A typical association will run conferences, develop publications and educational courses, provide online resources such as communities, and often be involved in government relations and standards work. These organizations face an extreme version of the challenge their for-profit counterparts face: in a commercial business, such diverse activity would often require many times the people associations have the ability to afford.

Associations can have operational challenges even when they have clearly and narrowly set priorities. But, often, volunteer-led associations have a wider array of input when it comes to choosing focus areas. That can mean seeing 10, 15, even 20 stated priorities on strategic plans. Sometimes associations say they have 3 to 5 priorities — but upon further review, one finds that each so-called priority is really a bucket for several distinct priorities.

This is a recipe for failure.

Research from Align, a leading growth management software provider, compares the gaps in execution on strategic plans for both associations and for-profit businesses. Both types of organizations face many of the same challenges.

Align’s research uses the data from its software to find the characteristics common to all organizations that execute well. If nearly half of associations feel they are inadequately tracking their progress or failing to translate priorities into day-to-day work, what are the characteristics of successful organizations?

The Align research was pulled from more than 1,900 organizations who created more than 435,000 priorities. The research shows successful companies focus on a few key goals. The alignment from that commitment, along with adopting successful business habits, creates efficiencies that allow them to expand their focus over time. You can access the full report from Align here.

Associations need to refine their strategic lens and execute with greater discipline than ever before. Actively managing growth is key to bypassing the struggles that can arise without focused priorities and strategic internal communication.

One way to help with these challenges is the use of growth management software. It’s a tool many for-profit businesses have used for years, and it is time associations take advantage of it as well.

Growth management software helps an organization:

  1. Narrow its strategic focus to a small number of actionable and achievable goals;
  2. Align its team members to ensure the energy of the team is directed upon the stated objectives; and
  3. Maintain a rhythm to keep the team in communication focused.

These 3 principles are simple in concept but difficult to execute. Most people realize that if you try to get too much done, what you ultimately achieve may not be of the greatest importance or impact. As researcher and management guru Jim Collins says, “If you have more than 3 priorities, you have no priorities.” A small number of priorities creates focus and allows an organization to align its limited resources toward those objectives.

Growth management software helps solve this problem using these 3 principles. First, it provides strategic planning tools to narrow and visualize true priorities for an association’s given year, quarter or month. Once a strategic plan is formulated, it’s time to establish and delegate assignments of these key priorities across the team to ensure operational alignment. Consistent with the second principle, growth management software helps assign high level units of work associated with each association priority to individual team members and track the overall allocation of team energy to these priorities. This can confirm whether resources are allocated in alignment with priorities. If energy and resources aren’t properly allocated on the stated priorities, they will never get accomplished.

Finally, growth management software allows an association to stay focused as it executes. Setting priorities and aligning the team will not yield the desired result without an operational cadence that allows for course correction. Creating a culture of accountability and celebrating progress along the way is only possible when there is data to confirm that the association and its team members are on track.

Focusing on priorities and actively ensuring the entire team understands what they are and how they’re working toward them together makes attaining those goals possible.

Eugene Terk is the Vice-President of Business Development and General Counsel of Align Technologies, Corp. Founded in 2012, Align is a cloud-based business software platform that provides an easy-to-use yet powerful framework for growing organizations. Based on proven business methodologies, Align helps organizations improve communication and keeps executives, staff and organizational volunteers in sync and focused on accomplishing priorities and achieving strategic growth goals. Align currently has over 9,000 users and is endorsed by CEOs, Certified Business Coaches, and professional organizations. Eugene is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the Tulane University School of Law.

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