In the world of associations, keeping your goals at the front and center of everything you do is of the utmost importance. With your Board of Directors losing and gaining members from year to year, it is crucial to have a vision for your organization solidified in writing to maintain accountability. I recently sat down with VMware User Group Executive Director Brad Tompkins to discuss his approach for developing a multi-year goals strategy with the VMUG Board of Directors and what associations should know to ensure their goals are met.
Developing a Goals Strategy
When setting aside time to brainstorm goals for your organization, Brad says there are a few key things to keep top of mind:
- Stick to your mission statement. If you’re not sure a specific goal aligns with the broader purpose of your organization, allow your mission statement to guide your instincts.
- Democratize your priorities. Sometimes a helpful exercise to get everyone’s input is to have each Board member write down a goal (or several) they’d like to see the organization accomplish and then use the whole group to prioritize. Often, this activity yields goals from new perspectives that might not have been previously considered.
- Tap into your Board members’ insight about your industry. Then, use that insight to inform the decisions your organization should make. Because Board members work directly in the industry your organization serves, they have the most relevant understanding of what goals are most important.
- Start with a broad long-term plan and work backward to define shorter-term goals. Your long-term goals should nail down the value you want to bring to your community in 5, 10, 20 (or more) years and the short-term should outline the specific ways that value will be provided. For technology organizations like VMUG, it’s difficult to anticipate what the landscape will look like a long time from now, so Brad says 5 year goals have the most impact without becoming too distant.
- Once goals are approved, create a runway. Working backward from broader goals to create narrower ones allows your staff to step in and get to work. As goals are approved by the Board, it becomes your staff’s responsibility to execute on those goals and report back with results.
Reviewing Your Multi-Year Goals
Once goals are set, the job isn’t over. It’s important to make it a priority to revisit all of your goals–big or small–to ensure accountability. From there, you can celebrate your wins, and understand what’s needed to prevent misses.
- Revisit annually for long-term goals, and revisit short-term goals more frequently. For Brad and the VMUG Board, 5-year and 3-year goals are reviewed annually and 1-year goals are reviewed quarterly. Even if you are in a position where you can maintain goals beyond the 5-year horizon, it’s important to keep coming back to them so you can make sure they are still aligned with your needs of today.
- Include your entire Board. As volunteers, Board members dedicate a lot of time and energy to making sure your organization is the best it can be. What better way to use that time than reviewing your multi-year goals and how you’re tracking against them from a top level perspective? From there, committees can take a deeper look at specific items and make recommendations addressing particular metrics.
- If the goals are S.M.A.R.T., you shouldn’t have to revise them very often. When it comes to the language and detail of your goals, you want to leave enough of a buffer for unknown variables that will inevitably come into play down the road. These can come in the form of new technology releases, like in VMUG’s instance, or in a seismic shift in leadership, staffing, or budgetary considerations. Even then, they should only be relatively minor revisions. Similarly, most of your long-term goals should speak to the constantly-improving state of your organization. For example, Brad says that one of the long-term goals for VMUG is to maintain financial stability; from year to year, this might look a little different in terms of specific action items and their depth, but it will likely remain constant among their priorities.
- Long-term goals are more important than short-term goals for new Board members. Inevitably, long-term goals will be more useful in contextualizing the on-boarding experience and giving a spring board for the next year’s multi-year goals review. Encourage new Board members to absorb the vision for your organization created by your long-term goals.
- If there’s a major industry-wide shift, consider an external consultation. Sometimes, major industry disruptions can be too controversial or distracting to effectively utilize everyone’s feedback. Too many strong opinions can create roadblocks to productivity. In situations like this, OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) can be particularly useful in offering big-picture guidance.
- For short-term goals, establish which metrics are most important to demonstrate success or improvement needs. This allows you to evaluate your team’s performance more easily and illustrate ROI to sponsors. Put a number to anything possible to make gray goals black and white.
- Don’t be afraid to re-forecast short-term goals if required. Sometimes you get curveballs you weren’t expecting and your goals need to be shifted and revised. This is totally normal and is something for which you and your Board should be prepared. As ASAE writes in The Governing Board, “If your board fails to respond to and instigate change when conditions warrant, it is less likely to make timely, constructive decisions that protect the association’s viability and future performance” (18). It’s important to maintain consistency with your goals, but when circumstances necessitate re-forecasting, you and your Board should feel empowered to make those decisions for the health of your organization.
Setting (and reviewing) multi-year goals can be a daunting challenge. It can be difficult to identify the right place to start and with so many strong opinions filling the air, it can easily become overwhelming. With Innovatis Group’s expertise guiding the process, though, it quickly becomes a more manageable (and even enjoyable!) process for both you and your Board of Directors. Contact Innovatis today to discuss ways we can help you set and manage your multi-year goals.