Lessons From The Boardroom

August 16, 2016

holy stock photography, Batman!

I love when I’m able to connect the dots between two seemingly disparate worlds and learn lessons that might not have occurred to me otherwise. I’ve written before (here, here, here) about how my service as a board member for the Stillwater Public Library has put my daily work as a marketer in a new light. The latest instance of this board-agency life overlap is my favorite yet, as it deals directly with two crucial, inescapable aspects of agency work: planning and evaluation.

A couple of months ago, I started reading a book by John Carver called “Boards That Make A Difference,” in which he outlined a new way of thinking about how nonprofit boards could do their jobs more efficiently and effectively than they ever thought possible. (The book — and its sequel, “Reinventing Your Board” — is a fascinating read, by the way.) The book’s purpose is to lay out the specifics of a system he calls Policy Governance, but one of my favorite points from the book has little to do with his governance system.

Here it is: Carver makes the point over and over again that it’s more important and more meaningful to measure the right thing imperfectly than it is to measure the wrong thing well. Think about that for a minute. It might sound like stating the obvious, but how often have you wrapped up a project by reporting reach metrics like “media impressions” when your objectives had little to do with something like “increasing awareness”? Carver’s point is that even if there’s no good and easy way to measure your progress toward a goal, it’s better to have an imprecise and imperfect measure of progress toward your goal than to use whatever measures happen to be handy.

And why are measurement and evaluation so important? Again, it might seem obvious, but another author stated it rather eloquently. In “Nonprofit Boards That Work,” Maureen Robinson writes: “Responsibility is at the heart of evaluation. The board is responsible for results. If the mission matters, if the organization has value, then the board must direct its energies to seeing that the mission is accomplished.”

To apply that to the marketing world: If your work matters, showing evidence of impact matters.

Robinson also had this reasonably succinct gem to share about what a good plan looks like: “Good plans resemble each other in a number of ways. First, a good plan is legible; everyone can read it and understand it. It also feels smart, not out of touch with the reality everyone knows. It feels inevitable, as through the organization has no choice but to move in a particular direction. Last, and most important, it gives everyone, including the board, a part in the success of the plan, a success that can be measured, tasted, savored and celebrated.”

You know you’ve written some plans in your day that don’t adhere to the above. Hell, I know I’ve written some that barely attempt to reach for those lofty heights. But any plan — strategic, tactical or anything in between — that I’m proud of, that really delivered the punch it needed to, certainly contains those elements. Clearly articulated. Built upon a firm strategic foundation and supported by evidence. Charts a course for evaluating success.

If you have strong planning and strong measurement, you’re in pretty good shape. Execution is often the easy part.