This, coupled with a recent conversation with association colleague Arianna Rehak, got me thinking about waistlines. Not mine, but about those of organizations.
Having worked at business publications during the rise and fall of the dot-coms, I saw bloating as venture capital poured in and companies couldn’t hire people fast enough. Then, as quickly as they took on employees, companies seemed to shed them when funds dried up because investors were looking for some return on the money they were providing these companies. It was an extreme swing.
One of the many lessons learned from these times eventually got organizations going along the path of being “lean.” Everyone says — or wants — to be a lean organization. The business sections of bookstores (remember those?) and Amazon are filled with titles that include the word from “The Lean Startup” to “Lean Enterprise” and “Lean Thinking.” They discuss organization size and, generally, doing more with less. Or to use buzz-speak, “Work smarter, not harder.”
But I wonder whether there is a different — more balanced — approach.
Think of those charts you see at the doctor’s office that indicate “ideal” weights for people depending on their height, age and gender. If I were to go by those charts, I may be lean, but I would not be healthy because my range, and everyone else’s, depends on a lot of factors, such as family history and body type.
Rather than being lean, organizations should also strive for being healthy.
Consider the effects of something all associations work toward: Membership growth. As more members come in, the heart of that lean association must beat faster to try to keep pace with the increased demand on services, while at the same time, work to develop new programs and services to ensure its relevancy. It’s a challenging, some may say impossible, method to sustain.
An organization may strive for lean because it sounds cool and trendy, and yes, there’s that whole cost savings idea people like. But by doing so, is it sacrificing the health of the association, and in turn, sacrificing the value provided to members and customers? Not to mention the toll on staff, which speaks to retention.
To be sure, there are things we can learn from the lean philosophy and potential applications. The key, though, is knowing what “healthy” means and looks like for your organization. Too often we seek quick fixes — that magic pill — that will immediately take care of our needs — or we think will take care of our needs. Raise your hand if you’ve been in a meeting and heard someone say, “Hey, look, (insert idea or trend here) worked for XYZ Association, let’s do that.”
There are reasons why something worked for XYZ, reasons that may not be applicable to you. Simply copying an organization’s way of doing things — no matter how successful or trendy its ways might be — does not necessarily spell success and is often not a good go-to strategy. And there’s one big reason for that: Each association is different. Like the charts in the doctor’s office, there are factors unique to each that will define its ideal healthy state.
Whether that includes eating an apple a day remains to be seen — but can’t hurt.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn and can be found here.