If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Comment: The power of strategic planning

by Lisa Houston, District IV director, ACS Board of Directors
August 27, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 28


Photo of Lisa Houston.
Credit: Diana Montoya
Lisa Houston

Everything I wanted to know about strategic planning I learned not in the workplace but through volunteering with the American Chemical Society. I have been fortunate to witness the evolution of the strategic planning process at various levels of the society and the impact such planning has had on moving the organization forward. The key to successful planning is the participation of those a strategic plan supports. For ACS, that means all of you as members.

I was first exposed to the strategic planning process in 2006, as a representative of the former Petroleum Chemistry Division and a participant in the ACS “Strategic Planning for Technical Divisions” training. My division was used as a case study that in turn served as a basis for the division’s first strategic plan. We learned how the ACS Strategic Plan ( serves as the foundation for focused action for not only the society but also its component groups, including local sections, technical divisions, committees, and regional boards. This connection made me understand the importance of strategic plans and what a critical role they play.

A strategic plan is meant to capture an organization’s overarching goals, and as such it should not change much year to year. But the ACS plan is reviewed annually to ensure that the society responds appropriately to the challenges and opportunities faced by members and the chemical enterprise. Modest changes were made to the plan from its inception in 2008 until 2017. The most significant change was in 2012, when the plan was modified to consolidate the number of goals (from six to four) and introduce four core values.

Together, we can make sure we have a robust strategic plan that continues to serve as a strong foundation for our organization.

In 2012, the Petroleum Chemistry Division merged with the Division of Fuel Chemistry; I knew from experience that we had to create a joint strategic plan to get the new Division of Energy and Fuels (ENFL) off to a good start. The ENFL developed the plan in a weekend using the strategic planning course developed by the Leadership Advisory Board, which became the template for today’s Strategic Planning Retreats. This approach helped bring together the leadership of the new division and define a path to a successful future.

The ACS strategic planning process has continued to evolve to ensure the inclusion of trend information from internal sources and data from external sources. In 2017, a rigorous external environmental scan resulted in the addition of change drivers—indicators of fundamental forces showing where important change is or could be happening that will impact the organization in the future. The research was ultimately designed to raise awareness of external factors throughout the volunteer and staff leadership, as well as to specifically inform the annual review of the ACS Strategic Plan.

In 2019, as the vice chair of the Council Policy Committee, I joined the Board Committee on Strategic Planning (SPC). One of the committee’s goals was to continuously improve the planning process to enable a multiyear strategic plan. I’m proud that I was able to contribute to the development of a streamlined, 5-year planning cycle that began in 2020. It includes an annual roadmap of activities, a communications plan, and a risk management plan. This 5-year process was an essential improvement on how ACS approaches strategic planning.

I was elected to the ACS Board of Directors in 2020 and continued my service to the SPC and the implementation of the new strategic planning process cycle. That same year, I was called to serve on a board working group to integrate diversity, inclusion, and respect (DI&R) into the ACS Strategic Plan. The outcome was the addition of an ACS goal to address DI&R; an update of the DI&R Core Value to include diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect (DEIR); and updates to explicitly add language pertaining to DEIR. This was an important revision to the strategic plan and its core values, as well as the most significant change since 2012.

I was asked to chair the SPC in 2021, and I continue to serve in this role as we implement years 2–4 of the ACS Strategic Plan. During this time, the committee has been conducting surveys, holding strategy cafés, and engaging in discussions to inform updates of the plan. Thanks to all who have contributed to these efforts. This feedback is especially important this year as we look toward year 5 of the process, which includes a deep assessment of the ACS Strategic Plan.

And that brings me to my ask: If you have ideas about how to better articulate the ACS Strategic Plan or any other suggestions, please email them to Together, we can make sure we have a robust strategic plan that continues to serve as a strong foundation for our organization.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.