When faced with a threat or an environmental stressor, animals have been known to engage in a fight, flight, or freeze response. The human brain reacts similarly in a crisis situation, and because organizations are essentially people, our human instincts and reactions affect our associations.
My boss and I discussed the fight, flight, or freeze concept as it relates to association work during our "Making Lemonade Out of Lemons in a Sour Industry" presentation at the Great Ideas Conference earlier this month. We presented a situation analysis of our association and explored the decision-making process and the tactics we employed to survive one of the most tumultuous economic environments our members had ever experienced.
In early 2008, our leadership team presented our board with a market analysis that resulted in five core strategies, and when the recession set in later that year our board had to decide: fight, flight, or freeze?
In other words, do we run to safer ground by launching new initiatives and targeting new markets, even if they're outside the scope of our mission? Do we freeze in our tracks, hunker down with our members, and wait for the storm to blow over? Or do we focus on what's in front of us, continue with our strategies, and fight through it?
These all are natural responses and there is no right answer. Experience, instinct, collaboration, and leadership play a role in making the best decision for the association. When evaluating our own options, we challenged the board with three questions: what is our focus, who do we serve, and what's in it for them?
Having just developed a strong mission statement for the association, our board was able to answer those questions without hesitation: we are a credentialing organization, we serve advanced investment consulting and wealth management professionals, and the value we provide is world-class educational content.
Ultimately, the board's decision was to continue with what we already had set in motion. The board and staff were confident that the five core strategies were in alignment with our mission and that we had developed the resources and infrastructure needed to meet those strategic goals. And with the help of volunteer and staff discipline, the avoidance of mission-creep, conservative budgeting, and serendipitous timing, we were fortunate to experience growth (albeit small) and increased member satisfaction in 2008 and 2009.
So what is your focus, who do you serve, and what's in it for them? Those three questions seem so simple, but if you presented them to your board today would you receive clear, consistent answers? It can be a helpful exercise for simplifying what is often an overwhelming array of member types, benefits, and initiatives, and can help you determine your association's own path when it comes to fight, flight, or freeze moments.