On the Road to Relevance

August/September 2014

On the Road to Relevance


 BY PRESIDENT HARVE HNATIUK, P.E., F.NSPEBenjamin Franklin passed away almost 225 years ago at age 84. He is one of the Founding Fathers of our nation and indeed was known as “The First American.” Many people connect him to Philadelphia but he lived his first 17 years in Boston. For many years, he published Poor Richard’s Almanack. It included a yearly calendar, weather information, poems, astronomical information, astrological information, and sayings. Wise old sayings…so many of which remain relevant over two centuries later.

Many centuries before Franklin helped to move the US colonies to independence, Lao Tzu is said to have lived in ancient China around the 5th or 6th century BC. There are differing accounts of what he did and who he actually was. He is regarded as the founder of Taoism, a philosophy that directs one to live in harmony with a greater power known as the Tao. He is credited as being the author of the Tao Te Ching, which contains many sayings that express his philosophy.

The journey that NSPE has taken in its Race for Relevance initiative brings to mind the words and sayings of both these men, who though widely separated in time, are both widely recognized for their wisdom.

“He that lives upon hope will die fasting,” Franklin said. Many organizations, NSPE included, have been experiencing decreased membership, loss of revenue, and in some cases an erosion of their reasons for being. Certain “patches” were tried—a membership drive and a public outreach campaign, for example—with the hope that the tide would turn. Organizations were looking for the home run, a game changer. Over two years ago, NSPE joined a group of organizations that realized that more than a single game changer was needed when it began its Race for Relevance. The first step toward changing anything—our health, our attitudes, our demeanor, our organizations—is recognizing that changes are needed.

Going from Philadelphia to the Far East, this quote from Lao Tzu also resonates with where NSPE found itself about two-and-a-half years ago: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

The quote from the Tao does not say it but most of us know from experience that the first step is very often the most difficult. But so, too, is staying the course, keeping the faith, and having the perseverance to keep putting one foot in front of the other. That approach, indeed, seems to be the road most traveled.

NSPE took that first step well before the 2012 Annual Meeting in San Diego, recognizing that there were things that needed to be fixed if the organization was going to survive in the decades ahead.

We did not actually race toward relevance although, when you think about it, engaging nearly 100 volunteers from 41 states who worked for 3,000 hours or more during a relatively short time span seemed like a race to many of us. Seven task forces, working steadily, looked at many aspects of our organization.

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.” Franklin’s words speak to that work as well as the ongoing efforts since the initial Race for Relevance task forces submitted their final reports. Lao Tzu weighs in as well: “Perseverance is the foundation of all actions.”

Using our task forces’ output and recommendations for action, the NSPE Board of Directors finalized a statement of strategic direction in late January. This document identified areas of opportunity within which NSPE needs to continuously improve: member value, advocacy, content, collaboration, member engagement, and leadership/professional development. It formed the foundation of the new NSPE Strategic Plan that was approved by our House of Delegates on July 5 in Washington, DC (see p. 32). We are, indeed, now traveling on the Road to Relevance.

The great news is that the level of engagement of NSPE members and staff has not dwindled. It has, in truth, increased. Certain task forces remain active and others are being formed to address specific areas of importance.

NSPE committees, interest groups, task forces, and boards are working toward finalizing goals for the 2014–15 year. This process began with the Leaders Summit that was held in Orlando in early May, during which each group identified areas in which they could work in alignment with the strategic direction established by the Board.

Strategic thinking that ensures NSPE’s activities align with our strategic plan is only one positive outcome of the Orlando summit and the ensuing goal-finalization process.

The summit also reinforced the level of interconnection that can be developed between these groups. For example, a goal of the Professional Engineers in Higher Education is to work with the Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee in the area of faculty licensure at our nation’s engineering schools. Liaisons will be appointed to each PEHE group and LQP to further define and promote efforts in this area.

The words have been written, the goals have been set.

We have begun to put plans into actions along a road of continuing improvement while living the words of Franklin: “Well done is better than well said.”