We only have so many seconds in each day that we can devote to work. Which means to get ahead we need to peel off as many of those seconds as we can to focus on the next thing.
Do you know what the next thing is? Are you trying to decide between many competing priorities? Here are some ways to think about focusing in on the next thing your association should do.
Differentiate between optimizing and inventing
There is a place for both optimizing and inventing and ideally, your association is doing a healthy mix of both. Most associations are adept at optimizing. We figure out how to do what we do even better. For example, this might be improving the conference or training chapter leaders how to implement a new onboarding program. If members say a benefit is important but they are not happy with it, optimizing it is probably the answer. If you have recently kicked off a new offering, you might need to keep optimizing it for a while to help it achieve its full potential.
But, optimizing can only take us so far. At some point, the association’s offerings may become dated as the industry or profession moves forward. When there is industry consolidation, critical regulatory changes, and technological disruption causing a hazy, complex, confusing, ambiguous, future for members, we need to invent.
Using this framework is it time to prioritize optimizing a key offering or is it time to create a new offering?
Define member needs and wants
Talk to your members and they may give you a list of wants. Since we have such limited time, we should put aside their wants and instead focus on their needs. I just came back from speaking at TSAE’s annual meeting and golf tournaments came under fire for good reason. These events often appeal to less than 1% of the membership, take a ton of time, and raise few funds. A golf tournament is a want. A VIP reception may be a want. The fancy board dinner could be a want. Make sure the association is not partying its way into oblivion.
As much as we can, we should be pulling back from member wants and focusing on member needs. Are our members being disrupted by external forces like technology? Or will they be soon? When? What does this disruption look like? Will they be replaced? Will they need new skills? How is the industry or profession going to morph? Now, what can we do to help our members in this new future?
Divert magical thinking, enhance process thinking
Inventing a solution to a member need is a big deal. Before this project is officially set in motion one of two things starts to happen. One, we panic and start to pick apart the idea. In meticulous detail, we agonize over each and every thing that is bound to go wrong. In this imaginary spiral, we see the demise of the association and us all living in tents next to a river. Or two, we become so sure this one idea is THE IDEA so we race it forward, getting board budget approval, and then zooming down the fast track to launch. In magical thinking scenario one, we never get the idea off the ground. In magical thinking scenario number two, we risk launching a product that members do not want, do not use, and do not buy.
The antidote to magical thinking is process thinking. Any idea might work, but it is the process’s job to identify and elevate the best. My favorite idea, the board president’s favorite idea, the CEO’s favorite idea all get the same weight and consideration using process thinking. The process may go like this: Ideas are generated based on solutions to member’s needs. Each idea enters the process and is vetted on consistent, established criteria. The best ideas go on to be iteratively tested, and the winning ideas move on to launch.
When you are trying to figure out what to do next, use this 3-step decision path to narrow the focus and prioritize the projects that will matter to members without getting stuck along the way.