Monday, August 28, 2017

Moving the Goal Posts

One of the central challenges we face in our association is determining how we're going to measure success.

Even in a static environment, where our strategic objective and our methods for pursuing it remain unchanged, there are always differences of opinion about which metrics best represent true success and which metrics can actually be measured. Differences of opinion among both Board and staff members, all of whom must agree on a compromise if the organization is to both pursue and measure the effect of a single course of action.

That's hard enough. But when the environment is dynamic, when the association is pursuing an objective that requires frequent changes in both strategy and methods, coming up with a unified agreement of what spells success gets even more challenging.

We're pursuing a few of these "dynamic" initiatives in my association right now. They are marked, I've found, by the need for the association to learn more about the environment it is entering before it can successfully identify the true markers of success. In other words, you leap into an external environment with one understanding of what is needed, necessarily calibrating the program defining/metric tracking piece of your operation with that understanding, only to discover that, once you are in the thick of implementing those plans, that different tactics, and sometimes, a different strategy, are needed in order to achieve success.

What does one do in those circumstances? Ultimately, there is little choice. One has to move the goal posts. We were trying to achieve this. But now we're trying to achieve that.

That can create a lot disruption in the organization. Old programs have to be shut down and new programs have to be started up. Old metrics have to be abandoned and new metrics have to be identified and embraced. The Board and staff-level compromises that were made based on the first understanding have to all be revisited and revised. None of that is for the faint of heart.

But the alternative is to continue pursuing a strategy that increasing evidence shows is not getting your organization to the destination it seeks. If that is allowed to continue, it will wreak even greater havoc on your organization. Yes, moving the goal posts means re-engaging with all of your organization's stakeholders and doing the difficult work of re-educating them on your essential purpose. But keeping the goal posts where they are means turning what might be your organization's greatest endeavor into a make-work exercise.

As an association leader, there shouldn't be much of a choice between those two extremes.

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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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