Build a World Class Strategic "Architecture" for Your Co-Op

Here at GreatCo-Ops, our mission is to help senior leaders of America’s electric cooperatives create the brightest possible future for their organizations and for themselves. Building a great strategic plan is the first step in that direction. When done well, strategic planning will inspire your employees, engage your members, develop the confidence of your board, and create a disruption-ready electric cooperative.

Unfortunately, few electric co-ops have the strategic planning “architecture” in place to achieve these results. This isn’t surprising. Strategic planning can seem too time-consuming. Plus, many co-ops have had a bad experience with a strategic planning facilitator who wasn’t up to the task. And, co-op employees are already busy with their current jobs. Also, co-ops have been very successful doing what they have always done since the 1930s! However, without a good strategic planning architecture in place, many electric cooperatives simply will not survive the coming disruptions.

As a senior co-op leader, you know very well that the future is highly uncertain for electric cooperatives. Emerging technologies, distributed generation, broadband pressures, changing expectations from members and employees, supply concerns, litigation, legislation, and much more have created a highly complex environment for senior co-op leaders like you. To keep this post as brief as possible, we won’t go into detail about the disruptions themselves here. However, Part 1 of our video series discusses a number of significant disruptions we see ahead for co-ops.

The team at GreatCo-Ops believes strongly that the traditional method of strategic planning that cooperatives have used for decades is no longer enough in this age of disruption. No longer can co-ops simply hire an outside facilitator every few years to lead a one- or two-day retreat with the board and senior staff. Staff-board retreats are only a part of the overall strategic architecture for modern electric cooperatives. They are a critical piece, but they are not sufficient. These challenging times require a more comprehensive approach to strategic planning and execution. Otherwise, co-ops will be unable to create the kinds of strategies and tactics necessary to adapt to their emerging reality.

The good news is that establishing a solid strategic architecture is easier than it may seem. And, the process can be developed a little at a time over several years, which means your team does not experience “strategic planning burnout” by being asked to do too much, too fast.

Our team’s experience shows that an electric co-op’s strategic architecture must include the following:

  • Employees and directors who understand the importance of strategic planning and analysis, as well as how to use key strategy models and tools.
  • A well-designed stakeholder engagement and communications approach so that employees, directors, and members are inspired by the process, can provide their input to management on strategic issues, and realize that the co-op’s strategic decision-making takes their needs/concerns into account.
  • A system for assuring that progress toward goals is monitored and that employees are held accountable for results.
  • A process that ties strategic goals to budgetary decisions.
  • A comprehensive performance measurement system that incorporates not only measures of reliability, safety, cost, and member satisfaction, but also measures of employee engagement and cultural “health.”
  • A process that ensures ongoing dialog among key employees and directors related to strategic issues (retreats and other regularly scheduled strategy meetings).
  • A strategic plan document that is frequently updated and clearly articulates the cooperative’s core values, vision, mission, priorities, and more.

Such a comprehensive approach to strategic planning is the only way to develop the innovative capacity, adaptability, and unity of purpose that are required to be successful in this industry today and in the future. Moreover, when done well, this type of comprehensive strategic planning process can truly transform a co-op’s culture – employees will recognize that their input is valued, they will be kept well-informed, and they will understand clearly the direction the co-op is taking, as well as the reasoning behind resource allocations. Since the strategic architecture includes a clear document and ongoing tracking of strategic indicators, the co-op’s board will have greater confidence that the organization is being led effectively. And, members will be more likely to understand the value of their participation in the co-op and embrace the cooperative business model.

Based on our firm’s experience working with co-ops of various sizes in multiple states, we have seen first-hand how a failure to have a well-designed strategic architecture leads to uncertainty about the co-op’s strategic direction; causes increased conflict among the board, senior staff, and employees; and creates higher levels of tension around investment decisions.

Developing your co-op’s strategic architecture is easier than it may sound. Our team’s expertise, templates, and tools allow electric co-op leaders to quickly build their strategic planning architecture and continue to move their cooperative forward. You can learn more about our strategy consulting approach here.

We would love to have a chance to hear about your vision for your co-op’s future, as well as the disruptions you see on the horizon for your cooperative. Contact us today so we can set up a call!