Returning to Why
September 9, 2019
When is the last time you looked at – and I mean REALLY looked at – your association’s mission statement? Regardless of whether it gets prime real estate on your website, is a header for your operational documents or, perhaps, even buried somewhere in old files, in many cases it can get lost in the busy day-to-day management of the association.
One of the reasons I have always loved working in associations is the opportunity to be a part of a mission-driven organization, but I too fall into this trap more than I care to admit. When I began working with the National Association for Children’s Behavioral Health (NACBH), its mission to build stronger communities and families through effective behavioral health leadership and policy proved to be an amazing motivator. As strongly as I felt connected to this mission, not being from a mental health background I had never really seen the impact of the community first-hand. Needless to say, I was quite eager to make my first visit to an NACBH member agency and I jumped at the opportunity to spend a couple days with the team at Northwood Children’s Services in Duluth, MN. What I experienced was so inspiring and motivating it is difficult to put into words; I experienced the power of Why.
Perhaps it was just a coincidence that on my flight to Duluth I finished reading Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. If you have not read the book (or seen his TED Talk on the topic), the premise is that lots of organizations and companies are good at what they do and how they do it but that can only take you so far. Truly transformational organizations are those who are so firmly grounded in why that their what and how are simply manifestations of their larger purpose.
I had a bit of an a-ha moment in wrapping up the book, that the AMR philosophy “turning vision into action,” is our way of expressing the why of association management. We don’t come to work every day to send email reminders, set up conference registrations, review financial transactions or draft meeting minutes. We come to work every day to help our client associations achieve their missions. Sure, we may do that by sending email reminders, setting up conference registrations, reviewing financial transactions and drafting meeting minutes…it makes us good at what we do – but it isn’t our why. The desire to use our administrative expertise to help dedicated volunteers change the world is our why. We’re so lucky to have the chance to live it every day, but all-too-often, we don’t. We’re so focused on accomplishing with success, the mission, vision and why has trouble rising to the top of our consciousness.
Northwood proved to be an amazing model. Not only do they start with why, it is reflected in every action, every conversation, every meeting and every staff member in the organization. I spoke with probably two-dozen leaders and team members representing different programs and services and they all shared an amazing dedication to serving the kids in their care. Whether their job was CFO and negotiating new contracts, Quality Assurance Director and managing compliance, Counselors who stay up all night to check on kids in the residential centers or office staff who greet families and visitors when they arrive – everyone was crystal clear that their “job” wasn’t a specific role or function, it was contributing to the best care they could possibly give to the children and youth they serve.
I returned from the trip completely overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to use my skill set to help organizations and associations who do so much good for our communities. I encourage everyone to take a few moments – however you can get them – to immerse yourself in the why of your associations. It changes everything!
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