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Conducting an association wellness check.

Use this test to assess your association's health.

An annual physical checkup identifies existing problems that can be corrected as well as potential problems that may require intervention.

What about the association you belong to? Does it undergo an annual checkup? Could it develop healthier habits? What are its problem areas? How can you help identify them? A wellness checklist can help you find answers to these questions.

Effective monitoring requires you to understand what goes on in your association-its purpose, how it works, and, in fact, where you fit in.

If your association is like most, it consists of a group of people joined together for a common purpose or interest, has a formal structure, and provides an opportunity for developing relationships.

Based on this foundation, the association wellness check is organized into three broad categories: common purposes, structure, and interpersonal relationships.

As you read through the statements under each issue in the following checklist, think about your association and score the "healthiness" of that issue on a rating scale of 0-10.

If you think your association is performing well on an issue, you might give it a score of 9-10. If you feel it's only doing a satisfactory job, you might score it 7-8. If an issue merits considerable improvement, rate it 6 or lower. Also feel free to add your own issues under each category.

Common purpose issues

* Statement of purpose. There is common agreement on why your organization exists, whom it serves, what it does to serve, and how. The constitution, bylaws, and operating procedures are up-to-date and contribute to effective management. The culture and traditions of the association embrace cultural diversity, meaningful open elections, and intolerance of cliques. * Goal setting and planning. There is effective, active, short- and long-range planning on significant issues. The group avoids the pitfall of tunnel vision by working to achieve a broader overview that allows it to focus on critical needs and identify problems before they occur. "Brush fires" are solved quickly and do not dominate the group's agenda. * Teamwork. There is cooperation and cohesiveness in achieving goals and solving problems. The association (board, staff, and membership) is unified, with everyone going in the same general direction. Even with strong egos, the energy is focused and channeled positively. Conflict is managed quickly and effectively. The common purpose is put ahead of personal agendas. * Resource management. The board recognizes that new projects take both time and money. There is agreement on how to spend the association's resources-including money, volunteer time, and staff time. Allocations are decided based on existing goals and plans. There is effective balance between how much time and/or money is spent on efficient task execution versus socializing and fun (maintenance of the group spirit). It's clear who's responsible for coordinating such decisions. * Leadership. The association's leaders are emotional champions of the association's statement of purpose. The chief staff and chief volunteer leaders work together constructively to achieve the association's goals. The association has a leadership development program. * Groupthink. Because members are attracted to your association for some common reason, they tend to think somewhat alike and to attract people with similar interest and backgrounds. While acknowledging the importance of commonality, the group also recognizes the importance of diverse viewpoints. Members are willing to accept other ways of doing things. People who challenge the status quo are not labeled "troublemakers" and are not socially or psychologically ostracized. * Growth. The size of the association is either static, growing, or shrinking, but-whatever the situation-the reasons are clear and the situation is under control. Statistics on recruitment, turnover, and member involvement are available. Recruitment and retention programs are designed to mesh with the association's purpose and goals.

Structure issues

* Organization. The board and staff are effectively organized to meet the association's purposes with committees or departments to match functions to be performed-no more and no less. The relationships among the board of directors, executive group, and staff are well-defined, with cohesive job descriptions for each person. Board positions or functional areas remain reasonably stable from year to year. * Board composition. The board size allows effective management, with a one-for-one match of each person on the board to some significant board function or responsibility. The board mix-in terms of executives, key function or committee chairs, appropriate geographic representation, and so forth-is appropriate for the association's purpose and goals. Board size does not affect such processes as meetings, problem solving, and decision making (i.e, such processes would take the same time even if the board were smaller). * Committees. If the association or board has standing of special committees, their roles and functions are well-defined. It is clear to whom each committee reports. Committees complement, coordinate, and cooperate with each other to fulfill the association's statement of purpose and goals. * Role definitions. There is effective delegation of purpose, responsibility, authority, and accountability to the executive group, board members, and staff. It is clear who sets policy, who defines procedures, and who implements them. Clean boundaries exist, with minimal competition, conflicts, turf wars, or tension. The staff executives oversees staff direction with minimal interference or co-management by board members and/or elected executives. The talents, skills, and special interests of each volunteer are put to good use in the association. * Policies, rules, and guidelines. The association has up-to-date policies and procedures, which are known, understood, adhered to, and enforced. A written handbook, neither too broad nor too narrow in scope, has been given to elected executives, board members, and the staff executive. * Continuity and follow-through. The management structure of the association enhances adequate follow-up on short-and long-range plans. Even without "paycheck clout," volunteers demonstrate the kind of discipline typical of a work situation. There is year-to-year adherence to long-range plans-last year's goals and objectives are not scrapped. The association holds staggered elections. Instead of electing a new board each year, one half or one third of the board is elected each year, and the other half or third is elected in the following year(s). A two- or three-year commitment is thus required from each board member. The board holds some kind of transition, rite-of-passage, or orientation event, such as a retreat. This is an opportunity for "old" board members to pass on some of the culture, goals, and challenges to "new" board members. * Successor development. The association provides training on how to be an effective member and leader in the association. For specific positions, there is a person-to-person handoff, with overlap time between incoming and outgoing position holders. Each key position has an understudy-for example, vice chair to a chair. With this structure, each person serves for a minimum of two years-one year as an understudy learning the ropes, and successive years as the person in charge of helping train a new understudy.

Interpersonal relationship issues.

* Communications. The two-way exchange of information among the elected executives, board members, and staff is effective-items don't fall through the cracks, messages do not need to be repeated, transmitted information is understood. Spokespeople have been selected. Information content and transmission is consistent. Parallel communication channels, which lead to inconsistency and confusion, do not exist. The above communication comments are also true with regard to the general membership and the public, and among national, regional, state, and local levels. * Relationships. Interpersonal relationships among officers, board, staff, and members are effective. Time is spent fostering relationships, which are more than polite and superficial. The level of trust and confidence in fellow members is high. Personality clashes and power struggles are minimal. If they occur, they are resolved quickly and to everyone's satisfaction. * Networking. The association provides or creates social opportunities, where officers, board, staff, and members can get to know each other, discuss successes, and share concerns. Networking is professional-people do not use the opportunity to look for jobs, favors, or employment. * Commitment. There is real commitment to the association, demonstrated by dedication to the purpose of the association and willingness to donate time, energy, or money as needed. Commitment runs deeper than just a rah-rah spirit. Individual commitment is to the group, not to a personal agenda. * Decision making. Important decisions are made through consensus, not by voting. When discussion concludes, there are no winners and losers. There is no power-brokering, back-room politicking, or caucusing ("I'll vote for your issue if you'll vote for mine"). * Recognition. The association provides feedback, recognition, and rewards for volunteers and staff. People feel they make a difference. Their expectations of what the group would do for them are generally fulfilled. It's easy for volunteers to justify the amount of time they spend away from their business or personal life. The association has a waiting list of volunteers.

Checking the checkup

Now how can you use the checklist? Go back through the categories and look at individual issues that received a score of 6 or lower. Why did you rate them low? Underline items that you think need help. Write down your comments. Ask yourself if other volunteers would give these issues a similar rating. Would the staff?

You might begin to formulate a corrective action plan, but be careful here of the quick fix. An issue with a poor rating may only be an outward symptom of some deeper problem. Before embracing an obvious solution, you might want to investigate further.

Suppose, for example, that you gave "goal-setting and planning" a rating of 6 because the association does little in the way of long-range planning. The obvious solution might be to initiate this planning function.

However, the lack of long-range planning may actually be a structure problem. If a board is composed each year of mostly new members who tend not to honor plans of the outgoing board, long-range planning doesn't take hold easily. What would first need to be addressed in this instance is structure of the board.

Another caution: Trying to fix things on your own is probably not appropriate. You're part of a team. You can, however, be the impetus for opening up channels of communication with elected executives, other board members, the staff executive, and so forth.

Remember, checkups have to be conducted regularly to be effective. Whenever your board composition changes significantly-but no less often than every three years-it's a good idea to run through the association wellness checklist. Good luck and good health.

Larry Wennik is a management and meeting consultant, speaker, and principal of The Catalyst Group, Lynnwood, Washington.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Wennik, Larry
Publication:Association Management
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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