Monday, October 14, 2013

The Preamble

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Two weeks ago, in From Flipcharts to Initial Draft, 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.

From the flipchart paper on which we had recorded the output of a staff retreat on the subject, I had created an initial draft of a full values statement. I incorporated both concepts that seemed to address dysfunctional elements of our current culture and those that represented more aspirational aspects of the future organization we wanted to create. And I added some of my own ideas, including a preamble meant to convey two essential ideas.

1. Tie the values statement to the mission and strategic priorities of our association.

The preamble begins:

The mission and strategic priorities of the National Fluid Power Association (NFPA) are to strengthen the fluid power industry and its members by:
- Building and connecting its members to an educated fluid power workforce;
- Promoting the technological advancement of fluid power; and
- Serving as a forum where all fluid power channel partners work together.

NFPA staff play a key role in helping to create this positive vision of the fluid power industry, coalescing members and other stakeholders around these objectives and our supporting activities and initiatives.

This was important because I had intentionally focused the discussion on the values we needed to embody as a group of staff members which, in my mind, were not necessarily values that would apply to the organization as a whole.

It was a question that had come up early in the formative discussions around this initiative. Should we invite association members into the discussion? Would the Board approve the final document? It was not my intention to keep our statement a secret, but it was very much my intention to make it an internal document--more of an agreement that we negotiated with each other than a policy document handed down from on high.

In other words, the question the values statement had to answer was this: What do we, the staff of the National Fluid Power Association, have to commit ourselves to if the association is to achieve the success our leadership has described in the mission and strategic priorities of the organization? Not what will the leadership do. Not what will the members do. What will we do, the staff, to help "create this positive vision for the fluid power industry"?

There would be many things that different people would think were important, but if they didn't move the organization in this direction, they didn't belong in our values statement.

2. Introduce an overall frame of systemic leadership.

The preamble concludes:

This role requires leadership, not from a single individual, but as a fundamental competency that is exercised consistently across the organization. To help ensure this level of success, NFPA will seek, develop, and reward staff members who exhibit the following values and behaviors.

In my view, this single value--systemic leadership--transcended all others, and needed to be brought into a position of prominence over whatever followed. Too often, I had seen projects and initiatives fail because someone deferred leadership to someone else--to another staff person, to me, to a committee chair, to the Board--instead up stepping up and doing what needed to be done to make the advancement that was needed.

The latter concept--that every individual was responsible for demonstrating leadership within the organization--was a critical part of what we needed to strive for, but it would only become systemic leadership when everyone did it, when no one got their feelings hurt because of it, and when we proactively began to leverage it as an organizational competency in pursuit of our strategic priorities.

I knew this would be one of the most challenging areas of change we would face, and that the values statement would need to define these requirements in much greater detail. Calling it out in the preamble was just the first step in demonstrating its importance.

Stay tuned. I'll continue this story in future posts. Up next: Unveiling the draft values statement to the staff and the conversation that followed.

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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

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