Last week I wrote about the combined efforts of both the Bennington Chamber and the Shires of Vermont RMO to explore a regional organization in the absence of the Manchester Chamber. This upcoming week our full board (a board of about 30 area business and community members) will meet for our first strategic retreat since I've become executive director.

The concept of a strategic retreat was set up long before the Manchester situation, but this obviously provides a good gathering point as a chamber to come together and look at both the challenges and the opportunities for our organization moving forward.

The theme for this strategic retreat will be "Becoming a Chamber of the Future: How to Manage Change and Becoming a High-Performance Team." It is my belief that if we can learn to adapt to change and become an even better high-performance team then we will be able to handle any challenge to come our way. Unlike tactical planning (day-to-day, month-to-month) or operational planning (yearly), strategic planning looks at three to five years out. I'd push a little more and say what does our Chamber need to be in the next decade? Strategic thinking requires us to lift ourselves out of the immediate issues and challenges and look down the road so that we can adequately prepare our Chamber for the future.


Some questions we'll be asking ourselves at the retreat will be: What does the next model of chambers of commerce look like? How does BACC adapt for the next decade of Chamber evolution? What will our membership need from us over the next 10 years and how will that change? How does the recent news of regionalization and providing increased value-added services frame our discussion? All are good questions to start asking ourselves.

While putting together the agenda and material for the retreat I came across this quote from ACCE's (Association for Chamber of Commerce Executives) Horizon Initiative Report, "Successful chambers of the future will require at least a handful of leaders who exhibit these traits: staggering levels of focus, commitment to excellence, fiery passion, persistence and humble understanding that only the power of a team can yield success." This is such a powerful statement. We need every one of those components in order to be successful.

Of course this statement doesn't just pertain to Chambers, but to our business members too! In a world that seems to be more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous every single second, this statement is profound. We, either the chamber and/or your business, will not survive the next decade unless we have leadership with staggering levels of focus (not distracted by the "tyranny of the urgent"), a real commitment to excellence (we talked about this a couple of columns ago about not walking by shoddy product or service), and fiery passion (extreme hustle and hard work). Finally, we will not be successful unless we are persistent and have a real understanding of the power of teams (believing that the sum of all our parts, put together, working towards a common goal with a common approach can create something greater than the whole).

I have challenged our stakeholders, our staff, our board, our members and now you – if we want economic growth, a safe community, great education and health care and to really position Bennington and the Shires region as a world-class destination, it can only be done by working together as a team.

I'll steal another line from the Horizon Initiative that I think does a great job summarizing our combined efforts from various leadership organizations around town: "Aligned leadership is, in many ways, the holy grail of community advancement. When elected officials, bureaucrats, corporate leaders, chamber staff, economic developers, media, non-profits, clergy, and other influencers of a community can come together with one common goal and approach, truly remarkable things can happen. Margaret Mead's famous quote talks to the need for powerful leaders, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Always Onward,

— Matt Harrington is the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce