Monday, January 2, 2017

The Importance of the Frame

I had another recent experience that reinforced the importance of choosing the right frame for any difficult decision that needs to be made.

It was a complex issue, part of a larger, multi-year initiative, with many different variables to consider. It had been recognized and tabled by our Board several times already over a period of years, with each deferment seeming to only increase the need that it be resolved.

In this latest attempt, before digging into and getting lost in the weeds (again), we carefully thought through and determined the frame we should use in governing the ultimate decision.

The frame we chose was one of the highest statements of strategic intent our association had--something that had broad support among our leadership. It was one of our fundamental objectives. A goal that had weathered and persisted through multiple strategic agendas. It had guided the work and the expected outcomes of the association for a dozen or more years.

And once we did that, once we put this complex issue inside the frame of this strategic objective, the path forward became much clearer. It didn't reduce the number of variables that had to be considered, but it did immediately prioritize them and helped us understand which ones were aligned with the frame we had chosen and which weren't.

A concrete proposal was the immediate result of this analysis. Here's our fundamental premise, the proposal said, the thing we are trying to achieve. And here's the issue that needs resolution within that frame. Here are all the variables that we considered, and here are those that seem best aligned with what we're trying to accomplish. We take note the others, but they represent roadblocks to our intended progress, and must therefore either be dismissed or somehow deconstructed. And here's our final recommendation--the thing we must do if we are to harness this complex issue and make it work for our strategic objective.

The proposal is lucid, reasoned, and, to a certain degree, irrefutable. If you choose to question it, you are forced to question first the frame, the fundamental premise, because everything that happens within that structure is logical and sound.

And that, I think, is the key reason to choose your frame carefully. If things are going to get argued and decided at the Board table, it is far better for the Board to be having those arguments and making those decisions about the key strategic objectives that govern both decision-making and program activity in the organization. They, after all, are there to choose the frame, not the colors placed on the association's canvas.

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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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