Should a trade association have a NOT to-do list?

Trade associations are no different to any organisation in that there is never enough time, money, people or other resources to do everything, so priorities have to be determined and decisions made.

Some may argue the challenge is even greater with competing priorities in a membership-focussed organisation.

This is where a clear and considered plan that has been correctly communicated and agreed is so important. It should explain what will be done, in what time frame, is the basis for updating members on progress.

It is also a reference for when a request is received for action outside of the plan.

However, your plans should not be set in stone. They must be regularly reviewed and updated and, based on current circumstances and progress, projects may be postponed, brought forward or cancelled altogether. Sometimes hard decisions have to be made.

There may be priority that was unknown when the plan was agreed. Perhaps a government consultation, new legislation, a cracking new opportunity or just serendipity. Whatever it is, there should be a way of triaging and determining what to do.

Once the plan is set, then it determines two things: what will be done and (by logical extension) what won’t be done.

Often trade associations try to do too much due to their broad membership needs and competing priorities. Knowing what not to do is as important as what to do.

Here are our tips to getting the balance right:

  • Have a handle on everything that is currently being done
  • Determine criteria for assessing the impact on members, the association and the wider sector it operates in
  • Create a robust planning process to determine the priorities and resource allocation
  • Communicate the plan and get feedback
  • Amend and agree the plan
  • Regularly review and update the plan
  • Make sure staff priorities and objectives link to the plan
  • Keep members updated on progress – good and bad
  • Be prepared to make difficult decisions
  • Get some external help with planning, someone to challenge the plan and ask the difficult questions
  • Know when you should NOT be doing something

In his book Big Ideas for Small Businesses, (which equally applies to trade associations of any size) John Lamerton extols the virtues of a 90-day plan in getting the right things done. Determine what is the most important priority for your trade association and then create a 90-day plan and break that down to monthly, weekly and daily priorities to achieve that goal. Work on this takes precedence over everything else.

If you need help planning for your association, or perhaps someone external to take an objective view, then please get in touch.