A Letter From ABA President Russ Lawrence Reporting on ... ABA's 'Ends Statements'

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ABA Strategic Plan ... Er, Ends Statements Report

Russ Lawrence

Hey! What happened to our new American Booksellers Association Five-Year Strategic Plan?

OK, the question didn't exactly dominate ABA's Town Hall or Annual Membership meetings at BookExpo America last May -- or the numerous discussions held at the ABA booth at each of this fall's regional trade shows; however, I know it's just because you, my bookselling colleagues, are so polite, and possibly distracted by other issues -- like keeping your doors open. But ABA's new, Five-Year Strategic Plan, set to debut in October ... didn't.

For many years, ABA has proudly described itself as "a strategically managed organization," and we spent much of the last 15 months preparing our third Five-Year Strategic Plan, set to commence in October. Hundreds of you filled out forms at forums; we polled the Booksellers Advisory Council; we convened our Strategic Planning Committee, back in July. We took a deep breath, and ...

We did something completely different. Our ABA Policy Manual describes in detail how the organization should run, and nowhere does it mention a Five-Year Strategic Plan. Instead, it refers to organizational Ends Statements, expressing the Board's long-term goals. From this, the CEO devises a strategic plan to achieve those "ends," or goals. So, we took the data we had collected -- what you have told us you want ABA to do for you, in order of importance -- and reframed it all as Ends Statements, in order to comply more explicitly with our Policy Manual.

Ends Statements are an expression of what good we do, for whom, and at what cost or priority to the organization. It's a way of getting away from talking about what programs or "means" we support, and refocusing on what results or outcomes we want to achieve.

The top-level Ends Statement that we adopted, the one that encompasses everything else we do, is this: "ABA member bookstores will be professionally operated and profitable, and income derived from regular members' fees will be equal to, or less than, those of comparable trade associations." From there, the Ends Statements continue to define, as precisely as possible, what difference we want ABA to make in the operation of our members' bookstores.

Despite this seeming "wonk-talk," it's actually a much nimbler, more realistic approach to planning. It allows your fellow booksellers on the ABA Board of Directors to react more quickly to changes in the bookselling environment and to shift organizational priorities as needed. Five years encompasses a boatload of change these days, and though we revisited the Strategic Plan annually in the past to tinker with priorities and programs, we decided to dispense with that rather clumsy approach.

To be sure, the new Ends Statements include everything that you identified in all of the strategic planning exercises over the last 18 months, and they reflect the priorities that you assigned to those programs and solutions.

The ABA Board's challenge is to listen carefully to the membership, to scan the business environment, and to recognize when we need to alter our Ends Statements or priorities -- it's meant to be a fluid document. The CEO's challenge is to create a strategic plan annually, for the staff to follow in achieving those ends.

That's what happened to your Strategic Plan. The new Ends document will be available on BookWeb.org within the next few weeks. Fascinating as it is, and as much of a challenge as it was to craft, you might do better to spend your time reading some of the great articles in Bookselling This Week on how to keep your doors open, or to prepare for the holiday season.

Just keep in mind that those articles -- and everything else emanating from ABA's offices, including the Winter Institute and the Book Sense program -- are a direct result of what the ABA Ends Statements call for: It's all about the results.

Russ Lawrence
ABA President
Chapter One Book Store
Hamilton, Montana
[email protected]
(406) 363-5220