Resolutions (Like Strategic Plans) Tend Not to Stick

By Hank Berkowitz • November 5, 2012

By Hank Berkowitz

Like many of you, I thought about making new year’s resolutions over the holidays. But then I got over it. It’s not that I have no room for improvement (my family and co-workers will confirm that). It’s not that I’m lazy or undisciplined, either. I’ve simply come across too much research lately showing that most new year’s resolutions don’t stick. So why bother?

Sure, some resolutions are made at holiday parties when the resolution-maker is less than 100 percent sober. But most clear-headed resolutions, whether at the individual or organizational level, fail because we make promises to ourselves that are too lofty or too resource-intensive. In other words we set BHAGs—Big Hairy Audacious Goals—without the strategy or stamina to sustain them throughout the year.

  • Resolutions often fail because we set goals that are too high, not because we lack the willpower to stick with them.
  • Make sure you’re using the right metrics to gauge the success of your member marketing and communications programs.
  • There’s a time and place for every game-changing technology—but they should be used to complement, not blindly replace, legacy systems.
  • Employees don’t leave associations; they leave their bosses.


Take our reader poll on the front page of this month’s issue.

Just as many of us dread opening the January credit card statement lurking in our bill pile, many of us dread looking at those ambitious 2012 deliverables we agreed to at last fall’s posh off-site management retreat. It’s human nature for individuals and organizations to be optimistic about what they can and can’t do about changing behaviors. But those habits are more ingrained than we think.

By the end of January, one-third of people (36 percent) have typically broken their new year’s resolutions, according to new research from John Tierney, The New York Times science columnist, and Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University. By March, about 50 percent will have broken resolutions and by July more than half (56 percent) will have lapsed. The researchers are authors of the new book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.

Setting the table for 2012

When it comes to doing things better in 2012, my colleagues have some great insights to share in today’s issue. Kelly Donovan explains the dos and don’ts of writing specifically for the Web. Bob Burris explains why everyone at your organization, regardless of job title, should think of themselves as a salesperson. And Lyle Fitzsimmons chronicles the challenges of re-branding one’s association.

Associations tend to be pretty good at launching things, but not so great at sustaining them. As my marathon-runner colleague Charles Popper likes to say, “It’s a lot easier to start things than to keep them going for the long haul.” (See related story still popular with our readers almost a year later).

Take social media for instance. Every association wants to prove to members, constituents and competitors that they can Tweet, create videos for YouTube, post updates to Facebook and create dynamic LinkedIn communities. But are they really giving members what they want—much less doing it well? Our research says no.


How far along is your social media strategy?


Source: Association Adviser enews and Naylor, LLC 2011-2012 | N=194

More than 70 percent of the nearly 200 respondents said they still do not have strategy and policy in place, including almost 24 percent still experimenting. Experimenting is great, but it can’t go on forever.

Another recent Association Adviser reader poll found just 19 percent of associations were pleasantly surprised by their social and mobile media initiatives in 2011, and just 18.1 percent were surprised by the success of their member communications programs overall. By contrast, nearly half of respondents were pleasantly surprised by their ability to grow membership in a tough economy.

Tweet that.

Online metrics: out with the old, in with the new


Thanks to technology, many forms of traditional communication are taking a back seat to new alternatives. And so are many of the traditional metrics we’ve used to gauge online and social media efforts. This week’s issue of The Internet & Marketing Report (IMR) predicts three longstanding metrics used by marketers and communications professionals–open rates, fans/followers and page views—should be replaced by more meaningful measures of success today.

1. Open rates. While email open rates can help you gauge the effectiveness of subject lines and timing, IMR says they’re pretty unreliable and becoming more so every year. For example: Some email clients require you to load images for an email to be considered opened. Users are increasingly turning off default image settings to save rendering time, but that also means image-free email won’t be counted as opened. Mobile devices often prefer text-friendly or other non-graphical versions of email and that further wreaks havoc on open rates.

IMR suggests focusing on click-through rates and whether or not your call to action is getting clicks. We also suggest focusing on the amount of time members spend on your emails and related site pages, not whether a member opened or visited.

2. Fans/followers. Having a lot of Facebook fans and Twitter followers may feed your association’s collective ego, but IMR says those stats only measure the potential reach of your message. Most organizations find only a fraction of those fans/followers will see any given message from you. Instead, IMR recommends focusing on traffic that your social media platforms actually drive to your site.

3. Page views. Many marketers turn to PVs as an indicator of how compelling your site’s content is, but IMR says it’s really just an indicator of how well your SEO and other traffic-driving tools are working. Instead, focus on bounce rates and social shares. How well are you holding visitors’ attention (i.e., not bouncing them from your site)? And how frequently are visitors clicking on your social sharing buttons? That will tell you whether members feel your content is worth sending to others.

Virtual meeting technology improving, but face-to-face often preferred


A recent Air Plus study of corporate travel managers found that 81 percent had increased teleconferencing, 71 percent had increased Web conferencing and 38 percent were using specialized virtual conferencing tools. That’s an impressive rate of adoption considering corporate travel budgets are back to pre-recession levels according to the majority (59 percent) of survey respondents.

But before you run out to invest in the latest webcams and headsets, keep in mind that only one in eight (12 percent) respondents felt remote conferencing was “almost always” as effective as meeting in person. Researchers found virtual meetings went over well for internal company meetings as well as for well-established client relationships, but did not seem to be a convincing medium for networking, closing sales or building new relationships.

So think before you Skype. Virtual meetings might save money in the short run, but they can’t often replicate the power of a firm handshake and eye contact in the long run.



Don’t let this article dissuade your organization from trying new things. That’s crucial for staying relevant with your members. As Tom Hood, head of the Maryland State Society of CPAs (MACPA) told me not long ago, an association leader’s main job is to be chief innovation officer and chief collaboration officer. “Make sure your members, your volunteers and your staff are aligned with you and engaged with you,” said Hood. “It’s not ‘my project’ anymore. It’s ‘our’ project. It’s very important that people can see your thinking process clearly and buy into it.”

And speaking of employees, make sure you’re recognizing the efforts of your staff and treating them with respect. The tide is slowly turning in favor or job seekers as nearly 2 million U.S. workers voluntarily left their jobs in November according to the U.S. Labor Department—the highest “quit rate” since before the recession began.

Chip Conley, founder of the Joie de Vivre chain of boutique hotels and author of “Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow,” said compensation is only No. 4 on the list of reasons why employees leave their jobs. Reason No.3—the organization doesn’t “get them;” Reason No. 2, they’re not being recognized or treated with respect and Reason No. 1? Their boss.

As the old saying goes, people join organizations but leave their bosses. If nothing else in 2012, resolve to keep that saying in mind every day you’re in the office.

Hank Berkowitz is the moderator-in-chief of Association Adviser enews.


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