Don’t Punt Away Opportunities

If you want to bring value to your members don’t “punt away” opportunities 
by Sandy Costa

“If everyone agrees out of fear or ignorance to sort of play
ultraconservative, nobody really has an advantage.”

                                                                                                   –Brian Burke

The quote above comes from a really interesting article I read about football.  The article claims that when faced with a fourth down, teams would be more successful it they tried to make a first down rather than always punting the ball away.  The point is that coaches always punt for fear of being criticized for taking unacceptable risks.  Simply stated, they won’t change!  Of course, if no one changes then no one gains a competitive advantage.  There are lots of things your members seek from your association.  But no matter how long the list, first and foremost what members really want is for your association to add value.  Value that contributes to the overall success of your member companies but also to the benefit of the folks who run them.  But if your association won’t step off the curb of conformity, if it won’t change in new and exciting ways, then how could it add more value to its members?  Blind hope won’t do it- even hope requires the will and way to achieve a goal.

Here are a few tips on how to embrace change and enhance the value of your association.

1) Promote a culture that embraces change.  Look at a list of the top 100 companies in 1900 then fast forward to the year 2000.  Guess how many of those companies survived?  Give up?  Only sixteen companies-not many!  Think about it – those companies survived two world wars, the Great Depression, countless recessions and unimagined changes in technology, social and cultural norms.  How did they do it?  They remained great learning organizations.  Make sure everyone in your association is a great “learner,” individuals who pay attention to the changes that occur daily and are excited by the opportunities imbedded in those changes.  You and those you work with must be folks who don’t want to be left behind!

2) Fear of change evaporates when facts come on the scene.  “Fearless” people have fear come into their lives just like you and me but they are not afraid.  Why is that?  They have the courage to examine the changes taking place.  When dramatic change occurs what most of us do is hunker down and hope it will fly past- that it won’t affect our lives.  But with no facts in hand we conjure up the worst possible scenarios of what a change will bring about.  We freeze in our tracks.  Before you tell your team and your members how you are changing, tell then why change is needed.  In that way they will understand that you are changing to get to a better place! 

3) Mistakes are sometimes overrated.  There is no question that we have all made mistakes that were whoppers.  Now in certain professions we are compensated to make as few mistakes as practicable.  We really prefer that our doctor makes as few mistakes as possible-right?  But in the operational realm of organizations, if folks aren’t making some mistakes I can guarantee you that your outfit is dead in the water.  So relax in knowing that creativity and innovation spawn success but also some false starts, and that imbedded in most mistakes is a teaching worth finding.

4) Shun the status quo.  Every now and again someone will claim to offer you a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”  But that’s not true.  Throughout our lives, we are offered only one such opportunity-it is, of course, this day.  It will never come again-nope no “do-over’s” allowed. Think about that when you get up tomorrow morning.  Think about the unique chance each day offers for you to succeed at one of your key responsibilities-to increase the value of what your association offers its members-a once in a lifetime opportunity for sure.

Remember, make sure your association is imbued with a cultural DNA that embraces the need to change in ways that brings a constantly increased value to your membership.

Sandy Costa formerly served as senior vice-president and general counsel for Glaxo and as president and COO of Quintiles. He is author of Humanity at Work and can be contacted on his website at