Concentrating on Strength, Focus, and Fit

December 2013

Concentrating on Strength, Focus, and Fit


EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MARK GOLDENA key concept in the association management book Race for Relevance, and one that the authors Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers took even further in their second book, Road to Relevance, is the strategy of building on strengths and concentrating resources.

To be successful, NSPE cannot be all things to all people. It needs to identify what it does better than anyone else, what our members can’t do for themselves, and what is important.

In short, we need to focus on what NSPE and its state societies—and only NSPE and its state societies—can do that will make the most difference in the lives and livelihoods of professional engineers and the publics they serve.

NSPE’s national leadership, as well as the leadership within many of our state societies, has been engaged in serious efforts to define what that means for our three-tiered Society. And the answers aren’t as simple as might first appear. Addressing them requires many volunteers with diverse perspectives and expectations to be brutally honest in assessing what is truly critical, and then having the courage to act based on that knowledge.

The temptation (and the natural tendency) is to try to please everyone by softening the hard edges of differences in opinion, going to the lowest common denominator and averaging down. That would be the easy way out. But it is not what the organization needs nor what the membership has a right to expect or what it deserves from its leadership. And that is not the path your leadership has taken.

NSPE’s Race for Relevance initiatives are well documented (see, and have earned kudos from both of Race for Relevance’s authors, who are citing NSPE’s work as a model for other organizations to follow.

NSPE has made huge progress and is in a much stronger position today than we were even a year ago. But the harder part lies ahead: making choices.

What we have learned from the seven Race for Relevance task forces, made up of 96 dedicated NSPE volunteers from 41 states and totaling (conservatively) 3,000 hours of work, has set the table for making these choices:

  • Choosing what programs and activities we are going to say “yes” to and invest Society resources (financial, intellectual, and manpower) in, which is hard enough to do;
  • Choosing what we are going to say “no” to, which is even harder;
  • And then exercising the discipline to act on those decisions…the hardest step of all.

Toward that end, the Race for Relevance task forces have been reappointed and restructured to move into the next phase of work and have been integrated into staff operations. President Robert Green has established a strategic planning steering committee to begin applying what we’ve learned through Race for Relevance initiatives to the Society’s governing strategic plan. And the NSPE Board of Directors will be devoting a half-day of its Winter Meeting to laying the groundwork for that effort.

There is still a lot of work to do, but as we take on that challenge, all of us involved are keeping our eyes firmly fixed on the prize: creating value for the constituencies that NSPE and its federation of state societies exist to serve.

According to lean manufacturing theory, there are six attributes of customer value, and they can be applied to associations as well:

  1. Offer a complete solution to members’ needs. In its three-tiered structure (national-state-local), NSPE is ideally positioned to do this.
  2. Offer an efficient solution that fulfills the member’s needs without wasting the member’s time.
  3. Delivered how members want it, not how it might be convenient for the associations to deliver it.
  4. Where members want it.
  5. When members want it. With mobile technology, this is rapidly becoming anywhere in the world and on the individual member’s schedule, not the association’s.
  6. At a price members are willing to pay. If members are not willing to exchange something of their own—their time, their money, or both—for what the association is offering, then what we are offering has no value.

That is the work your leadership is now engaged in. And in a federated structure like NSPE’s, it is vital that each component (national-state-local) think and act strategically and that each unit’s microstrategic plan supports a macrostrategic plan and vision.

That means creating a culture of collaboration and inclusion.

Easy? No. Necessary? Absolutely! And the good news for NSPE members is that you already have a robust, bicameral governance structure at the national level and a strong network of organizations in place at the state level to have those discussions and make those decisions.

At the national level, NSPE has a broadly representative (geographical and by practice area) House of Delegates specifically charged with strategic planning, vision, and direction, aligned with a board of directors to lead the affairs of the national organization.

At the state level, NSPE has a network of active volunteer society boards, backed by an active and organized body of state component staff (the State Society Executives Council or SSEC).

All of them committed to working together to get this done.