Best Practices for Effective Vision Statement Sessions

In the past we’ve discussed how the start of a new year is a great opportunity for association leaders to revisit an organization’s strategic plan. More specifically, it’s the perfect time to refresh and strengthen your organization’s vision statement.

A good vision statement is an essential element of every good business plan, and should take priority when it comes to proper association planning. A successful vision statement articulates what your organization aims to be and what the organization will look like in the future. Take caution though, they can easily become overused, abused, and the most poorly written part of your business. We’ve laid out what a good vision statement looks like here.

In order to help you create a strong and practical vision statement, we recommend facilitating a group session. Be sure to ask specific questions, as it is easy to be vague when discussing the future. These 5 practices will help your team articulate an exceptional vision statement:



Be specific about the date:

Depending on the length of your planning horizon, ask them to think about an exact date (ex: 3 years from today). Be specific of what day of the week it is and where they are. Don’t just ask them to think about the future.

Be specific about success:

Most vision statements paint a positive view of the future. Ideally, your vision statement will too, but you must ensure that participants are specific about what a successful future state looks like. If they make a statement that fits our view of a practical vision, but is too vague to be useful, then prompt them to be more specific. Your participants should be able to specifically articulate what success will look like in the future, otherwise the vision won’t be practical.

Use a third party view:

Whenever possible, encourage your participants to talk about what others would see if they looked at the organization in (3) years’ time, for example. One of the most effective scenarios I’ve used is to help them imagine that a newspaper article has been written about the association in the future. You can then ask them in specific terms to describe what is written in the article. I find this small trick allows for more honest, practical, and reasonable responses.

Take a future view:

Again, asking your participants to think about the future is vague. Instead, ask them to imagine that the future is already here. Statements about the future are more reasonable when participants really try to imagine they have already arrived at that future state – especially when combined with the practices described above

Get personal:

Have the participants imagine themselves within the future state they have described. By picturing themselves as part of the vision, your participants will be more specific, realistic, and optimistic about the future.

Data Analysis Tips For Better Association Planning

Within the context of effective association business planning, there may be occasions where you are required to perform data analysis. Whether you working with data that you have collected or have been given data that someone else has collected, we’ve got a few suggestions to help you better prepare and stay organized throughout the planning process.


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  1. Ask questions. People are usually happy to give their opinion so take a moment before you get started to ask the people around you questions. Not only will this help you refine your focus, but it will save you a lot of time in the long run.
  2. Make access clear. Is there a clear agreement that you have access to ALL of the relevant data you will need? You can sign a non disclosure agreement to cover your bases for any special areas that are outside of your regular duties.
  3. Define your boundaries. Avoid getting lost in the data by establishing what is inside and outside the scope of your analysis…before you get started.
  4. Define your objective. It may sound obvious, but digging into data without a clear focus on what you’re looking for will cause confusion and set you back.
  5. Reorganize. Once you know what you want, reorganize the data in a way that suits you. For example, create a spread sheet so you can effectively collect and summarize your data and analysis.
  6. Get a second opinion. Get in touch with a key contact within your organization and bounce your preliminary findings off them. A second pair of eyes can prevent you from going off on irrelevant tangents.

So the next time you are asked to create a draft of your long term financial plan or opportunity analysis you’ll have these 6 tips to keep you ahead of the game.


Why Association Managers Should Abolish Meeting Minutes


At the end of Peter Wright’s webinar on getting more tasks achieved in a hectic work environment participants asked some compelling questions.

The question we’re discussing today is: “Will minutes of meetings always remain an effective way to prioritize?”

Peter said most meeting minutes are actually a waste of time. Instead he’s a strong proponent of only recording critical items.

The critical items

Action items: Write down what your team is working on next. This keeps team members accountable to each other and stops potential miscommunication.

Outcomes: Track the outcomes of actions your team has taken from meeting to meeting. This will prompt high level discussion among team members and has the potential to improve your association’s best practices. This record also allows your team to celebrate their successes or make improvements if they struggled.

Responsibilities: A record of each team member’s responsibilities keeps their workloads manageable. A team member with too much or too little to do will under perform.

Timelines: Assign due dates for projects. It will help meeting attendees manage their time and workload more efficiently. Timelines and due dates also foster a culture of accountability in your association.

Decisions: Record each major decision to keep team members accountable and in sync. This will also prevent potential conflict or confusion at future meetings.

Use a flip chart

Recording notes on a flip chart keeps them public and limits the amount of space they can take up. If you have more than 15 or 20 bullet points on your chart you’ve got too much. Should that happen your team can cross out excess or unimportant items together. By providing your team with a visual reference you ensure everyone is literally staying on the same page.

What about X, Y and Z?

As association managers or members there is no reason to record things that fall outside of the above categories. The discussion that is not recorded has value in the meeting itself. In fact the collaborative discussion making process is what creates the items that are written down. So the process is important but tracking it step by step is not.

Reducing notes from meetings down to critical items will increase your team’s comprehension. Recent studies have shown university students who take copious notes don’t understand the intent of what they are being taught. Similarly meeting attendees who try to remember each detail miss the bigger picture.  

A sharp-eyed association executive must be constantly on the lookout for ways to promote their organization’s brand.


Association Managers Image

Association Managers Meeting

Strategy and Planning Toolkit for Associations is Ready for Sale

I have finally released the Strategy and Business Planning Toolkit for Associations. This is the first toolkit to be released in our new venture: Association Hub.

As the name implies, this is a comprehensive resource guide to help associations, agencies and non-profits plan better. This Toolkit provides association managers and boards a complete resource to ensure more effective and integrated strategic, operational, tactical and financial planning.

Please take a moment to look at the full description on our site.

There is also a mock-up of the download page that buyers receive access to. Like all the toolkits that we will launch on Association Hub, the Strategy and Planning Toolkit is totally focused and fully comprehensive. Our goal is to help build skills and provide all the tools to plan effectively. This particular toolkit includes 400 pages of documentation, 29 videos and 50 tools and templates.

The Power of a Wiggle Proof Association Vision

Wiggle proof plans start with a vision for the association that is written as a guide for board and management rather than a marketing piece for your website. Every statement about the future must be challenged with the same questions:

  • How will we know we have arrived?
  • How will we measure success when we get there?
  • How will you and I be held personally accountable for the success or failure of achieving each part of the vision?

This is huge stretch for most associations and program areas because we have been trained to be vague about the future. We think visions need to sound good enough to put in a brochure or on our website. This isn’t true. We must endeavor to create a vision of the future that’s actionable and measurable. Whether it’s for yourself, your team, your program, or the entire association, your vision needs to compel people to do stuff and scare them a little at the same time. Whether it’s for your team or your entire association, building a bullet proof vision is the best way to start at the top of the pyramid to remove much of the permission that exists today for slow progress. Most people do not want to fail. If we make the path to a shared vision clearer, compelling and more measurable, most of us will follow that path.

Association Vision

Analysis Paralysis in Association Management: Caution or Curse?

Proceeding with no data can be careless, even foolhardy. Unfortunately, as you know, that happens all the time. That’s another kind of laziness altogether when we are just too lazy to perform reasonable due diligence to make an informed decision, so we make an uninformed one. We shoot from the hip. We’ll talk about that later.

Right now, I’m focused on the opposite thing. I’m focused on those situations where we keep asking for more data in hopes that the thing awaiting execution just fades away. Or like a court case, we create so much confusion that we sow reasonable doubt, and decision making is paralyzed.

Paralysis by analysis. Isn’t this really just another stalling technique? Isn’t this really just a form of high brow procrastination? Another way to keep backburnering something until it goes away? There are real fears hidden in this one. There’s the fear of making a decision that will turn out to be wrong. There’s the fear of making a well informed strategic bet. It’s a fear of relying on our experience and living up to our seniority to make an assumption. As association manager, as association executives, as the people running our organizations, this is what we get paid for. We are being paid to make well informed decisions, predict trends, make assumptions and take risks. We are being paid to make strategy.

Association Paralysis by Analysis

Association Risk Aversion: Is it Just an Aversion to Action?

Risk aversion. “We are a risk averse culture.” I hear this one on a regular basis.

I facilitate a lot of association strategy sessions with organizations of all size. Public companies, private companies, public sector, associations, and not for profits. A common occurrence in all those sessions is that I often find myself asking the same question: “why haven’t you tried this before?” At that point in the meeting when the clear objectives start to emerge, I might say something like: “This course of action seems like a good strategy for your organization and you are all in agreement. You have many of the skills and resources to accomplish what you are proposing.Why haven’t you tried this before?”

Someone will usually say: “That’s a good question. This is a very risk averse culture.” Big Pause. “We have never really dedicated the effort to figure out how to get started on this one.” Bingo. Let’s rename Aversion to Risk to “Aversion to Action.”

Association Risk Aversion

Fear of Failure or Fear of Hard Work?

Fear of failure is another one of my favorite euphemisms. Of course we are all afraid to fail and this fear could certainly be heightened in less enlightened workplaces where an overall culture of fear or intimidation is prevalent. In some organizations, people really are afraid to fail. That is not what I am talking about. I’m referring to situations mostly where the fear should be gone, but we just are not putting forward the effort to move ahead.

Let me give you an example. When I help associations define their strategy, we always try to identify a handful of strategic imperatives. Essentially, what are those 5 or 6 critical priorities that must be accomplished in the next 12 months if we hope to be on track to our vision? Invariably, most organizations define at least one or two strategic imperatives that start with the word “leverage.” “Leverage our member data.” “Leverage our XYZ system to maximize value.” This makes sense. We build systems and processes and practices and we just don’t use them effectively enough to get our value out. These things take time. But what would you think about a strategy where every single strategic imperative started with the work “leverage?” I know what I think. I think those organizations start a lot of things and don’t have the discipline to finish them and follow through to achieve their original objectives.

I suggest we rename fear of failure to fear of follow through.

Fear of Failure in Associations

Making an Investment in Association Strategy

There is a strange dichotomy in associations in recent years. While more associations have more money sitting in reserves than ever before, boards are reticent to invest in strategy. We have all heard how public companies are holding unprecedented amounts of cash at the expense of shareholder value. Those companies should either invest in future growth or release bigger dividends to shareholders. This is analogous to the state of many associations today.

My biggest frustration after every successful planning process with associations is the hesitation to invest even small percentages of reserves in strategy. This money ultimately belongs to your members and they expect you to put it to the best use to drive your association’s mandate forward. Making strategy is the absolute obligation of the board of the day. It may be scary, but today’s board must make real strategy that binds future boards and drives future decisions across the operation. Real strategy almost always requires an investment.

I’m not advocating putting your organization at undue risk in future tough times. I’m advocating modest investments to make real change for the benefit of your members. Do you want to grow? Do you want to improve your education or advocacy efforts? Do you want to drive greater value to members? Make the investment.

Association Strategy and Planning Image

Association Strategy and Planning For All The Right Reasons

If you set out to create strategy for something that sounds nice on your website, that is precisely what you are going to get. Strategy and planning should never be entered into for the wrong reasons:

  • Because your board told you to
  • Because you plan every year
  • Because your members expect to see a strategy document
  • Because you just want another binder on the shelf

Good association strategy and planning comes from good intent. Making real and substantive change, gaining alignment of board and staff, driving more value to members…these are all good places to start planning. The words don’t need to be fancy, but they will come easily if you plan for the right reasons.

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