By: michael brennan

Winter 2020 Issue

Having worked through short-term challenges over the previous two years, CMC-Canada and Institute volunteers were eager to set their sights on a positive future and transition from reactionary to visionary leadership. The result is The Way Forward, a strategic plan that is ambitious yet achievable.

The Way Forward will help modernize management consulting in Canada, expand awareness and influence of the profession and grow membership. It is the result of months of market analysis, assessment of operational capacity and extensive consultation with members, leaders, association staff and stakeholders.

Management consultants are no strangers to strategic planning. Whether reviewing a client’s current priorities, or helping them through a complete planning exercise, strategic plans are an everyday part of our business. As ubiquitous as they are, there is no shortage of opinions regarding the merits of strategic planning - whether the strategic plan gives wings to an organization or winds up an albatross around its neck.

Experienced strategists know that the planning process can be valuable in creating excitement and support for a common vision. However, just as often it can be used to define a mundane future where predictions are accurate but useless and objectives are achievable but meaningless. The plan may also overestimate the organization’s ability to control its future; external disruptors are ignored as if the future were perfectly predictable. A good strategic plan embraces risk and identifies impactful objectives that require exertion to achieve - a realistic but challenging set of goals that give real purpose to the effort.

Another concern about strategic planning is that it is often grounded in affordability rather than opportunity. For small associations in particular, activities that fit within the current budget are restated as long-term strategic goals. Good strategic planning forecasts opportunity and risk, which are primarily drivers of revenue. A useful strategic plan provides a roadmap to growth beyond the constraints of current costs.

Given these planning pitfalls, it was daunting to proceed with development and publication of a new strategic plan. It is fair to say that CMC’s are as interested in process as they are in outputs. Declaring that a new strategic plan was in the works brought forth a steady stream of advice and historic perspective on what had been tried in the past, what worked and what didn’t. We are grateful for the support we received from members and volunteers in helping produce our new strategic plan.

The Way Forward is the culmination of twelve month’s work. Taken together the efforts from members, leaders and staff constitute a substantial process to establish strategic priorities, supporting activities, and success indicators:

December 2018

  • Initial assessment of strategic opportunities and environmental scan completed by Michael Brennan as part of three-month Interim Executive Director contract.

March 2019

  • Determination of members’ short and medium-term priorities via the Value Proposition national survey.

April 2019

  • Growth strategy concept (the Big Tent) presented by President Mike Watson to Institutes and stakeholder. Resulting feedback incorporated into the planning process.

June 2019

  • Workshop on operationalizing strategic areas
  • Presentation to the CMC-Canada's Board of Directors and Joint Services Committee of membership growth projections based on implementation of the ‘Big Tent’ strategy.

July 2019

  • Staff retreat to assess resource requirements to support strategic initiatives.

August 2019

  • Operations mapping workshop
  • Presentation to Board of the first draft of 2020-2023 Strategic Plan

October 2019

  • Strategy and operations review workshop
  • Online review of strategy map and compilation of recommended amendments

November 2019

  • Deployment and communications process completed
  • 2020 budget development based on new planning priorities

December 2019

There are many variations of association strategic plans, but they typically follow a basic structure:

  • Vision, Mission & Values
  • Strategic Priorities: broad areas of focus and change
  • Outcomes: statements of the medium to long-term effects of the plan on the strategic priorities
  • Activities: work, projects, and programs that result in the desired change / outcomes
  • Indicators: information that allows assessment of progress towards the desired change or outcome

The Way Forward includes three broad areas of strategic focus:

  • Promotion of the CMC designation
  • Evolution of the profession
  • Growth of the association

Our vision and mission statements are brief and precise, providing a clear understanding of what we do, and what we hope to achieve. Our values are equally clear and concise, setting the parameters for how we go about our business.

Long-term outcomes are identified in the Impact section, divided into three key groups: society, members and the association itself. The long-term timeline is purposefully vague. These impacts do not expire; they are the result of a highly functional organization that continuously fulfills its mission.

Medium-term outcomes are stated within each of the strategic areas as Objectives. These are the results of our work and use of resources within the timeframe of the plan itself: the beginning of 2020 to the end of 2023.

Activities are listed under Major Initiatives. These initiatives include various projects and programs that should be completed within the four-year timeline of the plan and produce meaningful advances in achieving our strategic objectives and vision. Note that we do not include regular administrative activities, such as membership renewal and certification processes. These are the basic activities of any well-run organization. They will be identified as core administration functions in the business plan and annual budgets.

Success Indicators list various metrics used to measure our progress during the four years of the strategic plan. In cases where the indicator ends with ‘by year’ it implies January 1st.

Next Steps
Converting an ambitious vision into operation is the true test of the strategic plan’s value to the organization. Our new plan requires a thoughtful balance between risk exposure and innovation in everyday spending and new program design. We have based the 2020 budget on the new plan, with an emphasis on preparations for a more outward facing organization in 2021. Investments this year in infrastructure, marketing, and partner outreach will provide access to previously unavailable data and information to further guide our efforts, and the foundation for growth in the years ahead.

We welcome members to share their thoughts about The Way Forward 2020-2023 (Download and read the full plan here). Your views are critical in evaluating our progress towards our vision of a thriving and diverse profession that contributes to Canada’s prosperity, with CMC recognized as the pinnacle of management consulting practice.

Michael Brennan is the Executive Director of CMC-Canada. He has over 27 years’ experience in Third Sector leadership and health policy. He holds Bachelor of Arts (History) and Master of Arts (Economics) degrees from the University of Ottawa. Michael has published articles on health economics, the role of associations in generating social capital, responsible lobbying, and non-profit Board strategic thinking. He can be reached at