The “Stop Doing” List

There was story in the local paper recently about a government commission which hadn’t met for 12 years. No one noticed it was dormant until someone pointed it out. Then there was this hubbub about getting it going again. Why? No one noticed it was dead. Isn’t that the classic definition of irrelevance?

That made me think of Jim Collins. I love his work. Built to Last and Good to Great cut through the noise and nail it.

Lots of big challenges abound in both books. I’d bet that the biggest one for associations is the “stop doing list.” The meaning is straightforward. But doing it is really hard, especially for associations which are member-driven and not necessarily good at being results-driven.

When I worked at for-profit companies, the ultimate test was whether a project or product would make us money. Either it does, or we think it will, or it won’t.

In associations, we talk about “mission.” We ask whether it creates “member value.” If we’re sloppy about defining it, then anything can be rationalized. The costs are lost focus, and frazzled staff pulled in a million different directions.

In the end, members always notice. They will see that things happens slowly, or not at all. Or they will notice when things are done sloppily just to get them done. Or the VIPs will notice that they have to be the squeaky wheel. We may think we’re fooling them, but we’re not.

None of that’s good.

We all have these kind of projects or products. If we stopped doing X, would anyone really notice? Continuing to do X may be the greatest barrier to greatness in associations.

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3 thoughts on “The “Stop Doing” List

  1. Frank:

    I agree completely. Stop doing is one of the hardest things for associations. And one of the most necessary in this day and age when there are SO MANY things you can be doing. And doing them all means you often don’t do many of them as well as you could and should.

    I have a “Stop Doing List” item on the agenda for my department heads’ meeting every week. We rarely come up with anything, but at least we talk about it.

    To me, the biggest problem is that every project has a member constituency — or is a staff program tied to that constituency. No matter how small they may be, we can’t or don’t want to risk alienating them because of the backlash. And that backlash definitely happens.

    To me, the most frustrating part of strategic planning is setting “priorities,” and then not being able to really focus on them. We just add more to our plates without concern about what’s slopping over the edges.

    At least you don’t have hurricanes in Massachusetts (but I’m sure you have something just as awful.)

  2. love this post frank! we labor and sweat and struggle and spin wheels to develop a “stop doing list”. For the past 4 year or so, we’ve developed various program assessment models that force rank, matrix rank, measure roi, measure profit margins, measure, measure, measure and measure some more. And at the end of the day the “sacred cows” never leave the pasture. New, innovative ideas get piled on top of a crumbling plate, therefore falling to the wayside.

    are there any associaitons out there effectively addressing problem? learning to become more nimble, flexilble, adaptable? if you find a process that forces organizations to “stop doing” anything, please let me know!

  3. Great comments, Steve and Tina!
    I love Steve’s practice of asking weekly where they could “stop doing.” It is a start, but not the end of the process.
    Tina’s point about measuring – to little avail – resonates. This experience suggests that volunteer leader buy-in is key; we can do all we want at the staff level, but members have to accept it..
    We haven’t had a great track record in this area, either. But at least our volunteer leaders acknowledge the principle of priorities in spirit. That’s a start.
    I suspect that true change happens when the cost of doing the same becomes intolerable. It’s up to us, as staff and counsel to the volunteer leaders, to develop that case for change and then to make the case persuasively.

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