Monday, March 6, 2017

The Song Remains the Same

I recently attended my association's Annual Conference. As any association professional knows, that means several weeks of focused attention on what feels like an infinite number of details. One of many for me, given my position in my organization, was preparing for the remarks I'd give from the podium.

It happens during our Annual Business Meeting. The time when our treasurer gives the financial report and our chair conducts the election for a new board of directors for the upcoming year. My report, as the chief staff executive, is focused on our strategy agenda and its supporting activities. What outcomes is our association seeking to achieve, and what have we done over the past year to accomplish them?

Typically, my first step in preparing this presentation is to pull up last year's presentation and see how much has changed. That can sometimes be a surprising experience, as one realizes that new initiatives discussed last year haven't progressed as much as one would have liked or, worse, haven't gone anywhere at all. More than once, in my years of doing this, I've been disappointed to see that major strategy areas, discussed and presented to the membership in one year, are all but unrecognizable in the next.

But not this year. This year, I'm somewhat proud to say, our core strategy has survived largely unchanged. The only things that needed updating were the details of some of our programmatic activities. Higher membership numbers, a new market information program, more outreach and education to young people and students. What we're doing has seen some positive improvements, but why we're doing them can still be described in the same basic language.

And that is a good thing. Not just because it makes presentation writing and rehearsing easier, but because it means that we are building a sense of strategic consistency with our board and our members.

Strategy that changes too frequently, I think, can reflect a lack of commitment among an association's leadership. A bunch of new strategic objectives each year generally indicates a leadership group that is not unified or clear on what success looks like in their environment.

And there's no better way to convey a sense of floundering to the membership than by trying to "turn the battleship" each and every year.

Far better, I think, to have a clear and consistent message. Here's what we're trying to do for you. It's simple and understandable, and it's largely the same thing we told you last year. We meant it then and we mean it now.

It was a very good conference.

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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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