“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.

Do Your Questions Invite People to Participate?

Engagement seems to be one of the hot topics in business lately. The reasons why it is important are everywhere, but how do you do it?  How do you help people participate? How do you help them become part of the effort?

A key step is asking questions that invite people to participate. Posing good questions can help you engage your team, develop shared perspectives and collective goals, inspire future possibilities and inform smart decision making.

Start with engaging questions.  Pose questions that ask and inspire people to explore their insights and share their perspectives. Engaging questions can foster energy by inviting people to participate, focusing on what is working and what can be achieved.

Here are a few questions to help you get started.

  • Why is this important to you?
  • What information, if you had it, could help develop the solution?
  • What is holding us back on this effort?
  • What have we accomplished so far that is supporting our success?

There’s a great HBR blog post today, Make it OK For Employees to Challenge Your Ideas, that highlights the value of asking questions and listening. If you are going to ask a question, be sure you are really ready to listen.

Have a favorite question, please share it.  Building a question bank is key to becoming a strong questioner.

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

Skip predictable and boring, leverage your team

Fast Company is a favorite read at my house. Each magazine is thoroughly read, pages dog-eared and torn out.  When I read Robert Safian’s April 2014 From the Editor column I understood why.  “If Fast Company presents only the ideas of Bob Safian, it will get narrow predictable and boring.”  

Safian gets it. One person cannot consistently create amazing work that inspires (or even appeals) to a wide audience.  “By including more voices, more ideas and more perspectives Fast Company can offer a more dynamic experience.” From the Editor, Fast Company, April 2014

The same is true for associations.  Each individual can only bring so much experience, perspective and skills to the table. To create smart innovative experiences for your members you must engage a diverse group of people and leverage their insights, knowledge and experience. 

Ed Catmull wrote in Creativity, Inc. (another fabulous read) “find, develop and support good people, and they in turn will find, develop and own good ideas.”

Three things to consider as you develop and engage your team:

  • Do your people understand what it is the organization wants to achieve?
  • Do your people have the skills they need to participate?
  • Do your teams have access to the resources necessary to succeed?

“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.

Innovation is not a Specialty

Innovation should not belong to one department or team. A team may be charged with inspiring, encouraging or leading innovation. But, to be successful innovation needs to permeate your organization. Innovation needs to belong to everyone.

If your learning team creates a new resource, but it requires finance or publications to stop doing something or create a different way of doing something. Does the learning innovation live on or does the required organizational support make it a non-starter?

Challenging a team to be innovative and then requiring them to work in the midst of an organization where no one else is willing to adapt or innovate will ultimately lead to frustration.

You can’t change the world or your association overnight, but taking small steps to foster an environment supportive of innovation can build confidence, comfort and a foundation for the change. A few simple things to consider:

  • Host a conversation exploring “What does innovation mean to us?” Letting people know what “innovation” means and where the organization would welcome it helps focus efforts.
  • Explore what the association values most. What the organization values and rewards can guide staff actions. Do you reward – being on time, following a predetermined plan, no disruptions, harmony? Do you reward/recognize staff for piloting new ideas, identifying challenges, trying new ways?
  • Facilitate post-project reviews asking the team: What worked? What did not work? What could we do different next time? And make appropriate revisions.

Creating an understanding of innovation and an environment to support staff efforts are key steps to fostering innovation in your association.