Dan’s Corner | No Such Thing as Free Coffee
This month marks my 28th-year working at Omnipress. We have a board in the break room that tracks everyone’s tenure, and a co-worker was congratulating me as we filled our coffee mugs. “How many free cups of coffee do you think you’ve drunk in all that time?” she asked. Surprisingly, she does not work in accounting.
But her question got me thinking. First, I wondered “How many times has this coffee maker been cleaned in all that time?” But my second question was about associations. Associations have been around much longer than I have been working here. What are the things that they look back on and say, “Wow, I can’t believe we have done _____ for so long”?
Every morning for the past 28 years, a cup of coffee sounded pretty good in the moment. But when I look back, I start to think, “Hmmm, maybe I should have tried to fill my mug with water a little more from time to time.”
Today’s decisions shape tomorrow’s outcomes
I think associations are a lot like that, too. A new challenge enters their world and they make “in the moment” decisions, which then become “our process”. The process makes sense for that particular moment, but looking back, the picture can be a little different.
When you first start developing continuing ed. courses, for example, it probably made sense to have Judy from marketing handle the printing, packing and shipping of your program materials. But as your list of available titles grow, that “in the moment” decision starts to take up a larger amount of her time every week. Pretty soon, before you know it, you’ve got several staff members trying to solve complex issues like international shipping. Not exactly sticking to their job description which ties their duties to member development.
If you have staff members working on tasks that keep them from your organization’s main goal an hour or two every day, what else does that keep them from working on? Because, after a while, those hours begin to add up. Keeping this practice up over the long-term means that after 10-years you have sacrificed 5,000 hours of your staff’s time to a non-core duty. (And if you want to think about the very long-term, the tasks in this scenario would have accounted for 14,000-hours in my 28-years here at Omnipress!) There are only so many working hours in a year, which strategic initiatives are you not doing during this time?
The accounts payable and receivable in budgeting are important, don’t get me wrong. But to be an effective manager, you have to be aware of the opportunity cost of the projects you decide to pursue. In the earlier example, yes, you are saving money by not having a dedicated staff member or outside vendor handle the shipping of your course materials. But at what price? What is the cost of the time that Judy was not able to actively engage in her role of member outreach? How much of that new member revenue would have offset the cost of outsourcing the shipping of those materials in the first place? And importantly, is your association better positioned for the future with her printing address labels?
So, as I look back at the beverage choices I’ve made over the years, I challenge you to do the same. What are the things that your organization is doing today that are the result of strategic thinking that builds upon your long-term plan? Which things are a result of “in the moment” decisions?
It’s not uncommon to realize that many of the things we do today are a result of decisions that were made “in the moment”, based on what felt right at the time. If you could look back 28-years, knowing what you know now, would you make the same decision? Or, instead, how many of your daily duties are a result of “in the moment thinking”, because, hey, the coffee is free?