Monday, March 21, 2016

It's Working...Now What?

Last week I bragged a little. I said the plan my Board has been working on, the plan to elevate our conversation out of the weeds of programs and activities and into the clear horizon of vision statements and success metrics, was actually starting to work.

I had just come off the excitement of a Board meeting and our Annual Conference, and I was giddy with the realization that the Board had spent its time talking about what we wanted to achieve, not how we're going to do it. About what success would look like and how we would know when we got there. About idealized future states and the reality that, sometimes, good is good enough. About when to declare victory and when to re-allocate our time and resources to address other pressing concerns. About long-term investments in programs that appear to be working and bringing to a close those that don't.

It was great!

But there's something else I didn't say. A question that was on everyone's mind and which a handful of people even voiced. With this clarity, with this understanding that we had arrived at the summit of the strategic mountain we had been climbing for the past few years, came another realization.

Now what?

If we have well-articulated vision statements that describe the world we want to create for the benefit of our members...

And if we have measurable indicators whose movement translate directly to the realization of those vision statements...

And if we have a set of programs and activities that are capable of moving those indicators...

And if we have the resources we need to execute and grow those programs and activities...

And if we have ways to monitor and report the progress of all of those things...

Then what is there left for the Board to do?

With all of that work accomplished, work that has consumed Board meeting agendas for years, it is perhaps not an unreasonable question for a Board member to ask (and, frankly, a few of them did). Busy professionals that they are, some even suggested that perhaps the Board no longer needed to meet as frequently, or to convene for as long a period of time when it did meet. Should we, perhaps, move into a kind of maintenance mode? Checking periodically on the progress of our agenda, making minor adjustments if needed, but primarily allowing the automated machine we had built to run and produce the member value as it had been designed?

It's a tempting proposition. And, truly, some form of that "maintenance mode" will be needed if we actually want to realize our vision. But just because our "automated machine" won't work without on-going maintenance and repair, I would caution the Board not to abandon the mountain climbing metaphor yet.

We've reached the summit of the mountain we've been so focused on climbing. And, by all means, let's take a moment to catch our breath, do an inventory, and make sure we have all the gear and supplies we need to continue our journey. Because now that we're at the summit, we can look out, and see that there are dozens of other strategic mountains to climb.

In fact, look at that one, far in the distance. We couldn't see it before because the rockface of our current mountain obscured our view. But that one looks even taller than the one we're standing on, doesn't it? Should we be happy with our existing achievement, or should we go scale that one, too? And if so, should we abandon the mountain we've struggled so long to scale, or reinforce our position here and try to secure both peaks?

That, in my opinion, is the work that lies ahead for our Board, and it will be even more challenging than the work they have done so far. There will always be taller mountains to climb, and some will be worth climbing and some of them won't. But now we know we can only make that assessment while standing on a mountain peak, not when we're down in one of the valleys.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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