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You Can't Be Everything to Everyone


You know those long, wide-ranging conversations where you start out talking about, say, your weekend and end up talking about North Korea or Kim Kardashian’s family tree?

Sometimes, the items on our to-do list have origins just as complicated. Why do we run this report every week? The director asked for it. Well, actually the old director asked for it five years ago, because she was trying to justify the value of a particular service to the administration. The administration is on board with that service now, but we still use the information for another purpose, only it would be a lot more useful if we added these three fields and ran it from a different database, and we really only need to run it once a month instead of every week. Oh, and the person who actually uses the report most isn’t on the distribution list, and so she always has to request it from the person in the next cube over.

No matter how careful we are, it’s easy for scenarios like this to creep into our jobs over time. That’s why it’s important, every once in a while, to look at what we’re doing and go back to the “why” and the “for whom” behind it all.

Most professional associations are tradition driven, slow, and risk averse (do you think this description fits MLA?). If I were to guess, you are expecting value from MLA, and you should. As with the organization you work for, MLA needs to provide value to its audience with limited resources, so it’s fair to say that MLA needs to focus on those programs and services that are the most meaningful to you and that are an optimal use of MLA resources.

We also have to move faster in adjusting to the changing environment.

That’s the purpose of our first goal: “Rationalize MLA programs and services, and streamline and clarify organizational structure.”

We are an association that practices evidence-based decision making: we are measuring and force ranking what we do in specific programmatic and operational areas using two primary criteria: relevance and resources. Relevance measures how much that activity matters to the people we serve relative to other activities (its strategic value with regards to accomplishing our mission).

Resources, of course, are money and time spent by both volunteers and staff.

If you just look at resources, you end up with an accounting approach (we know what that’s like).

If you just look at relevance without force ranking, you end up with a “dream” (let’s be everything to everyone!).

But if you look at both, your evaluation is strategic and dynamic, something you can use to make real decisions about what’s working, what you should stop doing, what you need to improve, and what new things you need to start.

Area 1: What MLA Does

Goal: Rationalize MLA programs and services, and streamline and clarify organizational structure in order to:

1. Focus on programs that are strategic and relevant to members and customers and a good use of MLA resources; improve or eliminate programs that are not and introduce programs that are

2. Speed up decision making and execution

3. Improve MLA financial health (or avoid a deterioration of financial health)

What activities need to be evaluated in your organization? Share in the comments below.

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