So often we talk about leading from the balcony and not the dance floor or the 20,000 foot view when discussing strategic planning. However, while it is easy to spit out metaphors the fact is staying focused on strategy can be quite difficult. As an association executive you are mired in your day to day activity; so is the professional member who is making a living at the industry. So how do you set the stage to shift focus from the day to day activity to the bird’s eye view? Here are a few guidelines to help you:
1) As Timba said, “You need to put the past behind you”. If your Board of Directors Agenda is filled only with items that already happened you will remain past focused. Always include one “foresight” item on your agenda. Your board should be strategically discussing trends and future possibilities.
2) Keep the mission in mind. Remember that the base mission of any trade association is to improve business conditions. Take a hard look at your agenda- if there is not one item that relates to the mission you have a problem. If the committees aren’t working on the mission than this needs to be a topic of discussion for the board of directors.
3) Use charts, graphs, flow charts and figures to help your board conceptualize a possible future impact
4) Your board of directors should be future focused and that is accomplished through contingency planning- if x happens then Y will go into action- your board should not just be approving past actions or committee motions. This is accomplished by a quarterly review of the impacts of the strategic plan and its corresponding business or action plan. Your board should be thinking about possible outcomes and then returning those potential outcomes to the committees to work on a contingency plan.
5) Every strategic plan should have a corresponding business or action plan with SMART action steps: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. How steps 4 & 5 work in tandem is the beauty of it. Below is a brief example:
Association Mission: Improve business conditions
Strategic Goal: Improve business conditions through ensuring members are trained in the most relevant and recent business procedures
Business plan (SMART): Create three new CE courses related to new or current procedural actions by July 31, 2015
Contingency planning: What is the plan if laws change? What if the classes we chose to create do not meet commission guidelines? How will we know if the classes we create will be attractive to the members? What if we cannot find appropriate instructors? How will we know to offer these classes live or online? What if CE credit requirements change throughout the year and our class is no longer relevant? What if the classes get poor reviews?
Business leveraging: How else can we use the information we are acquiring while we develop these classes? How do we value the class in terms of monetary worth? Is there a resource we can incorporate into the class to expand profits elsewhere (for example one class I offered required a special calculator which we then stocked in the association store)? How do we make the courses we are developing interactive in order to achieve peak retention? Is there a take-away resource to assist in retention? How will we capture input to improve the course or develop other courses?
Here is what typically happens: The board passes the strategic plan and this action step. They do not look at the issue again. A committee dives in and brainstorms three classes that they would like to see and a volunteer writes them or it is outsourced.
What should happen: Board sees this item on the action step and gives committee direction by asking questions about contingencies and other opportunities. Committee answers these questions before anything is ever started. For example the committee really should do a member assessment and an environmental scan before classes are ever developed. Once developed the plan for monitoring and evaluation should be documented. Quarterly, the board should review the outcomes of the business plan- has a contingency plan been operationalized? If so why? What did we learn from this process and can it be used elsewhere? How can we build on a success?
Your members who are focused on their day to day are not going to be able to stay future focused and strategically focused without your help as the association executive. The guidelines offered above are a start in moving your board from a certifying board to a strategic board.
The top ten list will live on far past the legacy of Late Night with Letterman. Here is my top 10 list of reasons not to run for President of the Association:
10) I really want to teach CE, orientation, or Code of Ethics training and now the Education Director can’t say no
9) It will look great on my resume
8) It proves people like me… they really like me
7) I want an Ipad and I heard they give those away at the board
6) I just cannot get enough free coffee and free press & publicity
5) I need someone to set appointments for me
4) My spouse and I need a few mini-vacations and conferences are always held in tourist cities
3) We are paid to volunteer- right?
2) I have never been to Washington DC
…. and the number one reason not to run as president of the association…
1) I really don’t like the CEO- now I can get in there and get him/her out!
I recently read two posts in a facebook group I belong to one was Why Mission Statements Suck and the other was Looking for Great Leaders and was an advertisement asking members to run for the board of directors. These both caused me to pause and think about setting the stage or setting the table for great leadership to happen. As I have stated previously leadership is an “act” not a characteristic. This act of leadership occurs when a body of followers are given Direction, are Aligned with the directive (mission) and are Committed to the directive. It is called the theory of DAC (Drath, 2008). If you are as curious as I am this link is to a wonderful analysis paper of DAC.
So just how do you set the table for incoming leaders and ensure that DAC can happen? Here are a five simple steps that may help:
- Do your potential leaders understand the mission? Send it to them! As many Association Execs can attest simply putting the mission statement on everything including the agenda does not guarantee awareness of the mission.
- Ensure that your mission statement is truly your mission- as a business league, your trade association has a singular mission “to improve business conditions”.
- In the pre-election packet you send or presentation you conduct make sure that those who are running understand this is the mission- not better CE or implementing MLS rules that benefit their brokerage
- Their job is to align the members with the mission. Do your nominees understand that in addition to the fiduciary duties they are to become evangelists for your board and your PAC? PACs are specifically formed to influence the legislative process to better business conditions for the members. Explain this to them in a simple one page/one slide statement.
- Help them form in their own mind and articulate why they are running for a board seat. A simple IPhone video camera can be used to film a leadership interview- give every nominee the same 5 questions and film them- distribute to your membership via email (you should see your election participation rise if you do this). Here are your questions:
- How do you relate to the mission of the organization? (Why is the mission important to you?)
- If elected how will you further the mission?
- What skills do you bring to the mission?
- How will you ensure board alignment to the mission?
- Is there anything you would like to add to this interview?
Make sure they all have the interview questions at least one week prior to filming. Some may drop out of the race after reading the questions- that is okay. So often we send out biographies and a long list of the nominees’ committee work and designations- while committee work and designations may signify commitment to the organization and/or the industry they ARE NOT filters for leadership; they are filters for followership. As association executives we need to quit training members for one thing and asking them to act for another.
And for the curious among you- yes this is my formal dining room and it is always ready for company!
Yesterday I learned of a colleague who had been let go by her board, via a phone call, while she was on vacation and worst of all she never saw it coming! I would like to say this is just an anomaly in the association world but its not. This is the second such firing in two months that I have been personally aware of. There are so many, many things wrong with this scenario but let’s break it down shall we?
1. A CEO has the right to know (and the board has a responsibility to them just as the CEO has the same responsibility to his/her staff) when performance is not satisfactory.
2. Performance issues should be addressed as they occur- not at contract renewal time.
3. So often (and I do not know the backstory of this most recent firing but do of the other) the termination has nothing to do with performance but with a personality conflict.
4. Boards need to understand that the CEO is a constant within the organization and the President is fleeting- weigh personal issues very carefully and be business savvy enough to realize there are two sides to every story!
5. CEOs need to be evaluated on their performance not on whether or not you personally like them. Performance measurements should be pre-defined, agreed upon, and measured quantitatively.
6. If you don’t like something the CEO is doing- arrange a time to discuss the issue in a non-threatening way.
7. There should be in place a pre-defined process for how the board will handle a dispute or a performance issue with the CEO. This at minimum should include a) a meeting to discuss the issue with more than one officer b) a plan for improvement c) a plan for evaluating (when and how ) the plan for improvement and d) a plan for the consequences if there is no improvement.
8. This plan should include that the CEO will be called in and terminated… in person. Most likely the CEO believes her or she is doing a good job and has probably given more than 40 hours per week and more than a little of his/her soul to the organization. They are a person. They were your leader; this should be respected and the terminating employee should be treated with dignity.
9. Don’t fire someone while they are out of town at a business conference or on vacation. Show some courage and a little class- as an officer of the board and a leader you should have these two qualities already.
10) Lastly, follow my steps for the proper and professional manner in which to inform the membership of the departure which is covered in my earlier post, Hell Isn’t Merely Paved With Good Intentions.
If as a board, an evaluation process and termination process is not agreed upon then this should be addressed at the next leadership training.
As a side note, I read somewhere that the term pink slip originated because terminated men in the early 1900’s were sent home, out of the workforce, to be with the women. The women who all wore slips at the time and are represented by the color pink. Therefore, the employee received a WRITTEN NOTICE, the “pink slip” became a slang term for the termination, it most likely was not on a piece of pink paper.
In the association world its easy to feel helpless or overwhelmed; you really are subject to the whims of the volunteer board of directors and for some the volunteer president. However, there is a means for you to be able to make a difference for yourself and others by participating in research. My current research project is related to job design for non-profit association executives. But research is just that, research, which means one needs to have research participants. I urge you to consider participating in my most recent research project by clicking the link at the end of this post.
What’s in it for you?
1) Knowing you actually did something to help yourself and others
2) A copy of the full study to share with your Board of Directors
3) To have your voice heard but in a safe and anonymous manner