WHAT REMARKABLE ASSOCIATIONS DO THAT OTHERS DON’T
Why do some organizations thrive and really make a difference when others seem to be just hanging on? One thorough research project revealed that there are several things that make a significant difference in the success of associations. This research, which was conducted by the American Society of Association Executives, was presented in a book entitled 7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Associations Do That Others Don’t. If you manage an association, serve in a leadership role in an association or are a member of an association this book is worth reading.
The 7 Measures Project, as it was called, began in 2002 and resulted in publication of the book in 2006. An updated version was published in 2012. It presents as checkup on the associations that were mentioned in the first edition. The research used the matched-pair methodology, which was also used by Jim Collins and colleagues and resulted in the classic business management book, Good to Great. Basically, what that means is that the researchers looked at organizations that were in the same era and faced the same challenges. The successful companies were then compared to those that were not so successful to find out why. The researchers looked at 104 associations that had been in business for a minimum of 20 years.
Listed below are the seven measures, or factors, that were discovered. along with some comments by this writer.
1. A Customer Service Culture – The remarkable associations built their organizations by serving members and providing value to their members. They actively sought ways to continuously improve services to their members.
Some organizations make the mistake of forgetting that they are membership organizations. For example, the leadership of one chamber of commerce in Mississippi decided that it wanted to effect change in an issue facing the public. It got involved in a campaign that resulted in a referendum that was defeated by the community by a wide margin. The members were never asked if they wanted to participate in the campaign. It took a while for the chamber to rebuild member trust.
- Alignment of Products and Services with Mission – The associations were driven by mission, not money. Everyone knew the mission of the organization and whom they served. The mission was central, regardless of the external environment.
Some organizations that are really good at what they good get lured into doing other things by funders who are in search of effective organizations. For example, an organization good at building houses may not be so good at job creation. But because of their success and opportunity to expand they refocused their mission, which led to a crisis when the funding dried up.
- Data-Driven Strategies – Surveys of members, analysis of the environment in which they operated and continuous analysis of information resulted in accumulation of data that was acted upon. The remarkable associations were good at gathering and sharing information. They knew what members wanted and were willing to pay for.
- Dialogue and Engagement – The staff and volunteers listened to each other and talked to each other. There were cross-functional teams, and no so-called silos. There was constant communication. By the way, the typical level of member non-involvement is 69.9 percent.
- CEO as a Broker of Ideas – The CEO facilitated “visionary thinking” throughout the organization and developed a strong staff and volunteer partnership. The CEO was not necessarily the idea generator, but was the person who connected ideas with people and action.
Organizations should beware of charismatic leaders who have followers. It should be the organization and its mission that is followed, not the leader.
- Organizational Adaptability – When remarkable organizations face a crisis they learn from it and change accordingly. Nevertheless, they know when not to change. The key is to know when to change. Sometimes that means abandoning a project or idea; sometimes it means refocusing.
This is why regular strategic planning is so important. Planning is about looking ahead, but it is also learning from the past, e.g. what worked and did not work.
- Alliance Building – These associations were very good at finding and forming alliances and partnerships that complemented their mission and purpose. They also were good at communicating clear expectations about the partnerships. They are not driven by money, nor were they afraid to dissolve the partnership if it was not effective.
Finally, just in case you are wondering, here are the nine organizations listed as “remarkable” in the book:
American College of Cardiology
American Dental Association
Associated General Contractors of America
Girl Scouts of the USA
National Associations of Counties
Ohio Society of CPAs
Radiological Society of North America
Society for Human Resource Management