Monday, July 6, 2015

"We're Clearly Doing Things Right...

...but are we doing the right things?"

This is a borrowed quote that one of my Board members said during our recent strategic planning retreat. It was after my presentation on this year's action plan--the one I mentioned in a previous post, where I presented all the things that had gone well for us and a few of the areas in which we have fallen short.

The first half of his comment was a recognition of all the good things that have happened in our association over the past year--membership numbers, participation, and leadership engagement are all up, for example. But the second half was a recognition of something equally valid. That with all of our focus on ends statements and success metrics, we're still having a difficult time determining if the things we are doing are actually creating the conditions we would call success.

I don't think our association is alone in this regard. This disconnect, sometimes more "felt" than actual, between success in programs and success in objectives, is something that troubles many associations. We can grow membership, we can increase conference attendance, we can come in over budget in revenue and under budget in expense, but does any of that mean we are fulfilling our mission or realizing the visions described in our ends statements?

When I'm confronted with difficult questions like this, I like to respond with really simple answers. Being blunt tends to save time and helps cut right to the heart of the issue at hand. In that vein, imagine me responding to my Board member's question like this:

Are we realizing our vision? Well, that depends on which vision we're talking about, doesn't it?

One of our ends statements talks about creating a forum where stakeholders across our industry's supply chain can come together to address their collective challenges. Are we achieving that vision? Yes, you bet we are. Look at our metrics. The supply chain diversity within our membership is growing and more and more of them are coming to our conferences and participating in our leadership activities, where the areas of collective challenge are discussed and addressed. This is an area where our programs are clearly connected to our objectives, where we're clearly doing things right and doing the right things.

But another one of our ends statements talks about helping young people understand our industry's potential as a career path. Are we achieving that vision? Well, looking at our metrics, I'd have to say no, or at least that we don't know if we're achieving that vision. We clearly have a program where we engage with young people--specifically students in middle and high schools--and we know this program presents them with information about our industry. The number of students participating in that program is even increasing. But is the program helping them understand our industry's potential as a career path? That's tough to say because, believe it or not, although that's what we say we want to achieve, we don't currently have a way of measuring our impact in that area. We're delivering the messages, but we don't know if the students are receiving it, and if they are doing anything different as a result. Maybe it's time we built the capacity to measure that outcome into that program?

That may be too much "inside baseball" for you--too deep in the specific programs and objectives of my association--but I hope you see the larger picture I'm painting. When this question arises--when Board members ask if your association is doing the right things--seize it as an opportunity to diagnose exactly where the gap between your programs and your objectives is, and make the connections that may otherwise be lacking.

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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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