Monday, November 11, 2013

Reading Between the Lines

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Two weeks ago, in Cut, Copy and Paste, 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.

I had challenged my staff to take the initial values statement I had drafted--which contained the nine broad areas we had discussed during our retreat--and combine or refine the values and associated behaviors described so that there were no more than six areas (and perhaps less).

Four of my nine staff members took me up on this challenge, returning revised drafts incorporating their thoughts on how to condense the statement down. In reviewing their work, I made the following observations:

1. Innovation and teamwork were core concepts that everyone seemed to emphasize.

I found the two concepts an interesting and, in some ways, a juxtaposed pair. Innovation--described as it was with behaviors like challenging prevailing assumptions, taking smart risks, and exhibiting a bias towards action--seemed to ideally embody that future organization we wanted to create. We weren't any of these things currently (at least not consistently), and there seemed to be a broad consensus that we needed to move more deliberately in this direction.

Teamwork, in contrast--described as it was with behaviors like treating people with respect, being receptive to constructive criticism, and sharing information openly and proactively--seemed specifically designed to address some of the dysfunctional elements of our current culture. Reading through the behaviors people had grouped under Teamwork, I realized that any well-functioning organization would view some of them as things that should go without saying. Admitting you weren't innovative was easy. Who was? But admitting that you didn't treat people with respect, or accept constructive criticism, or share information? That meant something was wrong.

I mentioned that this juxtapostion between what we wanted to fix and what we wanted to grow into had been part of our dialogue around values from the very beginning. And here it was again, manifesting as an essential tension as we started honing things down into a memorable and actionable set of values.

2. Concerns about maintaining a focus on service to our members were still lurking beneath the surface.

The importance of service, and more specifically, service to our members, had been a topic of conversation during our retreat, and it had made it into the initial draft as one of the nine core values. But each of the four staff members who took a stab at revising and condensing the draft did something different with it. One left it entirely alone. Two others reinforced it with new language, one focused on providing value for the member's dues dollar, the other focused on being responsive to their needs. The fourth dropped it from the list of core values, but distributed the behaviors that describe it in other areas.

In other words, everyone felt that service to our members belonged somewhere, but no one agreed on where that place should be.

I didn't necessarily disagree. Providing exceptional programs and services to our members was obviously tightly aligned with our overall success, and it surely belonged somewhere in a document that described the values and behaviors we knew we needed to exhibit if we were going achieve that success. But my own preference was that the concept more appropriately belonged as a means to that end, and not an end in and of itself. Member service, as the rallying cry that knit us together, would, in my opinion, keep us all as followers, and not the leaders I thought we needed to be.

Stay tuned. I'll continue this story in future posts. Up next: Making some tough decisions and putting the final draft together.

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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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