top of page

7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Associations Do That Others Don’t

Many of us in the nonprofit sector eagerly awaited the publication of this book by The Center for Association Leadership. The book is a research project spanning four years and mentored by Jim Collins. With the assistance of the best-selling author of Good to Great and Built to Last, The Center conducted four years of intensive original research and analysis of 15 years of data. The purpose was to tease out the characteristics that distinguish associations that achieve remarkable results year after year.While some conventional wisdoms were dispelled by the research (e.g., it’s better to hire a CEO from the outside), many common axioms were upheld. Collins wrote in the book’s introduction that “every association can deliver better results for its members.” This is a nice corollary to “good enough is never good enough.”It’s interesting to note the choice of words Collins used in his observation regarding the nature of what separates a great institution from the average. He says great organizations are comprised of:

“Disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action”

Collins repeated this mantra a few times during a presentation to the American Society of Association Executives. Why not say “focused” or “purposeful” or “mission-driven?” If you’ve heard Collins speak, you know he’s a bit like that Monk character on television who is obsessed with order and detail. He doesn’t choose his words at random.In his speech to ASAE, Collins said it was more than mission or focus. Discipline requires the organization to stop doing the wrong things in order to have the time to do the right things well and achieve remarkable results. Collins’ observation is a meaningful one for governing boards. Is your board remarkable?

Consider these questions:

  • Is it difficult to get all of your board members to attend meetings?

  • Is your board having difficulty recruiting the members it really wants because those people “just don’t have time?”

  • Does your board spend most of its meeting time listening to staff and committee reports and little time on compelling dialog and debate about the future?

  • Does your board tend to rely on their own perceptions of the members rather than conducting diligent discussions with members about what they need?

  • Does the board struggle with how to evaluate your performance or conduct your annual review?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may indicate that your board views its role as managing instead of governing. If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may suggest that your board isn’t spending enough time on the “right things.”That’s where disciplined thought and action come in. Discipline helps the board get done what it needs to do efficiently and expediently. Discipline frees up time to make a difference for the people they serve (why most people join boards.) It creates meetings that are exciting and engaging (and worth attending.) It will help your board recruit and retain quality board members because everyone wants to be part of a remarkable board.Where do you start to create an environment that fosters disciplined thought and action? You can begin with the principles found in Policy Governance


Sherry S. Jennings, PhD
Founder and principal of Sound Governance. Sherry started Sound Governance because board leaders need a safe space.

Read more about sherry.
bottom of page