Sunday, January 3, 2010

The End of the World as We Know It (in Associations)

Six o'clock - TV hour. Don't get caught in foreign tower. Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn. Lock him in uniform and book burning, blood letting. Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate. Light a candle, light a motive. Step down, step down. Watch a heel crush, crush. Uh oh, this means no fear - cavalier. Renegade and steer clear! A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies. Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline.

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.....REM, Document

The Short of It
  • I don't believe in new years resolutions
  • However, there is merit in stopping for a moment of reflection
  • And moving forward with a renewed sense of purpose
  • But that should happen more often than once per year
  • Change doesn't wait for us to catch up and notice
  • It lies in wait for us every moment of every day
The Long of It

My new years resolution is swearing off resolutions. (Ironic.....but let me explain.)

Most of us are heading back into the fray this week and I'd like to stop for just one more moment, have one more leisurely cup of coffee and consider the landscape ahead.

The world, as we know it, ends every day not just on December 31 of each year and thank goodness for that. We are given endless opportunities on an ongoing basis to promote positive changes (or survive negative ones). Financial institutions crumble, laws change, society changes, media changes. Governments struggle and sometimes achieve great things, wars begin and (thankfully) end. We face the birth of new technologies and move away from the old ways of doing things. Personally, we may generally feel the same about ourselves but even we are different today than we were yesterday. Professionally, the challenges we face this year may be similar but not identical to last years. Our board members will change. Our staffs may change. Even projects we were working on when we left a week or so ago may look different when we get back as perspective can change in the white space of even a few days off.

At this particular time of year, many of us stop and reflect on what was, what is or what could have been. It's almost as if life itself programs us with a basic subroutine for "personal strategic planning." Many of us go through a similar, natural annual process triggered by family, cultural, secular or religious traditions, the gathering of old friends or even the consumption of specific treats we associate with this time of year.  (Many of us find our association careers dictate this is the ONLY time of the year we can truly call our own after having run the previous years gauntlet of board meetings, conferences, etc., and playing "legislative committee roulette" or "regulatory agency Twister.")

After we have stopped, reflected and taken stock of our situation we sometimes feel a compulsion to appear to be "doing something about it" so we step forward and make pronouncements otherwise known as "new years resolutions."

That's where we blow it.

The resolution isn't enough and typically it isn't anything new. Most of the time the resolution is something we've been meaning to do and just haven't dedicated the resources to actually doing.  (Read Jeffrey Cufaude's recent post on "re-solving resolutions" for another take on this topic). Resolutions are notoriously unsuccessful, particularly when given an annual time frame for achievement. For example:

Resolution - "I'm going to lose twenty pounds this year."

Reality - Eating only carrots for three weeks, working out three times per week until I lose ten of those pounds, slowing to two times a week, then one before going back to business as usual while figuring I have a while until I get to the end of the year when the REAL goal is supposed to be reached, regaining the ten pounds but it doesn't matter cuz I still have my "fat clothes" in my closet, starting a diet in October because I need to regain the ground I lost and then some and I only have a few weeks left to hit my goal, getting sideswiped by Halloween, tripped up by Thanksgiving and then, well, then all hell breaks loose because nobody cares anymore and I have the opportunity to make another resolution in December for the same goal next year - which incidentally I MEAN to keep this time!

With cultural programming like this, is it any wonder our boards have such trouble with their own annual strategic planning process?

I'm guessing your organization goes through a similar process at their annual board retreat. They reflect on what was, what is, brainstorm an ideal future, make some "annual strategic priority" pronouncements and then what happens?

Resolution - "Our association will achieve "x" outcome."

Reality - The outcome statement goes to a committee who holds one meeting just to "figure out what the board means by that" and several more meetings to develop ideas on how to go about it, someone mentions doing a survey and months are eaten up developing, executing and analyzing the survey results at which point the strategic operating environment has changed again, six months in the budget is undergoing some fine-tuning to get to the end of the year on target so some retooling on costs of proposed ideas gets underway, members come on or go off the committee leading to some loss of institutional memory and the need to get the newbies up to speed, a little undermining here and a little obstructionism over there, staff goes on vacation which puts off implementation of any idea for weeks, several meetings are spent talking about new priorities subsequently assigned by the board that don't have anything to do with the original outcome and by that time everything they HAD scheduled is interrupted by the annual meeting, staff has no time to work on any committee projects and suddenly the board is back at the annual planning retreat coming up with a resolution to give that goal another go next year.

Let's agree to stop the personal and organizational "resolutions" madness - new years or otherwise.

By all means, Whether personally or organizationally, regularly set aside time to stop, reflect and plan to move forward. Celebrate your successes, revel where you are in the moment, evaluate your current environment and visualize a compelling future. Work to define your core purpose, core values and a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) for yourself or your group. But resist the siren song of the "sweeping resolutions" which left unchecked can distract you from actually achieving your ultimate goals. Set strategic priorities that are obtainable, within a certain time frame (ideally shorter than a year because we are almost pre-programmed to blow off annual goals), properly monetized and do everything you can to minimize interference and/or distractions.

If your personal BHAG is to live a long life and your purpose and values reflect a commitment to health then don't make huge pronouncements about the immediate changes you intend to make to achieve that goal - eliminating all sugar, working out eighteen times a week and swearing off colas from now until eternity. Isn't it smarter to say to yourself, hey, I am committed to health and because of that just for today I will eat healthfully and consider joining a gym. Tomorrow, I'll actually join and next week, I'll go. Making smaller commitments in shorter time frames will allow for incremental change that can be sustained. It also allows you the ability to make adjustments as your environment changes rather than blowing the entire project off until the next time you guiltily decide to do something about it.

Accept that change is upon you.  Not just on January 1 but every day of the year.  Don't expect a single, dramatic pronouncement to achieve the final outcome. Your life will turn around in the small, daily actions you take to achieve your overall goal. Your environment and everything in it, including the people, is in the process of following an evolutionary path that is not always linear or logical. Your environment is predisposed to denying and resisting the very change that it demands. Deal with it. Then seize the opportunities the daily pursuit of authentic change will present to you!

Go out and live this year according to a more natural rhythm. Swear off the resolutions and stay focused on the reasons you made them in the first place.

It's the end of the world as we know it....and I feel fine!


  1. Love it, Shelly! Like you, I don't really "believe" in New Year's Resolutions - I think each day is a new opportunity to set goals. (Coincidentally, I just started a more personal blog about this.) Regardless, I hope organizations use the beginning of this year to reflect on positive, forward-facing changes they can make to improve the experience for everyone (staff, board and members). Don't commit to "resolutions" just because it's January and you feel obligated.

  2. Shannon -

    Thanks for the comment! I am interested to hear more about your new blog and when you are ready to share more, please let me know.

    Tally ho!


  3. It lies in wait for us every moment of every day

    that is a pretty true line

  4. Nancy - I think change kind of ambushes us from time to time. It's not a linear process. It's just now instead of saber toothed tigers it's the person who ran the red light or the phone call that nobody wants to get....



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