Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of a chapter benchmarking project, starting with a well-designed chapter self-assessment tool. Peter Houstle, CEO of Mariner Management, worked with Christi Beatty, vice president of chapter services and member engagement at the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), and some of AGC’s chapter executives on this tool.
In our last post, we discussed why the usual chapter compliance checklist isn’t sufficient for a performance benchmarking project. We also described the impetus behind AGC’s chapter benchmarking project, particularly the role played by chapter executives. In this post, we’ll review the first of the four elements of AGC’s chapter benchmarking project.
The 4 elements of a chapter benchmarking project
Data is just one piece of a chapter benchmarking project. A successful and sustainable approach to chapter benchmarking includes not only the assessment exercise itself but also what you and your chapters do with the results. Through that holistic lens, the AGC project includes four elements:
- Chapter self-assessment
- Resource library
- Chapter leader training and development
Chapter self-assessment at the Associated General Contractors of America
Before developing a chapter assessment, Peter says you must identify and prioritize the elements that define effectiveness. The self-assessment exercise must result in scoring and reports that let chapters know where to focus their energy. Some of the areas you measure might be traditional checklist items, but some should be new performance-focused items.
The board members of AGC’s Executive Leadership Council (ELC)—the dues-paying membership group for AGC’s 89 chapter staff executives—already had a chapter checklist but they wanted to build a tool that would serve as a carrot for improved performance. The ELC board’s mindset on checklists had changed. They weren’t interested in the prescriptive assessment so often used by associations that measures items such as the number of people sent by the chapter to the national conference. They wanted a tool that measured chapter performance.
Peter suggested they only score the things that matter. Sure, ask about compliance checklist items, but only score the short list of things that are true indicators of performance, for example, member recruitment and retention, market penetration, non-dues revenue sources, and gross receipts.
AGC developed KPIs in five areas of association management:
- Operations and Administration
- Membership and Engagement
- Member Services
- Leadership and Volunteers
In each area, the self-assessment asked for details about several KPIs. For example, under the Leadership and Volunteers area, the questions concerned:
- Strategic planning (frequency of planning sessions and plan reviews, succession plan)
- Board and officer terms (average current terms, term limits)
- Board policies (frequency of policy reviews, leadership manual)
- New leadership (vetting process for officers and board, consideration for diversity and competencies, board orientation)
The scores for each of the KPIs fall into four levels:
- Aspiring – below 55%
- Emerging – 55-69%
- Managing – 70-84%
- Optimizing – 85-100%
75% of AGC’s chapters took advantage of the new self-assessment tool. Christi said not to worry about getting full participation; you only need a decent sample size. In AGC’s case, those who complete the self-assessment get access to not only their scorecard but also a 24-page guidebook. The guidebook shows them how they scored in each of the KPI areas and describes best practices to follow to raise those scores as well as links to additional resources on the AGC website.
Other approaches to chapter self-assessment
You could also invite chapters to do a self-assessment as part of your chapter awards program. For each category, provide a list of best practices. Ask chapters to score themselves and describe how they’re meeting those performance standards. Offer this self-assessment to all chapters, even the ones who do not apply for an award, so they can see how they compare and what they can aspire to.
At the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), chapters rated their performance on each item in the award category checklist. By doing so, they could see where they could perhaps do better, according to best practices. For example, if their check signing policy wasn’t following best practices, the chapter leader realized they needed to change that policy—or they’d never win the chapter of the year award.
It gets better. Chapter leaders started reaching out to ACG staff to find out how they could raise their score in the different award categories. Instead of ACG having to tell chapters what they needed to do to comply, the chapters took the initiative to change. At their annual conference, ACG highlighted best practices and programs from award-winning chapters, so high-performance behavior was shared and spread throughout the network.
As you can see from AGC’s and ACG’s examples, collecting benchmarking data is only the first step in a chapter benchmarking project. Now, the transformative work begins: sharing that data with your chapters, providing resources to help them improve performance, and supporting their growth with chapter leader training and development—the topics of the next and last post in this series.