Decision making don’ts

I HAVE always enjoyed reading Dean West’s blogs, which are insightful and laced with a bit of humor. Dean is founder and president of Association Laboratory Inc., a US firm that provides quality information and strategic insights to association leaders.

Below are my takeaways on common decision-making mistakes by associations from Dean’s recent blog Associations Pronounced Dead by Unanimous Decision, combined with my own experiences.

1. Having many decision layers that don’t add value. More often than not, many associations have multi-tiered decision making process that involves different committees in approving, say, a service provider contract.

There is perhaps a procurement committee, an executive committee, the Board, and in some associations, a Board selection subcommittee. The more layers you have that don’t really add any tangible value in the decision making process, the more it is dragging and disadvantageous to your association.

2. Asking the wrong decision-makers to make decisions. It is fascinating and most often frustrating from the point of view of the association professional staff to see a group of volunteer members trying to make a decision on what is good for the organization but not having the necessary knowledge or skill to make one.

For instance, on deciding a new membership model: do you think, even with best intentions, this volunteer group, without working with the professional staff, would come up with a membership model that is realistically applicable to the association? Asking your volunteers to make decisions for which they don’t have the experience nor the expertise is a flaw that has negative consequences for your association.

3. Making decisions on stale or outdated data. Situations around the world constantly evolve and changes have been inevitable. So do your members’ needs and expectations, as amplified by the pandemic.

To think that the environment around you stalls and data you’ve collected from your members’ surveys is good for a couple of years is unrealistic. This, too, relates to the need for an equally evolving decision-making system to continuously track, analyze, interpret, and adapt your strategy accordingly.

You also need the competencies and capacity built into your association to do this critical work. Pretending the world will not change and refusing to build the necessary decision-making infrastructure to adapt to this change would be detrimental to your association.

4. Having a short-sighted decision-making culture that disregards risk as a fundamental necessity. Associations are structurally overcautious and risk-averse organizations in that making fast and effective decisions is hard to come by.

But it is common knowledge that a well-informed risk-taking is necessary for organizational growth and success. There are two main reasons there isn’t much risk-taking in associations.

First, the chief executive is not incentivized by taking a strategic risk. If you take a risk and fail, you are either fired or asked to resign. If you take risk and win, you may get a “pat in the back” but no real perk or benefit; just doing your job.

Second, if you’re a Board member, you may make a big decision; but you won’t be around to see if it works and be recognized if it did due to Board term limits. And if you bungle this decision, your reputation will be at stake.

Octavio Peralta is currently the executive director of the Global Compact Network Philippines and founder and volunteer CEO of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives, the “association of associations.” E-mail:


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