What do you need to graduate from?

Graduation season is pretty much done for another year, at least in North America. Even if it’s not a milestone year for the student, one that involves mortarboards and robes and speeches, the end of school is a clear transition – you leave behind one grade and look ahead.

But why should the idea of graduation just be for students? There are often times in organizations when we have to realize that we have moved beyond what we used to be. Just let go of what we used to do, in order move forward. Not necessarily because the world is ending, but just because it’s time.

When do you know that time has come?

  • The field has evolved so far away from you, that you are on the periphery, when you once were the centre.
  • You talk about tradition and culture a lot – but to a decreasing audience. Or, there are a lot of complaints about the younger generation – without much real understanding.
  • Your most successful programs or services are the ones that are hardest to reconcile with your past – or your current mission.
  • There are parts of your organization that, if I were to ask you about them, you’d sigh, and say, “Oh, right. That.” And then just sigh again.

School principals have started planning for next year’s freshmen long before they actually wave goodbye to this year’s seniors. It’s just part of the natural rhythm. How can you get into a healthy rhythm about moving forward into the future?

Be evidence-based.

This isn’t about change for the sake of it. It’s a bout aligning operations to strategy, it’s about freeing up resources for what you want to do. Do the analysis to show clearly why the change you have in mind will help the organization, and include the opportunity costs of not doing it.

Understand some people will hate it.

Those who have more at stake with how things are done are going to be the loudest, whether they’re staff, volunteers, or members at large. But think more broadly than that – help them see the bigger picture, and get more comfortable with forward movement.

Be bold – and patient.

But if you set a timeframe for this graduation, there’s a built-in limit to the patience.

By next June, what do you want to be leaving behind? What do you want to be growing into? How can you make that happen between now and then?

If you’d like to talk about how we can help you figure out what you want to leave behind, please get in touch.

Photo by Flickr user mOOby, used under Creative Commons license.

Contact us at meredith@meredithlow.com or call 416-737-3935 to discuss how we might be able to help.


We offer resources to help leaders of associations and other not-for-profits think about their approach to strategy and governance, from various perspectives.