I met an elected president who was eager to lead. He had a lofty presidential agenda to achieve. When I checked in with him a year later, he was frustrated that what he set out to do was not completed as he had hoped.

Every chief elected officer wants to have a successful year. Their ambitions are expressed in installation speeches and inaugural president's messages.

Not all presidential initiatives come to fruition. Factors such as lack of support, unexpected distractions and too much to do with too little resources will be roadblocks.

One way to approach success is through reverse engineering. The concept is a process in which a system, product or outcome is analyzed backward to identify the steps needed for the desired result. It is often applied to manufacturing or software development — but works for associations, too.

Consider this example. The elected president announces, "The association will pass a government regulation to protect the profession." Chances of success are enhanced by analyzing the steps and working backward.

One way to frame reverse engineering is to use the criteria in the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Nearly every U.S. state has a similar-quality model promoting organizational excellence.

Organizational elements

The Baldrige Award criteria includes seven elements.

  • Leadership: How the board and staff leads the organization and the community.
  • Strategy: How the organization develops and implements a strategic plan.
  • Customers: How the organization builds and maintains relationships with members. Factors might include satisfaction levels, market share, retention rate and value for dues investment.
  • Measurement: How the organization uses data to support key processes and manage performance. Nearly everything in an association can be measured and reported with dashboards.
  • Workforce: How the organization empowers and involves its paid workforce. Factors may include sufficient investment in professional development and longevity of staff.
  • Operations: How the association develops, manages and improves processes and procedures. Associations often document activities in manuals — for instance, leadership, policies, communications and crisis management manuals.
  • Results: Whether the association has significant results, for example, improving safety, reducing unemployment, enhancing the economy or passing the new law the elected president announced.

Reverse engineer the goal

In the example of the president intending to pass a regulation to protect the profession, aligning the Baldrige elements will advance success. Here are the steps in reverse order:

  • Results: Even though this is the seventh criteria in Baldrige, start with and describe the vision of success. For example, the outcome for the elected president who announced the goal of passing government regulation to protect the profession. Frame a clear vision in which others can support.
  • Operations: The sixth criteria focuses on operations. Do we have the operations to support it? It may take a letter writing campaign, group visit to the capitol or development of a white paper.
  • Workforce: The fifth criteria is the workforce needed to support the efforts. Lobbying is often outsourced. Staff involvement is important for a comprehensive approach.
  • Measurement: The fourth criteria is to measure the interim steps while working toward the goal. Metrics may include increasing contacts with lawmakers, measuring public opinion and raising political support.
  • Membership: The third item in Baldrige is member involvement. Engage the membership through grassroots and capitol visits are logical next step.
  • Strategy: The second-to-last criteria is to develop a strategic plan to carry out the goal. Dealing with government regulation often takes more than a year's work.
  • Leadership: Finally, get the buy-in of leaders. They should agree on a position, rationale and consistent messaging for a unified approach.

"Reverse engineering is an easy process. If one doesn't have the vision for success, it rarely happens," said Bill Pawlucy, CAE and former Malcolm Baldrige National Examiner.


Often, goals are announced but fall short. Possibly the elements were not identified and aligned. Perhaps success was not envisioned in the beginning. Use the Baldrige model to reverse engineer and set a plan for success.