5 Simple Steps That Will Help Your Association Drive Knowledgeable, Strategic Decisions

Posted by Chris Ortega, MBA on Mar 27, 2014 10:32:00 AM

Each and every day you and your team are confronted by questions. You have to make countless decisions revolving around everything from marketing initiatives to budgeting to operations, and each of these directly impacts the future of your association.  As a result, it is imperative that you are implementing the necessary steps and processes needed to make sound decisions in the best interest of your organization, its staff and its members.

With this in mind, a simple question begs to be answered: how should you go about answering the questions that you face on a daily basis? The answer can be found in what I refer to as the decision cycle.  

The decision cycle depicted above will help you and your association make knowledgeable decisions that drive exceptional results.  I myself use this very process when making important forecasting and planning decisions. Today, I am going to share my insights with you and your team so that you can witness the profound impacts of implementing these five simple steps.


The most significant element, and the framework of all sound decisions, are processes.  Processes are vital to any associations as they identify the core steps that need to be completed to reveal data. 

Strong documentation, process mapping, and engaged process owners are the foundation of sound business decisions.  For example, by incorporating process templates to department managers they will have a clear understanding of how to document their main processes, and it will much easier to collect the data necessary to complete the second stage of the decision cycle. Additionally, clearly establishing roles and responsibilities among your staff, as well as actively sharing information throughout the organization, are beneficial in building a high performance team.

Do you currently utilize process templates? Do your staff members know their roles within the organization? Are your association’s strategic goals communicated and understood by all members of your team? Ask yourself these questions, and make sure that you are implementing the processes necessary to optimize the results you receive from executing the decision cycle


The raw output of processes is data.  Data are the tangible pieces of information derived from processes, and in reality define the first step in the actual decision making.

When evaluating and analyzing data, you have to ensure the figures you’re looking at are accurate. You will build comfort and confidence in accuracy by having well thought out processes and consistency in execution. 

Once collected, you can begin to turn your data into information, thus laying the strategic groundwork that you and your team need to make educated business decisions.


As soon as data is collected, you can proceed to the Information stage. During this stage, data will be consolidated so as to begin the most important element in the decision cycle: analysis. 

Analysis, analysis, and yes, more analysis is vital because this is where high value added activities are established (i.e. the particular point in time where variance, trending, segment, and drill down analyses are performed).  Anyone can gather data, but turning that data into manageable information is paramount to successful decision making. 

There an infinite amount of ways to analyze data. For example, by analyzing trends of membership or event data, you could explore answers to the following questions:

  • Is one particular membership group yielding more revenue than another?
  • Does the month of an event drive higher engagement than other months in the year? 

During the Information stage, you should take a deeper dive into answering these types of questions. 


Once data has been collected, and successfully transformed into information, you are now equipped to turn that information into knowledge. This knowledge can, and should be, shared with colleagues, managers, and association executives. 

This stage is specifically where organizations realize the true value of the cycle - empowering future decisions, which are based on concrete information derived from data executed by process owners

Knowledge is power, and is central to associations as it creates an environment where people are empowered with the information and intent that they need to execute upon all aspects within the association.


The last step is making the decision.

If all of the subsequent steps have been successfully executed, anyone is capable of making and/or contributing to the final decision - not just the executive team.  It is important to understand that as a result of the prior steps in the cycle, both comfort and confidence are built to help ensure that a sound final decision is made. Therefore, in reality, the execution is a comprehensive effort by all staff members because of the many touch points that the information has throughout the cycle.

Now that you know the steps of the decision cycle, let’s actually put it into action!

The Decision Cycle in Action

Question/Problem: An association president asks the event manager if they should conduct another networking event with a total cost of $20,000. 

Before arriving at an informed decision, the decision cycle must be put into action.

Processes:  The event manager understands the association has strong processes, which are well documented.  Additionally,  process owners and contributors have been actively engaged in the process. 

Data: From the last networking event, there is plentiful data , including,  number of attendees, location, new members , etc.  Now that you have the data, you can begin exploring the story the data tells.  What questions does it raise?  What answes are provided?  How does the data foreshadow the future?  

Information:  The event manager has analyzed this data and found that the last networking event yielded $35,000 in new membership dues. Additionally, 90% of the participants indicated that they would attend a future event.

Knowledge:  This knowledge was shared with others, and was well received for future networking event considerations.  Moreover, future event enhancements were identified and the team gained insights on how to perform better networking events to drive new membership dues. 

Decision:  With the data collected from prior networking events, the information that was derived from this data and, most importantly, the knowledge gained from the data, what decision would you make?  If each step of the cycle was executed entirely, and with compete accuracy, you and your team should be able to confidently answer this question.


How do you feel about your association’s ability to answer the infinite amount of questions it faces everyday?  Use the decision cycel as your guide and make sure that you are making valuable decisions that benefit your organization and its members. I assure you that you will start to see impactful results. 


Topics: Finance and Operational Efficiency