From Strategic Thinking to Measurable Action

In a recent article published by ASAE, and written by Emilio Arocho of Association Analytics, titled Four Steps to Align Data with Your Mission and Goals, you’ll find four well-defined steps to follow through from strategic thinking to measurable action. In our last blog we talked about what strategy is, finding the resources to execute against it, and how to become a dependable, daily resource to your membership.  Today, we want to address the golden nuggets in the article so that you can move to action.

To do this, we want to focus on SMART goals. For those who are not familiar, this stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. This is imperative, sounds so simple, and yet is the one thing most organizations do not get right on the first or 50th attempt.  We want to break each of these aspects down just a bit more than author Arocho did because it’s worth sitting with each one and figuring out which is hardest for your organization.

Specific: Every organization has an executive team, with each person on that team representing a key piece of the business.  Are your goals centered around only one or two? Membership numbers? Engagement? Let’s assume that every association wants to increase membership and have that membership actively engaged.  How will each department contribute to those broad goals? This is where specificity can come into play, as in “retain key, high performing, client facing talent”. This goal could be specific to your human resources department while also being critical to increasing your membership and/or engaging with them.  Set specific goals around each department that support the broader goals of the organization.  To note, the broader goals of the organization should be SMART goals but limit this list to 2-3 at most per year so that you can aim your resources towards specific goals across the organization.

Measurable: As Arocho pointed out “In most cases, devising KPIs is not difficult.” Key performance indicators are not hard to create, however it is important to be sure you are measuring the right things.  We like that Arocho pulled together KPIs with leading indicators because too often a large number can be thrown down with no way of measuring progress.  As an example, let’s say that your association’s goal for revenue this year is $10M.  This is a measurable outcome but if you don’t have a way to look at that total sum, you will see paralysis set in if the numbers don’t start pouring in.  Break this number down, be it by months, size of member organization dues, event revenue, or affinity partnerships, whatever you choose, make sure those benchmarks are measurable and indicative of your progress.

Achievable: We have all seen the organization that experiences a couple of hot months, sees the writing on the wall for the trend to continue, and gets ahead of themselves by setting targets that skip over a 2 or 3x multiple and go straight for the stratosphere.  Don’t fall for it.  Take some time to really evaluate your addressable market and determine what market share is reasonable for you, then drill down further and set targets that are aspirational but not daydream territory.  People want to be motivated and excited about what they can accomplish but setting targets that are unfounded or not realistic for your organization will be the quickest way to burnout and demoralization.  In case you are wondering why that matters, return to the example of retaining key talent.

Relevant: Are you a consumer brand selling 1,000,000 units a year?  If not, why set your sights on sky high vanity metrics around viral videos.  Digital marketing has everyone in a tailspin.  Innovation is good, embracing new technologies and producing relevant content are the cost of doing business in the modern, internet-crazed world but not all goals are relevant to your organization.  When setting your SMART goal, be sure that it is relevant to your business.  We have used this example many of times, but if your member organizations work in a highly regulated industry and look to you for broad lobbying support, overinvesting in member facing content just because everyone else does it will not get them the support they need.   Gaining the undivided attention of five key regulators may be more important to them than a webinar on social media hacks.  Bottom line be relevant to your audience’s needs.

Time bound: This one often feels the easiest for everyone as it is typical to set annual and quarterly goals.  In your personal life it is often said that breaking down big goals into smaller ones will get more done.  Do the same with your organizational goals.  Break them down and assign timelines in weeks and months to help keep in touch with those KPIs and leading indicators.

Bottom line, when you are specific you can be laser focused and put the appropriate resources on the job.  Having measurable ways to track the outcomes on a more frequent basis will help breakdown any paralysis or fears.  Keeping up with the Joneses is for the burbs, when setting your goals look inside first, be honest with where you are as an organization and set a goal that will excite and motivate people, not overwhelm and demoralize.  Knowing your audience is necessary, knowing what they need you to help them with and then setting your goals to accomplish that, will set you apart from other organizations.  And finally, appreciate the elephant and then start eating it ear by ear and tusk by tusk. Being time bound is important but make that timeframe short enough so that you can be ready to pivot if needed.

We would love to hear from you.  Which aspect is hardest for you and why?  Tune in next week on 6 Degrees of Associations to hear from Joan “JT” Tezak with the Colorado Society of Association Executives as we dive into how they reevaluated their goals in relation to their mission during this year of the “pivot”.  If you’ve already got your SMART goals and need some help with the business intelligence, give Arocho a shout, clearly, we align with his thinking!

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