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Strategic Planning: Creative and Awesome Solutions for When You Can't Meet Face-to-Face

AMPED has distinguished itself as a leader in hosting and executing strategic planning sessions for associations and nonprofits. Depending on the needs of the client, a typical session may last two days, back-to-back and require that leaders and staff travel to meet face-to-face.

So what happens when conditions are such that you can’t do back-to-back and face-to-face? The results can be surprisingly awesome!

With the help of AMPED, the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) held its strategic planning session in June 2020, amid the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel was impossible, so it was quickly determined that a video conference was the way to go.

Using Zoom, UMA leaders and AMPED met for two days, one week apart – a structure that proved to benefit the session as a whole.

Thanks to some extensive pre-meeting preparation by AMPED, the participants kept to the agenda and knocked out the whole of the strategic session in less time than expected. “After day one in UMA’s virtual session, we got as much accomplished as we normally do in-person,” said Emily Petersen, AMPED Chief of Staff and a contributor to the UMA strategic planning process. For instance, she pointed to 15-minute breaks that can easily grow to 30 minutes when in-person. In this virtual setting, the video was turned off and then back on after the break, indicating the session was ready to continue.

With the 2-day agenda nearly accomplished on the first day, there was ample time for discussion on day two. Plus, where participants in a typical strategic session would only have overnight to reflect on the results of the day, holding the two sessions a week apart provided more time to digest ideas, concluding in clearer strategy development on day two.

As noted, preparation was key. In order to build an agenda with a clear focus for the strategic session, AMPED collected data using a variety of methods:

  • Interviewed UMA staff to learn what’s working well and what isn’t
  • Gathered financial data to better understand operating ratios
  • Developed a survey to members and nonmembers asking then to look beyond the pandemic to what they see as most impacting the industry
  • Held live interviews with a dozen members to determine the strengths of the organization and areas for improvement
  • Benchmarked UMA against other related organizations

Results from the interviews and survey pointed to common themes that helped steer the planning process. In a typical strategic planning session, that process would involve the utilization of flipcharts and Post-it notes - not something easily reproduced in a virtual meeting.

The advantage of virtual, however, is that multiple AMPED staff could attend without the extra travel costs.  More staff meant more expertise and more hands on-deck. When the association leaders separated into three Zoom breakout rooms, an AMPED staff member was there to facilitate and add notes in a prepared Google doc. Petersen monitored the doc and could see instantly the results of each group’s discussion and identify the most common themes. As soon as the breakouts ended, she was ready with organized notes to move the exercise forward — a task that would have taken far more time to complete in-person.

“We were so happy with the outcome of the strategic session for UMA,” said Petersen. “Given the circumstances, we pulled it off with creative solutions that we might not otherwise have tried. And many that we’ll continue to utilize in our strategic planning going forward.”

The end-result of the two-session virtual meeting was broad engagement, a clear strategy to move the association forward, and a happy client.

How can AMPED help your association discover new strategies for growth and success? Find us at www.manageassociations.com.

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