Monday, July 27, 2015

Success Indicators Show Movement Towards Your Vision

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.

Six weeks ago I focused on the highest of the four elements: the mission. Four weeks ago it was the first step down the outline: strategic priorities. Two weeks ago it was the next step: ends statements. This week, I'm taking the last step down to the fourth and final element: success indicators.

Success indicators show movement towards the vision you've outlined in your ends statements. They are metrics, things that can be measured, whose progression unquestionably means that your are achieving the ends that you've identified for your organization.

Sounds simple? They're not. They are, in fact, the most challenging part of the Strategy Agenda. As the saying goes, they are where the rubber hits the road. The mission, your strategic priorities, your ends statements--everything up to now has been about making promises. What we're here to do. How we'll go about doing it. What difference it will make. Success indicators are the first step in making good on those promises. They are the things you hold up to show you are actually making progress.

And that makes them exceptionally hard to define. They have to be things that are clearly correlated with your success, but they also have to be things that your organization can measure and can affect. And in the world of associations, there is very often a clear and intimidating gap between what we want to achieve and what we are able to achieve.

Take the example I've been using in this series of posts. Our ends statement, our vision, the world we want to create is one in which:

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.

How will we know we are doing that? The first thing people usually think of are their programs, and, guess what? We do have a program that is designed to connect middle school students to information about our industry and the technology it uses. So it may seem obvious that we should be basing one of our success indicators on the success of this program.

But there is a nuance that should not be lost, and that is making sure that program success is defined in a way that actually correlates with achieving the vision described in the ends statement. In a previous post, in fact, I described how we initially didn't get this right. Our metric of success on this program was the number of students participating in the program. That might be an appropriate metric at the programmatic level, but we eventually realized that just increasing the number of students in this program was not automatically moving us closer the the ends described in our ends statement. To make it a success indicator instead of a program metric, we had to make sure we were measuring the right thing.

And the right thing, in this case, was not just the number of students, but the number of students that, as a result of our program, had increased their understanding of fluid power's potential as a technology.

That's what makes it a success indicator. Something you can measure. Something you can affect. And something that is clearly aligned with progress against the vision you've described. You need to have all three.

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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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