Insights-decision-making

Insights

Dealing with Doubt

Decision Making for Associations

When coaching new staff working with association boards, I often say, “Remember the Treasurer didn’t pick the role because they secretly like playing accountant at the weekends”.

Volunteers take these roles on top of their real job in order to give back to the profession, shape a collective vision, advance personal professional or company opportunities, or as a fulfilling leadership experience.

I doubt that doubling up their professional crises to manage, whilst juggling family schedules and health concerns was high on anyone’s list.

But that is where volunteer board members find themselves in 2020.

As a global health crisis morphs into an economic crisis (or maybe both in parallel), and even after navigating the initial impacts, boards now need to make more brave decisions to plot a course through an uncertain 2021.

To make those decisions, bravery will also be needed from staff to unveil uncomfortable truths about business models, dysfunctional parts of the organisation, or projects that generate questionable returns.

In the same way as everyone prefers to be asked “who should we hire” instead of “who should we fire”, Boards are typically wired for a “what should we do” discussion rather than “what should we not do”.

 

Two valuable supports Boards can ask for from staff or advisors in this phase are context and scenario sketching.

Author

Colm Clarke

Partner, Consultancy

colm-05

Shared in the July 2020 Newsletter of SoolNua

SoolNua big-logo-colour OK

Context helps to set a baseline understanding which is often wildly different between Boards and staff with different professional backgrounds. It should also help to convey the gravity (or not) of decisions.

Sketching scenarios allow us to narrow down some of the multitude of variables out there and start working on a few potential realities that we believe may occur.

Scenario generation may be viewed as “wasteful” as work goes into mapping things that turn out not to be used. However, in such uncertain times, knowing why you didn’t do something has a reassuring value, especially in associations where collective decision making and personal relationships play a key role.

Using scenarios helps us move quickly within defined parameters and agreed thresholds. It should build confidence in decision making as it aligns collective decision makers on the points considered.It also makes it clear if/when things happen that were not factored in. Mistakes are inevitable as we must make decisions at points in time set by fiscal years or event dates which are essentially arbitrary deadlines to the outside world.

Guiding principles should be agreed to help navigate or choose preferred scenarios as decisions will be made based on compromises and best guesses rather than objective facts or reliable forecasts. Potential reputational damage, for example, is very difficult to quantify in advance but must be a constant in an association’s scenario mapping.

This period provides a reality check about the current capabilities of tech-generated data or insights. No machine can yet process disparate data points that mix hard realities of budget, cashflow or cancellation terms, together with the emotions that come with association communities and their traditions being disrupted – using principles to guide a people centric decision-making process is key to the Board’s role today.

For some this will be a test of association culture. Trust in the leadership, transparency, communications and managing expectations are vital. Members must understand that tough decisions are made at pace and that not everyone can be consulted.

Here again, scenario sketching work can be adapted to provide insights for stakeholders into the decision-making process and why sometimes unpopular decisions have been made.

In a complex, imperfect world, we will make imperfect decisions. However, if we are clear on context, underlying assumptions when decisions had to be made, and our guiding principles, I believe associations can own those decisions collectively and make positive moves forward.

When coaching new staff working with association boards, I often say, “Remember the Treasurer didn’t pick the role because they secretly like playing accountant at the weekends”.

Volunteers take these roles on top of their real job in order to give back to the profession, shape a collective vision, advance personal professional or company opportunities, or as a fulfilling leadership experience.

I doubt that doubling up their professional crises to manage, whilst juggling family schedules and health concerns was high on anyone’s list.

But that is where volunteer board members find themselves in 2020.

As a global health crisis morphs into an economic crisis (or maybe both in parallel), and even after navigating the initial impacts, boards now need to make more brave decisions to plot a course through an uncertain 2021.

To make those decisions, bravery will also be needed from staff to unveil uncomfortable truths about business models, dysfunctional parts of the organisation, or projects that generate questionable returns.

In the same way as everyone prefers to be asked “who should we hire” instead of “who should we fire”, Boards are typically wired for a “what should we do” discussion rather than “what should we not do”.

 

Two valuable supports Boards can ask for from staff or advisors in this phase are context and scenario sketching.

Author

Colm Clarke

Partner, Consultancy

colm-05

Shared in the July 2020 Newsletter of SoolNua

SoolNua big-logo-colour OK

Tips for Scenario Sketching

  • Start with bite size issues that can be well defined – the scenario is not the entire project or organisation, think of it as an “incident” that might happen
  • You can then prioritise scenarios which are most likely and/or have the widest or most significant impact, especially if that would put a project at risk. For example, if an event relies on a key audience segment or a key speaker, and they are not available, then the viability of the whole event is at risk so a focus on that scenario is justified
  • Don’t forget to consider internal operational scenarios as well as external ones. As the COVID crisis escalated we initially focused on the issues for attendees, however we quickly came to realise that the staff team being unable to travel due to illness or quarantine was another critical concern
  • Event examples obviously resonate but this helps in many areas e.g.: How will members perceive the association delivering free online content vs exclusive member value? How to react when dealing with influential individuals or companies vs considering the wider association stakeholder community? 

Tips for Giving Context

  • Keep it brief and high impact, link to additional sources if needed to build confidence or address differences amongst decision makers in familiarity with the topic
  • Boards get all kinds of “issues” raised to them, use this opportunity to make it clear why something is on the agenda – it may not be business critical and they can choose to delegate or postpone if there are more pressing issues
  • Make it clear what the potential impacts are – financial, reputational, internal political etc.
  • Give a timeframe for decision and the consequences of delayed decision making

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