February 7, 2021

Lean Associations ? for a Sustainable Future

Sustainable Future

Progressive organizations are always looking for ways to serve their members more effectively and less expensively.

To that end, many may begin exploring efficiencies, as a way of ensuring sustainable futures. Some call this ?Going Lean?.

Using Lean techniques to reduce waste allows managers to operate more cost effectively, maintaining the quality of the services offered, using members? fees more economically, and, possibly, as necessary, being able to sustain operations, with fewer members.

What is ?Lean??

Lean is a system of thinking and way of working that emphasizes reducing waste in both time and material costs while providing the same, or enhanced, value.

According to authors Shayne Kavanagh and Jeff Cole, ?

Lean is often thought of as a process improvement method, known for its expansive toolset for improving efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace. And while those are perhaps the most tangible benefits, the true power of Lean is its ability to transform the culture of an organization ? encouraging an entire workforce to work together as they strive for continual improvement. In that state, Lean is no longer a project to be completed; it has been ingrained into the DNA of the organization.

Lean may be a re-discovered or recycled concept, re-applied in a new age of Association and Membership Development.

Core Concepts

To start, it?s important to think in terms of how work creates value. Value is a product of quality, cost, and timeliness. Lean encourages us to truly understand who benefits from the services we offer, and what they expect. Only then can we begin to improve the value our members receive.

It can come as a shock to realize that, often, less than 10 percent of workers? time is spent on activities that add value. The implication is that an overwhelming proportion of time is spent on activities that don?t add value, or put more harshly, waste resources.

And waste is a core concept. Prudent stewardship of our environments, all environments, both natural and artificial, demands eliminating activities that waste, or spoil, valuable resources.

What is ?waste? then?

Using these new approaches, ?waste? could be defined as:

Errors. For example, when the wrong product is sent to a customer, or when a member can?t get the information they need when they ask, or search, for it. These mistakes, or ineffectiveness, wastes time and energy.

Over-Processing or putting more work into a product or service than is necessary. Over-inspecting, perhaps by management not trusting staff, or requiring an excessive level of control, wastes time and energy.

Waiting. When staff are idle, waiting for management to complete an authorization or approval, money, resources, that could otherwise been put to use productively, is wasted.

Excessive Inventory. Keeping too much of anything on-hand is wasteful. It costs money to maintain inventory, and takes up valuable resources to store, running the risk of the information or product going out of date before it is ever used.

Packaging. In today?s society, every effort should be made to streamline the distribution and delivery of product, to avoid negative environmental outcomes, and to increase the efficiency of the process.

And, last, but definitely, not least;

Under-utilizing People?s Abilities. This may be the most insidious and egregious form of waste period. Failing to recognize and make use of a person?s full range of talents, skills, and knowledge or to train someone so as to enhance their capacity and fulfill their potential is beyond wasteful. If there is such a thing as sin, this is one.


Going Lean does not suppose that waste can ever be completely eliminated, but it does encourage an organization to minimize waste. In fact, one could argue that eliminating waste, can actually add value to your final product or service, by speeding up response time, for example.

And, best of all, your members will notice. Your ratings will improve. After all, we?re all looking for 5 star reviews, and comments like ?Wow, you were really great about getting me that information. Thank you so much!?

And, your staff will notice. Engaging them in the process, will lead to any number of positive suggestions that reveal where the process wasn?t working before. Remember, this isn?t about getting rid of staff; it?s about getting rid of waste. In a lean organization, all staff is fully active, appreciated and actualizing their potential

The best way to start, is, just that, start, and start incrementally. And remember to engage your staff, so that they don?t fear the exercise, but embrace it. After all, their ability to say they contributed to efficiencies at work can be an impressive accomplishment to add to their own resumes, when they decide to further their own careers.

The Pandemic has taught us, and is teaching us, many things about the Art of the Possible, the Need to be Resilient, and the importance of providing Value to Members. Going Lean can help with all of those challenges.

Good Luck! And let me know how you?re doing.

Paul McKay

Paul McKay, CAE is Senior Consultant with McKay Associates. The concepts presented in this article are based on research published in the Government Finance Review, as originally sponsored by the Government Finance Officers Association. Paul can be reached through LinkedIn @ https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-mckay-cae

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