How to Create and Implement a Stop-Doing List for Your Association

Nitty Gritty December 4, 2019 By: Elena Gerstmann, FASAE, CAE

Having a list of things to stop doing can help free up time and resources and allow staff to complete the valuable things on their to-do lists. Some practical steps for building a list you’ll be able to follow through on.

A stop-doing list is the reverse of that to-do list on many of our desks. We all know our organizations should have one, but few do. Failing to cut some products, programs, and services (PPS) may ultimately doom some associations because they won’t be able to invest in anything new. Think about your PPS like a flower: We sometimes must prune to see beautiful blossoms next year.

If you’re interested in creating a stop-doing list and then implementing it, how do you proceed? First, make it a “good news” story. Make sure everyone involved knows the reason behind the initiative is to build on your organization’s strengths. Second, have at least one volunteer champion. Stopping anything in an organization is a risky prospect, so make sure you have a great champion.

Creating a stop-doing list requires a deliberate and transparent process. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work because associations are unique in their PPS, culture, and politics. Implementing the stop-doing list requires associations to commit to following through to the very end. If you go halfway and write a list but then do nothing, your reputation, culture, and organization will suffer.

Here are some practical steps to take to create a stop-doing list your association can follow through with:

Decide who will lead the effort. Do you want to handle this with existing staff or hire a consultant? If your team has the expertise and time and you have trust in your culture, your staff should handle it. If not, hire an independent, third-party consultant to facilitate staff and volunteer buy-in. If you hire a consultant, you still need an internal team to manage the process. Do not underestimate the time commitment of doing this correctly.

Identify what you’re doing. Err on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; this will reduce finger-pointing at the end. Include both your association’s core and non-core offerings. Include any PPS with a significant headcount or money allocated to it. And if you have new PPS on the horizon, include them too. Have a few individuals who aren’t on the main team review the almost final list of PPS. They should be able to identify any blind spots.

Create your process. I suggest the team create a template form to standardize the way you collect and digest the information. Here is some standard information to collect:

  • Brief description. The description should include the purpose of the PPS, its target audience(s), and a few key performance indicators. Also indicate a maximum word count (around 500).
  • Finances. Ideally, this should include the last three to five years of revenue, expenses, and net, as well as projections for the next three years. How specific this section is should be based on the availability of your financial data.
  • Value/strategic implications. An understanding of how each PPS relates to your current strategic objectives is critical. Providing more structure in this section will allow you to combine all responses into one overall grid to show an organization-wide view of how a PPS links to your strategic objectives. This helps identify gaps or duplication.
  • Legal/regulatory concerns. Are there any legal, regulatory, and/or ethical concerns with eliminating or growing the PPS?
  • Competitive positions. Consider the position of the PPS in the world. Identify your competition—are there other organizations delivering this PPS? Subjectively evaluate how well-positioned your organization is in comparison. For example, are you number one or number five? Is it a crowded field or niche? If you stopped delivering this PPS, would the community notice or be worse off?
  • Resources. List all the resources needed to produce the PPS. This should include volunteer governance, staff, meetings support, travel, cost of goods to produce, and so forth.
  • Community input. If your association has research related to the PPS, include it. Do you have recent surveys from participants? Do you have usage or social media trends?

Determine your end categories. There is no single answer for the number of final categories, but there are several options. Most difficult is having two categories: eliminate and keep. Expanding to three categories can help: eliminate, keep, and invest resources. Or you can use four categories: eliminate, reduce, status quo, and invest. Many organizations find comfort in having two options (e.g., eliminate and reduce) in the stop-doing category. If you go with more than four categories, be cautious because you could open the flood gates.

There are some organizations that turn the above into a quantitative process with accompanying algorithm, but others are quite successful with using the above to have strategic discussions. No matter the process, the result is to make recommendations that are implemented. Good luck.

Elena Gerstmann, FASAE, CAE

Elena Gerstmann, Ph.D., FASAE, CAE, is principal at Avenue M Group in Highland Park, Illinois.