While we should all be looking down the road, most of us spend our time just trying to survive the month. I remember a management negotiator once told me that a contractor’s idea of long term planning was tomorrow’s lunch. While it was meant to be humorous, I was a bit offended as I am a contractor. However, I soon discovered he had a point but it was not limited to just contractors. I empathize with people who feel long range planning is not worth spending an inordinate amount of time on. After all, it is the here and now that pays current bills. Besides, a decade is so far away.  

Long term planning is where your industry association should play a big role. After being around many associations, boards of directors and staff, I found some associations are leaders of their industry by thinking forward for the entire group as a whole. The primary job of any association is to represent the membership and industry. What does this mean? A good place to start is to look at their mission statement and code of ethics. Does your association hold those principles to be the guiding light for the group? Can the board of directors take off their company hat and make tough decisions that benefit the group, not just themselves? 

Keep It Fresh

I recently went through intense interviews with two different board of directors: I had to be prepared to answer questions on market share vision and explain what an association should become. The process was tough but fair. It was also self-enlightening and illustrated my weaknesses and strengths, as well as their own. I explained my philosophy that the association staff is charged to improve market share, stave off potential threats and find new opportunities for the members and industry. The executive director is the captain of the staff and should sit with the board of directors to determine what the industry needs, for today and in the future. They should develop plans and strategies based on industry trends, threats and opportunities. The director then leads the staff to achieve those goals.   

Ineffective boards are typically made up of members that have been on the same board for decades. They frequently have no idea what today’s industry environment is like. They also tend to have little interest about long term planning. During the interviews, I was scanning the group for those that should have retired and stepped away long ago. Noting a healthy percentage of long sitting board members would be a giant red flag. I was pleased to find each board exercised term limits. This keeps boards fresh and moving forward to the future. I find a younger board will have greater interest in the future.

Set Goals

The next challenge was handling association staff. My first day walking into an office with an entrenched staff was a bit unnerving. However, I reminded myself they are likely more nervous than I am. After seven months of working closely with them, I found out they absolutely were. I believe failing to learn from the past means we are doomed to repeat failures. Staffs are people, and like all people, they can be inspired to create, work as a team and do amazing things. They can also be micro-managed, threatened and scared to present new ideas for fear of being disciplined. I know what type of leader I wanted to be and had to find a board that shared in that vision.

Association direction is in large part due to the make-up of the board, executive director and staff. They all need feedback from each other and the membership. Sitting around complaining about people or circumstances is just not productive. Every association has resources. It is how those resources are used to improve the industry for the entire membership that counts. Plans can be simple or complex with various levels of intricacies meant to achieve a goal. Market share should always be a prime goal and measuring stick to success.

Membership to an association can be rewarding, fruitful and beneficial; it can also be a colossal waste of time. The involvement of the members is critical to insure you’re heading in the right direction. Members need to ask questions, demand transparency and be ever vigilant of entrenchment and forms of self-believed entitlement. Failing to get involved can lead to a flat association or even worse, corruption. 

A contractor friend who has served on several boards told me that corruption on boards is all too common when the membership refuses or is too afraid to stand up and ask questions. The members are responsible for making sure their association is heading in the right direction for the future. After all, think about where you were ten years ago. How fast did that decade fly by?