Monday, July 13, 2015

Ends Statements Describe the World You Will Create

I'm describing in a series of blog posts the different elements that make up my association's Strategy Agenda--a new term I've introduced in my organization to represent the essential work product of our Board of Directors. It is comprised of four distinct elements, each one nesting in the one that precedes it, and describes what we want to achieve and how we will measure our success in achieving it.

Four weeks ago I focused on the highest of the four elements: the mission. Two weeks ago it was the first step down the outline: strategic priorities. This week, I'm taking another step down to talk about the third element: ends statements.

End statements are the newest part of our Strategy Agenda, having incorporated them for the first time just one year ago. Before that, we had our mission and our strategic priorities, and then we went directly to the program objectives and action plans that made up our operational plan.

That often presented some challenges, as our strategic priorities, while good, often did not provide enough specificity about what we were trying to achieve to provide clear guidance on which programs made sense and what program objectives should be set. As I've previously described, because the strategic priorities are broad statements of the businesses we were in, almost every idea that everybody had could justifiably find a home within them.

For example, one strategic priority talks about building and connecting our members to an educated workforce. That's one of our core businesses. But how should we achieve that? Should we help middle school students get excited about using our industry's technology? Should we make sure high school engineering, math and science curriculum includes the technology of our industry? Should we be building educational resources relevant to our industry and our industry's needs at 2-year technical colleges and 4-year universities? Should we be sponsoring research into our industry's technical challenges as a way of building new interest and academic infrastructure? Should we be bending over backwards to bring our members in contact with the students, teachers and resources being developed and by all our other activities? Before the advent of ends statements, the answer to all these questions--and all other questions like them--was invariably yes, yes, and yes again. We are, after all in the business of building and connecting our members to an educated workforce, aren't we?

Enter our ends statements. Within each strategic priority, within each of our core business areas, what specifically are we trying to achieve? Yes, we want to build and connect our members to an educated workforce, but how will we know that we have actually done that? To what specific ends should our programs and activities be directed?

In our first attempt we created statements of almost pure vision. What future world will we need to see before we'd be willing to admit we've achieved our vision? A consultant held our feet to the fire and forced us down this road. Forget about whether or not it can be achieved, what idealized world are you trying to create? Worry about getting there later. And as a result, we came up with some very compelling ends statements.

Except there was one problem. It was unclear how we should bring these future states about--or if we even could.

So this past year, actually just a few weeks ago at our annual strategic retreat, we made one important adjustment. We not only described the ends we would like to achieve, we also phrased the statements to be more clear about what our organization would do to achieve it. Sticking with the workforce example I've been describing, here's an example of one of those new ends statements:

NFPA fosters awareness and involvement of middle and high school students, helping them understand fluid power’s potential as a technology and choose fluid power as a career path.

Now there's a statement that both lays out a future vision, but also clearly describes the role our association will play in achieving it, meaning it can be used as a much more effective filter for program ideas and objectives.

I don't know if this specific phraseology will survive, but the larger point is an essential one. Far-reaching visions are important, but if there isn't clarity about what you're going to do to create those realities, you'll wind up with the same laundry lists of program ideas, none of which can reasonably be excluded from your agenda.

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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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