Monday, May 1, 2017

When Goals Seem Impossible

Kudos to Amanda Kaiser at the Smooth the Path blog for recently voicing typically heretical thoughts in the association community. In a post titled Commonly Used Association Goals Doomed to Failure, she says:

Often we set goals for ourselves that are likely to fail. Failing demoralizes the team and makes us more risk adverse. Over time we become caught in a downward spiral.

What kind of common organizational goals are doomed to failure? Growing revenues in a consolidating industry. Increasing membership when the pool of professionals is decreasing. Or improving member engagement with no strategy for innovation or change.

Instead, she says, we should be developing goals that are achievable while also being helpful to our members and our association. Goals like maintaining the percentage of members from the pool of desirable members. Or goals that employ strategies that involve existing members more. Or goals that increase staff or board engagement.

Let’s dump the goals that are setting us up to fail and instead adopt goals we feel good about that help our members, and ones we can achieve.

As I said, to anyone who has labored for several unproductive years under impossible goals, Kaiser's words might be viewed as a welcome relief. An injection of sanity into an increasingly insane situation.


How does one know that the goals Kaiser describes -- growing revenues, increasing membership, improving member engagement -- are doomed to failure unless one has tried both conventional and unconventional strategies to achieve them?

In my own experience, the perception that these goals are impossible is just that. A perception based on years of trying and failing at the same old strategies and tactics.

Before giving up on these goals, associations would be well served by trying the unconventional, by chucking out the old playbook and finding new frames of reference for examining and tackling them. After all, consolidating industries and decreasing pools of professionals can sometimes better be viewed as stimuli towards organizational re-purposing.

Too often, the well-worn currents of activity and thinking within an organization doom it to believing that difficult goals are doomed to failure. More often, we should be re-framing them to find unconventional methods for success.

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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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