Association Writes New Prescription for "Laserlike Focus"

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores shares what can be accomplished with tight focus and a 1,000-day plan.

November 2009 marked the end of Steve Anderson's first 1,000 days as president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS). Hired in February 2007 after lengthy tenures at the National Restaurant Association and the American Frozen Foods Institute, Anderson was given a mandate for change by the organization's board. Boldness, he quickly ascertained, was called for.

Anderson defines "boldness" in association management as an approach comprising three crucial elements: courage, transparency, and a "laserlike focus" on mission-critical activities. Soon after taking office, Anderson and his staff began implementing a 1,000-day plan that would clarify and refine NACDS mission, structure, and workforce.

See clearly now: Three transparency tips

Associations that seek to roll back "mission creep" and refocus on their core objectives must promote transparency as they effect change. Steve Anderson, CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, offers this advice for associations aiming to be more transparent:

  1. Redefine your goals with a "laserlike" focus.
  2. Lay out your plans, both strategic and tactical, in great detail.
  3. Update all constituencies—not just board members—on progress regularly. For example, NACDS held monthly calls during the implementation of its 1,000-day plan; any member desiring a progress update could dial in. By being up front about everything, you create an atmosphere of trust that enables members, staff, and leadership to work as a team and implement even the most ambitious of turnaround plans.

The timing was excellent. As the economic downturn became severe in early fall of 2008, NACDS was already halfway through the plan. The marketing, communications, and media relations department had been reorganized, and a new government affairs and public relations department had been created. Next up?

To ensure, according to a press release, that "NACDS truly represents [its] members by setting priorities and engaging in activities that are at the very core of what NACDS resources are intended for, and that align with NACDS's mission and merit a long-term commitment."

As Anderson and his staff began developing a new strategic plan in summer 2008, they sought member input through a Member Value Survey. The survey, completed by 800 individual members, listed 41 NACDS programs and services and asked respondents to identify their top 15.

"There was very clear consensus," says Anderson. "Even though every program had an advocate, we had an involved board making the decisions. We simply had to stop devoting staff and resources to everything that said 'pharmacy' on it."

NACDS began making cuts in December 2008. Programs that focused on the public good were transferred to the NACDS Foundation, a 501(c)(3). Everything that remained served one of NACDS three primary goals: advocacy on legislative and regulatory issues, communications to enhance the image of pharmacists and chain drug stores, and meetings and member services. As a result, the organization has reduced its staff by 24 percent.

"There is nothing harder than to realign and reduce staff; it takes more courage than you can imagine," says Anderson. "It is crucial to remain thoughtful and understanding."

As to transparency, Anderson says that "there is nothing that our board doesn't know." He writes a six-page email to board members each Friday, faithfully reporting on the actions NACDS has taken that week to implement the strategic plan.

Summing up the results of these efforts, Anderson says, "We are building a culture at NACDS that is focused on achieving results. We are doing this through collective staff accountability and true integration of policy, state, and federal government affairs, grassroots, communications, coalition building, and expertise in pharmacy practice and front-end issues."

Jennifer J. Salopek is a freelance writer in McLean, Virginia. Email: [email protected]