Association’s “To Don’t” List

Today marks 15 years since the publication of one of my favorite business books, Built to Last, by James Collins.  Given the title, it’s appropriate that its lessons have been “built to last” as well—having stuck with me for the 15 years since I first read the book.

Collins writes of what it takes to make a company that survives and prospers for more than 50 years.   He has examples of companies like Proctor and Gamble, surviving changes that make the changes of today pale by comparison—things like the advent of electricity or the transcontinental railroad.

One of the strategies he mentions is the need for every company to have a “To Don’t” list.   That if you’re operating at full capacity and want to do things on your “To Do” list, you need an equally long “Stop Doing” list.   With that in mind, here’s my top 5 “Stop Doing” list items for associations:

  1. STOP building your own social network.
    Over the last few years, I’ve seen dozens of groups launch their own, members only, social networking site.  Here’s how I look at these—if I have two choices to walk through the woods, I can blaze my own trail, or walk where the grass is matted down.  Facebook and LinkedIn are where the grass is matted down—much easier to build a network within that platform than blaze your own path.
  2. STOP running reports that no one reads.
    Particularly in the areas of membership, many organizations think they’re playing a strange association version of rotisserie baseball, with tons of stats on how many left handed members have dropped out, etc.   These stats are interesting, for sure, but just as a baseball game just comes down to the final score, an organization has to identify the 2-3 stats that truly matter, and watch them like a hawk.
  3. STOP worrying about the “doubters.”
    I’ve always liked the “Allegiance” construct for membership.  It breaks down eight ways that people participate with organizations.   One of the categories it lists is “doubters”—put another way, every organization has people who are there to be doubters and generally be dissatisfied.  It’s just their way.  What you can’t do is spend your days chasing the doubters—you can spend endless energy there to no avail.   When I ran campaigns, I reminded candidates that winning meant that a lot of people will disagree with them.  Same for associations—winners know that not everyone will be a member.
  4. STOP holding on to dead wood.
    Whether its staff, volunteers or even board members, one of the things that can kill an organization is a reluctance to drop dead wood.  Jack Welch would cut the bottom 10% from GE every year for a reason—it helped the other 90% grow.  Healthy organizations need to do the same.
  5. STOP keeping this list to yourself.
    An organization should be as open with its “stop doing” list as it is with its “to do list.”  Members, volunteers and staff need to know where the priorities are—and saying “no” is important to keep priorities heading in the right direction.

What’s on the top of your “to don’t” list?

Categorized / Governance, Operations
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  • avatar
    Annie Gallagher / February 9

    The “to don’t” list concept is very applicable right now for associations. The strategic planning process offers the perfect time for association leaders to not only determine future direction, but also identify which activities are no longer best serving the membership and should be jettisoned. In the past, associations have been guilty of sticking to the status quo. Even those associations who have tried new things, they still have a tendency to hold onto stale programming as a security blanket. Before the recession, when you came up with a brand new idea, people would just roll their eyes and go back to their regular way of doing things. The one good thing that has come from the economic downturn is that people are more open to new ideas. Instead of the eye roll, people lean in with interest and say “Now exactly how is that going to work?” So, I agree that associations should spend time developing their “to don’t” lists to remain relevant in the new economy.

  • avatar
    Lisa Baratta / June 19

    Good post. I’m interested in learning more about the “Allegiance” construct for membership – what are the eight types of member participation?

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