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Strategic … Or Just Busy?

by Kathleen M. Schulz, Director-At-Large
July 27, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 30

Credit: Courtesy of Kathleen Schulz
Credit: Courtesy of Kathleen Schulz

Have you noticed how easy it is to be busy? Constantly rushing, trying to do ever more in the same, finite amount of time? Extreme “busy-ness” seems to be a way of life. However, it raises nagging questions: Does what I’m doing truly matter in the long run? Is it significant? Does it have a real impact? Or am I just busy?

I want to reflect on such questions in the context of American Chemical Society volunteerism—especially for ACS groups such as local sections, divisions, and committees. The downside of being busy, and not thinking about these questions, is that we may realize Yogi Berra’s famous quote: “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

For ACS groups, pertinent questions might be: Is what we’re doing strategic? Are the activities of our local section, division, or committee having significant impact? Is this suite of activities the most impactful way we could spend our resources? Considering these questions need not take a lot of time, but the answers can be very revealing.

I encourage your ACS group to conduct a “strategy checkup” to ensure that you move beyond “busy-ness” to real impact.

Here’s a useful first set of strategy checkup questions:

◾ Does our ACS group have a strategic plan with a mission, a vision, core values, and goals?
◾ Is it written down?
◾ In preparing the strategic plan, did we thoroughly assess our group’s strengths and weaknesses?
◾ Did we consider the environment external to our group (that is, do an environment scan)?
◾ Is our plan consistent with the ACS Strategic Plan?

If you have a strategic plan, review it against the ACS Strategic Plan at

The ACS Strategic Plan’s four goals—provide information, advance member careers, improve education, and communicate chemistry’s value—are focused, and yet they provide a broad umbrella to allow varied ACS groups to serve their specific constituencies. If your group does not have a strategic plan, consider emulating the more than 20 local sections, divisions, and committees that have recently created one in a single ACS Leadership Development System retreat session.

As you develop your strategic plan, you’ll want to lay the groundwork for successful implementation by checking whether you have the right goals and an implementation and accountability system in place. Without these elements, you may be busy, but there is no guarantee you’ll be doing the right (strategic) things or that you’ll be successful.

Considering this second set of questions will help you get where you’re trying to go:

◾ Has our plan been developed or refreshed within the past three years?
◾ Do we regularly consult and share our plan with each other and with others outside our group?
◾ Was it developed by a group that included some of our current leaders?
◾ Do we at least annually discuss whether to revise our strategic goals in response to changes in the external environment?
◾ Do we have a companion tactical plan, with details (for example, tasks, timeline, success measures, owners) on how to accomplish our goals?
◾ Do we regularly review progress versus our plan?
◾ Do we celebrate our success when we achieve parts of our plan?

All of these things are critically important to building and maintaining momentum, having significant impact, and achieving success.

I’ve been privileged to observe or directly work with many local sections, divisions, and committees on their strategic plans over the past three years. During that time, these groups have completed many consciously planned-for items.

They report that having an up-to-date strategic plan helps ensure that their activities are more consciously planned, effective, and strategically focused, versus the oft-used, less-than-inspiring approach of starting with and repeating “what we did last year.” They also report unexpected benefits such as greater efficiency, as well as more energy and fun from becoming more close-knit and passionate about shared goals through the planning process.

I’ll close with one success story: Last month at ACS’s Northeast Regional Meeting (NERM), it was exciting to see the Northeast Region (NERACS) Board mark the completion of two items from its plan barely six months after kickoff. Those were scheduling successive annual regional meetings through 2020 and creating a new website that includes NERM and NERACS documents as well as information about NERACS services for local sections.

The NERACS Board is blazing new trails in creation and exemplary execution of an ACS unit strategic plan and in asking, “What more, besides regional meetings, can we do for the local sections in our region? How can we be more innovative in serving them?”

Kudos to NERACS and to the many other ACS groups delivering on current strategic plans. I urge ACS groups without current strategic plans to visit to learn how you can join in and create one. That’s how you can ensure that ACS has maximum impact in “improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.”

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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