an example of an Operational Plan, the new term I've introduced in my association to describe a document owned by me and my staff. Comprised of three distinct elements, each one nesting in the one that precedes it, our Operational Plan describes how the association will go about achieving the success metrics identified by our Board of Directors.
Now I want to spend a little more time talking about the second of these three elements: the Program Objectives.
I've previously defined the Program Objectives this way: the controllable things staff will do in our attempt to accomplish our goals. And "controllable" is the most crucial concept to understand the difference between a Goal and a Program Objective.
Goals, by our definition of them, are by default stretch goals. If achieved, they will move the needle, advancing one or more of the metrics that we have identified as something that will move us closer to our future vision. There's no guarantee we will achieve them.
But Program Objectives are entirely in our control. They are the things we will do in our attempt to accomplish the Goals. If the Goal is to increase our member retention rate then the Program Objective is to visit more at-risk members this year. Will visiting more at-risk members improve our member retention rate? The answer to that question may surprise you.
We think so.
You see, there is never any guarantee that our Program Objectives are, in fact, the things that will accomplish our Goals. For some, the casual link has all but been established through years of observation and trial and error. Others are veritable shots in the dark. The casual link appears plausible, but they have never been tried before.
I think it's important to be honest about this. And part of that honesty is holding the person whose Program Objective it is accountable for it, but not, ultimately for the Goal to which the Program Objective is aligned. I admit, in other words, that sometimes we will accomplish our Program Objectives without accomplishing our Goals.
And when that happens, a rare and wonderful thing occurs. An opportunity to learn.
Did we increase our member retention rate? I might ask. No? Well, did we visit more at-risk members this year? We did? Then what went wrong?
There are several possibilities. In my example above, either visiting at-risk members does not impact our member retention rate (the Program Objective has no casual link to the Goal), or visiting at-risk members is not sufficient to increase our member retention rate in the amount specified (there are other Program Objectives that should be identified to work in concert with this one), or our ability to execute the program of at-risk member visits was hampered in some way (the Program Objective would have accomplished the Goal, but there was some resource deficiency that prevented its full execution).
Figuring out which of these three possibilities is the right--and then making the appropriate adjustments--is the most critical part of managing a set of Program Objectives. Each gives an on-the-ground understanding of the forces at work in your association, and holding your staff accountable for their execution is essential is you are to make accurate assessments.
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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit www.ericlanke.blogspot.com, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.