Room for New Ideas

New ideas are exciting.  Ideas can inspire and re-engage people. Ideas can generate new opportunities and invigorate how work gets done.

The challenge is that new ideas take time, mental space and resources to develop and implement. Things that most of us don’t have a huge surplus of.

So, how do you create room for new ideas and the energy these bring?

Ideally organizations regularly evaluate, refine and sunset programs.  But, in my experience this doesn’t happen as often as it should.  So, how can you get started?

Explore with your team:

Q box stop doing final

Starting these discussions can be challenging. You may hear some perspectives that you don’t like or agree with.  But if you ask, you need to listen and allow people to share their viewpoint.

These discussions may not solve your problems now.  But, the dialogue will help you understand where people are coming from, learn about what really happens in your organization, and offer you opportunities to share insight about why or how you do stuff.

This awareness can inspire new ideas for revising how work gets done and what work is done to better leverage your resources.  And the process of exploring this together can build understanding of your goals, your purpose and how you can work together to advance both.

Go ahead and ask.  Your people may be reluctant at first, but as trust grows so will the discussion.


Join me and some really smart colleagues in exploring the questions associations should be asking.  We are highlighting questions your organization should consider and resources and tips to help you frame successful discussions.




“What’s the Goal?”

Getting your team, be they board members, staff or volunteers, onboard is critical to the success of your organization.  But, with everyone focusing on different aspects of your work and having access to different types and levels of information, how do you leverage their energy and efforts to advance your organization and its mission?

As Mark Sedgley, President and CEO of MemberClicks shares in his Questions Associations Should be Asking guest post, understanding the true goal of the organization is the foundation to success.

“What’s the Goal?”

I have worked with hundreds of association execs, business leaders, and managers over the last 12 years.  During that time, a common theme evolved in those organizations that struggled to achieve success.  They didn’t spend enough time answering one very important question.  “What’s the Goal?”

This question was made famous by Eli Goldratt in his book The Goal.  Jeff Bezos celebrates The Goal as the greatest business book ever written.  At the heart of Goldratt’s book is the very simple idea of getting everyone on the same page and understanding the true goal of the organization.  Once that is in place, you filter every decision thereafter through that lens.

Simple right?  Unfortunately not.  I can’t tell you how often I see this simple idea get lost in a mosaic of board initiatives, personal agendas, or the program du jour.  When you boil it down, however, understanding The Goal of the organization should really make your decisions easy from an operational perspective.

When an organization is all working off of the same playbook, things just fall into place.

  • Membership feels engaged because there is consistency.
  • Staff is united because nuance and second guessing goes away.
  • Leadership is pushing the organization forward because everyone has bought in.


Q box goal cropped


Join me and some really smart colleagues in exploring the questions associations should be asking.  We will share questions your organization should consider and resources and tips to help you frame successful discussions.

You can’t tell them to care

“Processes and structures don’t create coordinated action, people do.”*

Systems fail.  We can’t prevent all potential breakdowns, there are simply too many variables – information is wrong, deliveries are late, email is down, someone is out sick, the list goes on.

Your colleagues can make the difference. People typically see that a process is beginning to falter before a  system failure occurs.

To notice, to care and to take action people need to feel that they are part of the whole. People need to feel valued. They need to see how their role fits into the organization’s success. They need to feel that they can make a difference.

You can’t mandate that people care.

People are employed to fulfill a set of job duties. You can expect these (within reason). But you can’t tell them to care or to be engaged.

Ownership and buy in are cultivated. You can engage your colleagues to foster the awareness, mindset and skills that empower and inspire them to care, to take responsibility and to be part of the team.

Awareness: Do your colleagues know the organizational vision and goals that influence their work?  Do they appreciate the value their work generates? Can they connect how the work they are doing supports the organization and provides value to your members?

Motivation: Do your colleagues feel that they are part of a team striving to achieve a common goal?  Have they had the opportunity to participate in conversations about the goals and how the efforts can be designed or executed to support the goals? Do they see how their and the organization’s contributions impact your members?

Skills and Knowledge: Do your colleagues have the skills and knowledge they need to fully engage in their work? Do they have access to the resources they need to learn and do their job?

When the terrain and the map differ, the terrain wins.  How do you ensure that your team can see the variance coming and take appropriate actions?

*Inside Out, Tracy Huston, page 48

“This is not your parent’s association” is it?

This morning at The Atlantic City Makers Summit I was inspired by conversations that mayors, workforce investment leaders and the maker community are facilitating to help create space where “solutions can bloom.”

A discussion around the idea “this is not your father’s factory” was particularly intriguing. Essentially, the conversation highlighted how the world of manufacturing has changed in the last 15 to 20 years, but the perception of a factory and specifically manufacturing jobs has not followed.

The discussion made me wonder, can associations claim “this is not your parent’s association.” Has what we offer, how we lead and engage and what we aspire to be as associations really changed in the last 15 to 25 years?

Some of the pivotal questions that emerged from the discussion include:

  • What are you doing to encourage innovation that people can be excited about and attracted to?
  • How are you maximizing the strength of your community?
  • What are you doing to be welcoming?
  • What are you doing that gets in the way?
  • How do you talk about your successes?
  • Do you own and market who you are?

Are associations and the association community creating space where “solutions can bloom?”

If you have not attended an AtlanticLIVE event, check them out!  They host an array of intriguing events.

How’s Your Capacity?

What is your organizational capacity?  Are you functioning at an optimal level? Does your organization advance the community you serve, attract new members/markets and leverage opportunities? No?  Not sure?

Have you thought about how and where you invest your organization’s resources? Not just the budget dollars, all of your resources – time, energy, member attention, knowledge, capabilities, etc.  Are you investing these in building your organization?

Do you devote resources to:

  • Developing new products/resources to advance your mission, market, community
  • Attracting new markets or members
  • Adapting to market or technology changes
  • Engaging your market/members in impactful ways
  • Administering current programs
  • Sustaining (or defending) “the way we have always done it”
  • Fighting change (technology, competitor, culture, etc)

Most organizations have a mixed resource distribution. It makes sense.  You can’t focus solely on one component.  The challenge is ensuring that your resource allocations are building your organizational capacity, not stalling or diminishing it.

What do I mean? If you mapped your organization’s resources and activities what would it look like?  Are your resources and attention distributed in every direction?


Or are your resources aligned in a cohesive (or somewhat cohesive) manner?

arrows aligned

It is really easy to get immersed in the daily cycle of work and overlook how individual efforts impact the overall focus of the organization.

Making a concerted effort to ensure your resources are aligned to advance the mission, strategy and goals of your organization can help you leverage your resources and build your organizational capacity. A critical step to building this alignment is empowering your team to be part of the effort.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Does your team know and understand the organization’s mission and strategy?
  • Are your staff aware of how the organization’s mission and strategy translate to their work?
  • How do staff frame and inform resource investment decisions – data, gut, strategic plan priorities, history?

“The test of an organization is not genius. It is its capacity to make common people achieve uncommon performance.” ~ Peter Drucker

“When the map and terrain differ, the terrain wins.”

If you have ever worked with kids, you know the truth in this statement.  The best laid plans can go out the window in a matter of seconds and you need to figure out how to take the next step quickly, before chaos ensues.

The same is true for associations.  We can create beautiful maps of our plans, but if the environment differs from what we imagined the real terrain will win.

Organizations must be flexible enough to navigate the environment and strong enough to devise and execute a change in plans. This requires:

  • Space for people to think and explore (to be aware of their surroundings)
  • People with the skills and mindsets to identify challenges and devise and champion ideas to address the opportunities and challenges
  • Organizational capability to adopt and execute a change in course

These will help you avoid the unexpected mountain or crevice.