Monday, July 22, 2013

Careful What You Ask For

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Last week, in The First Step Is Always to Do a Survey, I continued writing about the process I used to create my association's values statement, despite some misgivings about the value of values statements I've previously shared and still hold.

Wanting to create a space where honest dialogue could take place not just about the values we wanted to aspire to, but those--good and bad--that the organization currently held, I circulated an anonymous survey to eveyone on my staff. It had three areas of inquiry:

1. What values and behaviors does our organization currently reward?
2. Which of our current values contribute to our success, which detract from our success, and which could contribute to our success with some modification?
3. What new values and behaviors do we need if we are to be successful?

I said the responses I received very accurately described our organization's current values--warts and all--and provided a solid foundation on which our future values statement would be built. In the summary I subsequently drafted, I identified some common themes:

1. There is a high level of commitment to exceeding the service expectations of members.

This is something everyone says. We're here for our members! But in my association, I had seen ample evidence that this was more than just lip-service. The staff members--especially those with long tenures in the organization--justifiably took pride in the service-minded relationships they had built with the members. And the organization--in the positive reinforcement offered by the members themselves and in the formal and informal reward systems put in place by my predecessors--had reinforced it. The result was a bundle of very positive behaviors among staff--a commitment to quality, administrative efficiency, and resourcefulness.


2. Not everyone is comfortable with experimentation and risk-taking, especially in how those concepts are communicated and shared with members.

...this tradition of selfless service to our members had what I saw as a negative undertone. I am a strong proponent of the "always in beta" concept for program and service development. I believe in quickly launching new programs in close proximity to the intended users, and then working with them in an on-going series of feedback loops to iterate improvements and new versions, steadily increasing their usefulness and market appeal throughout. I had experienced some push-back on this concept, and now I saw in the survey responses confirmation of that reluctance to embrace this idea. Given how much had been invested in achieving member satisfaction, some staff members expressed discomfort with experimenting in front of the members, concerned that by revealing the rough and sometimes unharmonious inner workings of the organization, service quality and their reputations would suffer.

In some ways, I saw this as two opposing poles of the same value, and the challenge moving forward would be minimizing one without destroying the other.

Stay tuned. Future posts will provide additional detail on the survey results, and how I prepared for the in-person discussion that created the draft values statement.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at


  1. Beautiful. There is always a shadow side to our values. Acknowledging it and working on it is precisely what is needed to actually clarify and improve the original "positive" value you started with.