Group of employees discussing membership priorities

By Ian Barratt

One of the regular themes to emerge as I have worked with membership organisations is how they can deliver the ‘shopping list’ of member requirements.

Of course, membership organisations are there to work for their members and the sector in which they work, whether as individuals or corporate entities. The danger is that the organisation becomes victim to a never-ending litany of sometimes contradictory agendas of the membership and the sub-groups within it. The consequences can cause strategic overload and a bewildering number of KPIs, themselves causing an endemic lack of clarity that creates confusion, frustration, stress and, ultimately, staff churn.

Do the basics well

I have been watching the Rugby League World Cup, and my attention was drawn to a comment by one of the coaches that success is not necessarily the result of the dramatic but about doing the basics well. The same is true of organisations. Identifying the basics is part of developing strategy and, if presented with new priorities, asking fundamental questions about what can or should be dropped. This process can be uncomfortable, but the alternative can be to pursue ever-increasing numbers of objectives and satisfying no one in the process. The law of diminishing returns applies with a vengeance.

All this requires leadership

If the leader of the membership body does not bring clarity to the party, then who else can? But this is not about being directive or believing that the CEO or equivalent has all the answers. As a distinguished mentor of mine said, “The role of the CEO is not to have all the answers, but all the right questions”. Listening to as many perspectives as possible is vital in shaping the final vision and strategic priorities. However, listening does not mean a simple acceptance of everything on the ‘shopping list’ as a priority.

This takes courage on occasion. More importantly, it needs clarity of thought and purpose. That clarity at the top will help to deliver clarity throughout the team.

Ian Barratt is available for assignments through Membership Bespoke.