What is a Hodag? … and other myths you should know about

Perched above squeaky cheese curds is the mighty Hodag from Northern Wisconsin. He lives in the icy frozen tundra that is known as Rhinelander, Wisconsin.  The Hodag was a myth of great proportions that was covered in the national media until scientists from the Smithsonian forced the hand of Eugene Shepard (its creator) who then admitted the stories of the Hodag were merely a hoax. However, although the myth was dispelled around 1896 the Hodag still lives today, as evidenced by the ice sculpture at my son’s wedding, the large landmark that sits at the entrance of Rhinelander, and the local high school’s mascot and sports teams. Some myths stick around for a very, very, very long time.

In the audit of process, the most common hoax perpetrated by employees and volunteer members the most is , “We have always done it that way”. This myth appears to perpetuate an assumed fact that as long as something is repeatable and is being repeated this makes it a good process. This is incorrect! A good process needs to be continually refined at the least and processes should be checked for obsolescence (and replaced if such is true) on a regular basis. So where does one even start in the process of process review?

As an association executive for over a decade, and as a student of organizational management, I have defined several key process areas: Governance, Employees, Programs, Services, Administration, Finance, Research & Development (R&D), and Communication (which includes marketing and advocacy). These eight areas define much of what you do as an association executive. If your board isn’t ready for an external structural audit, you may want to consider self-audits as part of your strategic plan. This should ensure that the audits are actually performed each year.

To begin is easy, choose one of the categories above, let’s take governance as an example. Now simply choose one simple process that is contained within that category, for example the process of compiling and distributing the agenda. Map it out in a graphical flow chart- make sure you include every step. Now, take each step and ask yourself “Why do we do it that way?” Write out every applicable reason. Next, look at each reason and ask yourself two questions:

1. Is this still relevant?

2. Is the reason behind why we do it still valid?

If the answers for 1 & 2 are yes your next question is:

3. How can we make this step better?

In terms of better, here are some questions to guide you through refinement:

1. Can we do it faster and how?

2. Can it be more effective? The question behind this question is ARE WE GETTING THE RESULTS WE NEED? What results might be missing? How can we change the process to get those results? For example, if your board members are opening up a paper packet at the meeting you might want to stop providing a paper packet because this appears to be a means for procrastination. What if you switched to an online format where other members could view the date and time the packet is opened. This does exist- its called Boardpaq. For more information go to www.boardpaq.com

3. Can it be done cheaper and what are the ethical considerations of that? Simply providing a pdf of the board packet is definitely cheaper and promotes sustainability and green practices. However, ethically what is the security level of that practice?

If your answers to the first two questions were “NO” you will want to brainstorm “How would I create this process if I were forming the association today?” Nothing is off limits- you might say we could do a Vulcan mind meld and just transfer the information to each board member. That sounds logical? Okay so mind melds might be out but what are the qualities of a mind meld and can this be duplicated in some way without the crew of the Starship Enterprise. An example, a mind meld is the instantaneous transfer of information from one brain to another through the process of touch. So emailing from one computer (a brain) to another in a one step touch of a button may be more effective than using the U.S. mail service. If it is the humanoid factor of touch that makes the mind meld effective- maybe you might want to consider a follow-up phone call to each director to ensure they have received the information.

Now obviously there are literally tons of processes within each category of effective association management, so you may want to define which practices are a priority. Often this is where the “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know” paradigm comes into play and a professional such as the association yoda may be warranted. Consider completing the structural audit worksheet to identify areas where process improvement may be warranted. If you are not ready for a financial investment into this process keep reading my posts during MAY-Process Month to learn the key processes within each area and pick up helpful hints along the way.

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