penned a playbook filled with winning strategies which he studied before each game to map out a plan of attack, but, rather, in large part because Gretzky mastered the art of thinking and acting strategically during the heat of the game itself, in keeping with simple game plans crafted with coaches and teammates before stepping onto the ice. Gretzky's knack for anticipating how a game would unfold and for trying to stay mentally one step ahead of other players so he could be in the right place at the right time is the essence of strategic planning.
Fundamentally, strategic planning is the process of trying to anticipate future changes and positioning your organization accordingly. To determine where it is going, an organization must know its history, where it stands currently, then determine where it wants to go and how it will get there. Successful organizations are mindful of the old adage that "failing to plan is planning to fail." Yet while strategic planning is a useful tool for plotting a future course of direction, the best laid plans cannot accurately predict the evolution of the social, political, business and legal environments in which organizations operate. That's why strategic plans must be dynamic, even visionary -- the shelves of for-profit and non-profit entities alike are littered with static strategic plans. Viable plans require constant tinkering and fine tuning, lest they fall victim to unexpected or turbulent change.
This past year the MCB took major strategic steps to position itself to better serve our membership going forward. Why, you might ask, would the MCB start a strategic planning process in the midst of the "Great Recession"? The answer, quite simply, is that to succeed the MCB must keep pace with the rapid and far-reaching changes occurring around us every day. Society, our economic system, our legal system and the practice of law are all experiencing unprecedented change. The technological revolution and the globalization of business are transforming the judicial system and the legal profession as never before. Scholars and pundits report that the "Great Recession" has changed the practice of law for all times. What do such developments portend for the practice of law? For our members? What are the implications for bar associations, like the MCB, whose missions revolve around serving the public and their members to preserve and improve the administration of justice?
The MCB leadership embarked upon a strategic planning process to study these issues and to design a plan to help fulfill our mission and goals. Under the leadership of the Executive Committee, the Executive Director and co-chairs President-Elect Bob Dortch and Carla Archie of Wells Fargo, we established a Strategic Planning Committee and charged it with developing a vision and framework to guide and advance the MCB over the next five years. This comprehensive process included analyses and distillation of data, interviews, testimonials and recommendations from a wide variety of sources, including an analysis of relevant MCB historical data, the ABA's 2008 MCB Operational Review, a 2008 Bar Center Space Report, the MCB's 2008 Pulse of the Profession Survey, the MCB's 2009-10 Committee SWOT (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats) Assessments and the goals and objectives of the 2009-10 MCB President and Board of Directors. After months of work, the Strategic Planning Committee and MCB staff presented a proposed Strategic Plan for consideration by the Board of Directors, which the Board adopted unanimously on May 20, 2010.
It should come as no surprise that, in these tough economic times where many MCB members are losing jobs, struggling in their careers, and retooling their practices, the MCB staff identified enhanced member services as priority one of the Strategic Plan. The planning process yielded six broad strategic areas of focus: Board Governance (improving our leadership structures at all levels); Communications and Technology (efficiently communicating with members and enhancing technology); Financial Management (diversifying our revenue and managing expenses); Facility/Future Bar Center (finding and moving to a modern Bar Center); Member Services (delivering greater benefits and opportunities to MCB members), and Public Services (increasing services and educational opportunities for the public). The MCB, like any organization, must constantly review and upgrade its programs, its governance, and its relationship with members. Analyzing relevant past events and examining present circumstances enabled us to focus on the most likely challenges that lie ahead for the MCB. A Strategic Plan is not a panacea for meeting our objectives, but if we appropriately implement and regularly update it to meet challenges of the MCB as they arise, our Strategic Plan will provide consistency of leadership and continuity of approach and will serve as a road map for strengthening the institution for years to come.
Sir Winston Churchill once remarked, "It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see." True enough. But I am persuaded that the measured and careful deployment of the goals outlined in our newly minted Strategic Plan will facilitate augmenting our rich history, allowing us to continue serving as a model for other bar associations, and sustaining the MCB well into the future. I invite you to review our Strategic Plan and to share your thoughts and comments.