You Choose: Bloated Painfully Slow Blimp Or Stealth Agile Fighter Jet

Goodyear Blimp

Recently I saw the Goodyear Blimp circling a major Dallas freeway.

It bounced up and down with the intensity of a bobble-head-frenzy. Several times it plunged nose-first in a new direction.

It was clunky and off target—at least it looked like it was astray. It was also painfully slow.Some association governance structures have bloated into blimps, frustrating everyone but the historians, legalists and nostaglists.

Blimps In A World of Stealth Fighter Jets

Some associations have outdated governance systems that resemble a blimp.

They are painfully slow to adapt, change and make decisions. Every modification, change and decision must be made multiple times with multiple groups. No one has the ability to act decisively. No one can be held accountable. If the intention is to prevent any group or individual from wielding too much power, it succeeds.

Governance structures should serve one primary function: to help the organization fulfill their mission. The bylaws should serve the mission. The organization’s mission is not to serve the bylaws.

All association structures should empower effective leaders—both elected and appointed board and committee members—and staff. If it doesn’t, that governance structure needs to be modified immediately.

Healthy Structures As Stealth Fighter Jets

Healthy association governance structures are nimble. They empower leaders—volunteer and staff–to make decisions.

If the bylaws do not clearly articulate responsibility and accountability, then it is automatically delegated up to the next level. Each level empowers the next rather than forcing the next level to obtain permission before moving forward.

The Business Of Meetings

Most association conferences were birthed through the bylaws-required annual membership meeting.

As those associations grew, their leadership realized that they could make revenue from the conference—covering both their direct and indirect expenses. The annual membership meeting often becomes a sidebar to the annual conference. It is not the primary driver for holding that meeting.

Effective leaders designate the conference’s profit for services to all its members. In these situations the conference has morphed into a non-dues revenue source instead of a large investment for a limited few. Transitioning to this type of conference model requires vision, leadership, intentionality, strategy and a change management process.

A New View Of Members

Progressive associations embrace a different view of their mission, industry/profession and membership. They realize that not all members are created equal and focus limited resources (staff, time, investments, etc.) on their top customers (members and nonmembers alike).

Instead of making decisions based on their rear view mirror–being reactive based on last year’s surveys, best practices and standards—they use high beam leadership strategies–focused on emerging practices, business intelligence, trends and predictive analysis. They want to reposition their organization as the go-to source for how to navigate the future.

“We serve our members best by serving our industry/profession first,” is the tagline created by one association to address this changing mindset. Their driving principle is that if the association invests in helping the industry/profession move forward, everyone can get a bigger piece of the pie.

How does your association governance structure compare to a bloated blimp or an agile fighter plane? What structural changes would help your association empower leaders to accomplish the organization’s mission?

Hat tips to T. J. Addington for his writings about association boards and governance structure.

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