Monday, April 13, 2015

Be sure you're right then go ahead--When is it wise to lay all on the line?

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

It was a thought-provoking moment. An old-line professional society with a distinguished pedigree (let's call it association "A") that had seen its membership slowly decrease over the years had just undertaken an extensive market survey and had incorporated these findings into a bold strategic plan that promised to put them back on the path to growth. But the cost of implementing these new ideas would cause them to use up the nest egg they had put aside for the proverbial rainy day. What would you do if you were in their shoes? In the case of this organization, they decided to put it all on the line--literally and figuratively.

Other associations faced with drastic alternatives might seek solutions through partnerships, or a merger, or some smaller steps that cost less and leave their nest egg intact. One organization that we know of went all the way to extinction without touching the one million dollars that they kept in the bank. What is the wise thing to do when your organization has financial reserves and faced with a turn-around situation?

The five-step process association "A" took might be a good model to emulate.

Step One-Undertake objective and thorough market research that consisted of three parts: 1) a statistically valid quantitative survey of members and nonmembers to identify key issues, concerns, opportunities and trends; 2) focusing on key findings from the survey, they then identified opinion leaders to be interviewed by their consultants to explore how they interpreted the motivating factors behind these findings; and 3) from these first two steps, they identified the areas their association would need to address and then benchmarked the "best practices" taken from other organizations who have faced similar challenges or opportunities.

Step Two-Incorporate this research into a strategic plan in which all options were evaluated-including an option to merge with another association. (They chose not to pursue this option, but in so doing they showed they were open to any and all possibilities.)

Step Three-Develop a three-year business plan that will ensure the strategic objectives are achieved.

Step Four-Roll out the plan to those who will be driving it as well as to the membership and market at large.

Step Five-Audit performance against plan and make adjustments as needed to ensure all objectives are being achieved.

But-and this was the moment of truth-they realized that to do all these things they would have to draw upon their reserves. They chose to do so, and their membership endorsed this approach without a moment's hesitation. And therein lies one of life's lessons perhaps for associations and individuals alike: strive to learn the facts of your situation from every perspective; plan thoroughly, giving full consideration to all alternatives; inform all your stakeholders and solicit their endorsement; and be so sure of these plans that you are prepared to use every last resource to ensure success. It is said that American folk hero Davy Crockett's motto was "Be sure you're right, then go ahead." Association "A" was Crockett's motto in action in all its breathtaking simplicity.

When asked whether he was not worried about failure when he announced his new

Middle East policy initiative during the Reagan Administration, then-Secretary of State George Schultz responded, "What do you think I should save myself for?" Failure without thought is irresponsible, but so is failing to act when the cause is worthy- especially when you have money in the bank!

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