Monday, November 25, 2013

The Final Four

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Two weeks ago, in Reading Between the Lines, 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.

In reviewing the suggested revisions that four of my staff members had made to the draft values statement that had come out of staff retreat, I had identified what I perceived to the common concerns and priorities of the people most willing to participate in the process. In looking at how they chose to organize and combine the values that had been discussed at our staff retreat, I felt I had the information I needed to distill them down to the shortest and most relevant list for both the organization that existed and the organization I wanted to create.

We had started with nine values: Clarity, Growth, Innovation, Integrity, Passion, Poise, Respect, Teamwork and Service. Various staff had reduced them down to either three, five, six or seven. In my final synthesis, I decided to focus on four.

We lead the organization in creating new value for our members.

Leadership was key. I had known that even going into the exercise. With members increasingly focused on their day jobs, I needed staff to abandon even the pretense that we were following them--of waiting for them to make the right decisions and to drive the necessary programming for the future of our industry. If new value was going to be created for the members and their association, I wanted it perfectly clear that we were going to have to do it ourselves.

Innovation would be part of this, and so would Clarity. I combined the behaviors we had initially grouped under those categories to describe an association professional who worked collaboratively with members, who helped them make sense of constant complexity of our environment, and who expertly drove things from experiment to focused action and success.

We are excited about growing as individuals and about growing the organization.

Enthusiasm was the second new term that I brought into the mix. Similar to Passion, I wanted it grounded in something tangible, something specific that would demonstrably add to our success. The natural connection seemed like Growth, both growing ourselves as professionals and growing the organization. I wanted people who would approach our work with a spirit of fun and excitement. Instead of hiding or ignoring gaps in our knowledge, we needed to embrace our own developmental journeys, and connect them to the health of the organization.

We act with honesty and professionalism in all our relationships.

Integrity had to be included. The word itself resonated strongly with almost everyone in the organization, but more importantly, the behaviors we had used to describe it, as well as Respect and Poise, were foundational to the kind of organization we needed to be. Words like honesty and professionalism seemed to sum them all up best, and they had to be characteristics that we demonstrated not just with each other, but in every relationship we valued. We're good at what we do. We're professionals. But we're also human. And we make mistakes. And when we do we're honest with each other and with ourselves. Why? Because we're professionals and that's what professionals do.

We work together to deliver exceptional service.

And finally there was Teamwork--working together to deliver the Service we all knew was important but no one seemed  sure where it should plug in. In the grand scheme of things, ours was a small organization with big goals and limited capacity. If we lost our focus on giving our members exceptional service, they would likely (and all too easily) go elsewhere. And the only way we could do that was by working together. By watching each other's backs and sharing the work and pulling together when times got tough. Although we were a staff full of independent workers, we couldn't survive if we all tried to go at it alone.

Those were my thoughts and my way of combining the ideas we had talked about as a group into a short and memorable group of values and behaviors that, if we applied ourselves to them, would have real impact on the kind of organization we needed to be.

Stay tuned. I'll continue this story in future posts. Up next: The rubber hits the road. Our initial experiments in trying to see the values in action inside our organization.

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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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