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Is the ARRL ready for the Second Century? Part I

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Next year, the ARRL will mark the 100th anniversary of its founding with a year long celebration including a Centennial National Convention in Hartford, where it all began.  We are proud of what has been accomplished in the first century of the ARRL’s existence.  What’s in store for the second?
— QST June 2013; ARRL CEO David Summer (K1ZZ)

QST magazine is the official publication of the ARRL.  The ARRL’s mission is: “To promote and advance the art, science and enjoyment of Amateur Radio.”

QST has a column, written by CEO David Summer (K1ZZ), called “It seems to Us”

The subject of the June 2013 QST “It Seems to Us” was titled: Building For Our Second Century.

In 2014 the ARRL will be 100 years old.

In the article, CEO Summer recounts some of the history of the ARRL from its beginning including ARRL’s evolving  role as the principle advocate for Amateur Radio to government.

Summer goes on to say that there are tens of thousands of people “…whose lives and careers have been enriched beyond measure” and that we need to recognize “a great debt to those who came before us, who did the difficult and sometimes thankless work of building and sustaining a national association to promote and advance the art, science, and enjoyment of Amateur Radio”

The ARRL Second Century Campaign

The rest of the article is about the ARRL Second Century Campaign.  The vision statement of the ARRL SCC  includes “securing significant financial resources to fund the ARRL’s commitment to its future objectives”.

The article ends by stating the fundraising goal of $10 million by December 31, 2014 and with this statement

None of us can know the specific challenges our association will face in the future or the opportunities that may arise for the ARRL to make Amateur Radio even more valuable as a community and national resource.  But we know this: Our predecessors made great sacrifices so we can enjoy te benefits of Amateur Radio.  We owe the same opportunities to the generations of radio amateurs that will follow us”.   http://www.arrl.org/arrl-second-century-campaign

Everyone who reads the QST article will pick out certain aspects based on their background, experience, and interests.

There are very few books written on the history of Amateur Radio and the ARRL.  In a sense, the history of Amateur Radio is the history of the ARRL.  An older book on the history of Amateur Radio and the ARRL ( I should just assume these are coextensive) is: Fifty Years of ARRL  published by the ARRL.  This book covers the beginnings of the ARRL to about 1950.

A more recent book is: The World of Ham Radio: 1901-1950 by Richard A Bartlett

Both these books cover the first fifty years of the ARRL.  But it is interesting to note that Bartlett’s book was published in 2007.

The missing 50 years of the ARRL (1950 – present)

The casual reader may ask the question, if Bartlett’s book was written in 2007 why did he stop writing about Amateur Radio and the ARRL as if some sort of catastrophe had occurred and both the ARRL and Amateur Radio are of little interest beyond1950?  Did Amateur Radio and the ARRL disappear in the 1950’s?

Bartlett has an answer

Why end this book as of the year 1950?  It is because the story of ham radio’s development essentially takes place in the first fifty years of the twentieth century.  Having been created, accepted, regulated, and achieved permanent status by 1950, the story after that becomes one primarily of repetition.  The one great exception is in the area of technology, and save for minimal descriptions necessary to the story, that has not been our concern.

The last page of the last chapter of Richard Bartlett’s book ends with this:

Time passes on, and the old guard gives way to the newcomers.  In November 1948 death came to Kenneth Bryant Warner, who for nearly thirty years was secretary and general manager of the ARRL.  “It was Maxim who conceived our League, it as Warner  who breathed into it life and energy and vitality, whose balanced judgement and clear vision ensured its growth and success,” reads his obituary. “With his passing we suffer the loss of a great leader, an untiring servant in the cause of amateur radio.”  p. 230 The World of Ham Radio 1901-1950

That’s the end of the story for Bartlett.  In 1950’s and beyond, the ARRL and Amateur Radio entered a state of repetition with no forward progress of the ARRL or Amateur Radio worthy of mention in any following chapters.

Poised for the Second Century?

Posted on the ARRL website regarding CEO David Summers K1ZZ findings (emphasis mine)

Mr. Sumner reported on his research into “state of the art” strategic planning by large membership associations. Perhaps because of the negative impact of the financial upheavals of 2008 and the revolution in electronic publishing, at this time there appears to be no consensus among associations as to the value of strategic planning or the best way for associations to go about it. The ARRL Board last updated the organization’s strategic plan in 2009 and normally would conduct an in-depth review three to five years later. The committee discussed the perceived shortcomings of past strategic planning efforts along with possible improvements. Without taking a formal decision the committee concluded that while strategic planning remains important to the ARRL, planning for a successful Centennial celebration in 2014 is the current priority. A fresh approach to strategic planning should be taken immediately afterward.

The Take (non-Profits)

… We are proud of what has been accomplished in the first century of the ARRL’s existence.  What’s in store for the second?  — ARRL CEO David Summer

Many of us get calls all the time asking for a monetary donation to a worthy cause.  Generally, I ask them what they are going to do with the money.  In most cases, the person doing the solicitation does not know much of anything about how the money will be invested or used by the organization.  These folks are generally just doing the solicitation and are not ready to answer this question.  Understood and accepted.

So the next step, if you want to find out how your money will be invested or used by the organization, is to go to the organization’s web site and check out their strategic plan, programs and initiatives, and the track record of results they have achieved to date.  Some organizations do this better than others.  Many organizations use the Balanced Scorecard along with all the details to show how all the parts of the organization fits together (strategy, operating model, alignment, metrics, measures, etc.)  to deliver its goals in service of the mission.

No matter what model of strategic planning you use, or how you show the tangible benefits, the existence of these assets gives potential donors (monetary, or time as a volunteer) some confidence that the money (or their time commitment)  will in fact be used effectively to further the mission of the organization to the stakeholders.

Creating a sense of confidence for donors

The (historical) absence of these assets is not helping the ARRL Second Century Campaign.  The history of ARRL’s strategic planning effort has been troubled for years.  Further adding questions about the  Second Century Campaign is the statement made by CEO David Summer K1ZZ on the ARRL web site quoted above.  And most recently in the June 2013 QST article (emphasis mine)

None of us can know the specific challenges our association will face in the future or the opportunities that may arise for the ARRL to make Amateur Radio even more valuable as a community and national resource.

This statement strikes me as profound

Is this to say that we “throw up our hands”, not have a plan, and live day-by-day just because we can not know, with (technical) certainty, what the future will hold? It is exactly this situation of imperfect information and an uncertain future where CEO’s and executive leadership can shine.  It is exactly this situation where CEO’s can differentiate themselves by being able to navigate these uncharted waters to identify opportunities which the organization can exploit to move it forward.

Some CEO’s see the same event either as threat or opportunity.  In the 1990’s, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com saw the potential of the internet for selling books that no traditional bookseller could see – it was the beginning of the demise of the traditional bookseller.  In 1979 Steve Jobs saw at Xerox PARC the potential of a graphical user interface for personal computers that no Xerox executive could see.  David Sarnoff saw the potential for wireless “one-to-many broadcasting” and built the RCA corporation.  In this same vein, what in the current environment does the ARRL see as its opportunity?

Restoring confidence in the ARRL and Amateur Radio’s future

The ARRL could help its cause in its Second Century Campaign by having “in hand” a plan when asking for monetary donation.  Or better, to have a story to tell  to potential donors about what the ARRL has accomplished since “The First Fifty years” up to the present.  What is the compelling vision of the future for the ARRL and Amateur Radio – who the ARRL is and why they matter in the current context where always-on wireless global connectivity is available to nearly everyone on the planet.  What is the strength of ARRL executive management team and what is the record of their accomplishments?  What executive “bench strength” has the ARRL accumulated over the years?  Treat the ARRL Century Campaign as a VC (Venture Capital) due diligence test and you will probably know all the questions a major donor would ask.

Messaging – Perception is Reality

The combination of Richard A Bartlett’s sentiments quoted above about “50 years of ARRL repetition with no forward progress worthy of mention”, CEO David Summer’s statement that “there appears to be no consensus among associations as to the value of strategic planning or the best way for associations to go about it” and his most recent statementNone of us can know the specific challenges… or the opportunities that may arise” does not give one confidence that the ARRL knows its destiny or that our donation will be used effectively.”

In essence, the messaging and perception might be: we don’t see the value of having a forward-looking plan; don’t know how to create one – we are waiting on a consensus from others to tell us how to do that; and we are not sure of the challenges or opportunities that face our organization today or in the future.  Will this motivate any potential donor to open their wallet and give a large donation?  “Repetition of yesterday”  is the easy way out of this conundrum – but it won’t inspire anyone.

The role of the CEO and executive leadership

There are opportunities and challenge every day!  The role of the CEO and executive leadership is to diagnose the situation and trends – to “see around corners”.  It’s an exercise in CEO and executive leadership analysis, choices, and direction setting followed by execution – allocating resources, aligning people to measurable goals and outcomes, and holding them accountable.  The formula is pretty simple.  The devil is in the details and discipline of execution.  The ability to navigate and accomplish all of this, and to be transparent to stakeholders all along the way,  is a differentiator among CEO’s in any industry.  Even if an organization has a strategic plan, the majority fail in execution.

There is an old saying, “If you want to know the future, create it”.  We can learn this from anyone who taken advantage of disruption and changed an industry.  In a sense, uncertainty, disruption, imperfect knowledge is just what some CEO’s need to redefine and reposition their organization to lead in the future.  One only needs to look to Steve Jobs who, in 1996, snatched Apple out of near bankruptcy to make it the most valuable company in America in 2012.  In the process Apple redefined the personal computer industry, the music industry, and what we understand as a telephone.

Why can’t this apply to the ARRL?  Is it time for the ARRL to stop the “50 years of tiresome repetition” that inspire only a rare few of the up and coming generations?  Isn’t it time for the ARRL to re/position itself for the Second Century?

ARRL CEO David Summer titled his article “Building the Second Century“.  He thinks of this in terms of the primacy of a donor action of a financial contribution.  Where is the concomitant organizational action – long overdue?  Building denotes concept, design, architecture, and construction.  Show us the blueprint for the ARRL Cathedral of the Second Century.  And only then, will major donors fund your enterprise.

Read more

The work of one such organizational architect

American Radio Relay League – The Future Mission
December 12, 2003 by Richard Kiefer, K0DK

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ARRL: Does the ARRL need a Strategic Plan?

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Management is about generating yesterday’s results.  Leadership puts the leader on the line.  No manual, no rulebook, no uberleader to point the finger at when things go wrong. Leaders are vulnerable, not controlling, and they are taking us to a new place, not to the place of cheap, fast, compliant safety.

Strategy in the Corporate World

A few days ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave an interview to the UK Daily Mail.  In that interview, Zuckerberg talked about Facebook’s greatest challenge and missed opportunities.  “Facebook’s biggest challenge – and its greatest opportunity lies in mobile devices which is an area that the company did not pay much attention to until just last year.”

About a week ago I watched a Bloomberg video interview of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland.  In that interview she talked about the future of Yahoo and the concept of the “interest graph” to compete in search against Google and Facebook

A few months ago Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman appeared at the quarterly earnings call to talk about the HP turnaround.  An extensive amount of material was presented detailing the turnaround and how all levels of the company will become aligned to the new strategy.

Everyone has one…

Needless to say, every public company has a strategy.  Strategy is driven by the recognition (diagnosis) of challenges and opportunities.  The nature of the challenges and opportunities sets the stage to formulate an  approach to best address the situation.  The approach translates into the development and execution of a coordinated set of actions across the enterprise along with metrics and measure to assess progress.  You can see this clearly played out in HP’s multi-year turnaround strategy made public at the recent quarterly earnings call.

In general, you can look in just about any quarterly report or annual report of a public company and find the strategy.  They differ in degree consistent with the diagnosis of the extent of the perceived challenge and opportunity in the external and competitive environment in which they operate.

Strategy in government agencies and charities

So why is it that NASA and the ARRL have such difficulty when it comes to formulating a strategy?

NASA

In late 2011, the Congress directed the NASA Office of Inspector General to commission a “comprehensive independent assessment of NASA’s strategic direction and agency management.”

In part, this is what it said:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is at a transitional point in its history and is facing a set of circumstances that it has not faced in combination before…

Other than the long-range goal of sending humans to Mars, there is no strong, compelling national vision for the human spaceflight program, which is arguably the centerpiece of NASA’s spectrum of mission areas…

Although gaps in U.S. human spaceflight capability have existed in the past, several other factors, in combination, make this a unique period for NASA. These include a lack of consensus on the next steps in the development of human spaceflight, increasing financial pressures, an aging infrastructure, and the emergence of additional space-capable nations—some friendly, some potentially unfriendly…

These problems are not primarily of NASA’s doing, but the agency could craft a better response to the uncertainty, for example, by developing a strategic plan that includes clear priorities and a transparent budget allocation process. A better response would improve NASA’s ability to navigate future obstacles and uncertainties. An effective agency response is vital, because at a time when the strategic importance of space is rising and the capabilities of other spacefaring nations are increasing, U.S. leadership is faltering…

The ARRL (American Radio Relay League)

The ARRL as an organization is nearly 100 years old.  Below is their self-diagnosed position on a strategic plan

Posted on the ARRL web site regarding CEO David Summers K1ZZ findings (emphasis mine)

Mr. Sumner reported on his research into “state of the art” strategic planning by large membership associations. Perhaps because of the negative impact of the financial upheavals of 2008 and the revolution in electronic publishing, at this time there appears to be no consensus among associations as to the value of strategic planning or the best way for associations to go about it. The ARRL Board last updated the organization’s strategic plan in 2009 and normally would conduct an in-depth review three to five years later. The committee discussed the perceived shortcomings of past strategic planning efforts along with possible improvements. Without taking a formal decision the committee concluded that while strategic planning remains important to the ARRL, planning for a successful Centennial celebration in 2014 is the current priority. A fresh approach to strategic planning should be taken immediately afterward.

Challenge and Opportunity

What NASA and the ARRL have in common when it comes to the difficulty in strategic planning revolves around the assessment of challenge and opportunity.  This has many dimensions.  Partial considerations are suggested below.

In a sense, for NASA, it’s a case of “mission accomplished”.  It’s fair to say that NASA’s biggest challenge and accomplishment was putting a man on the moon and bringing him safely back to earth.  This was the challenge that President Kennedy set for NASA on May 25, 1961.  NASA accomplished this goal in July 1969 with Apollo 11.  NASA repeated this accomplishment five more times with Apollo 12,14,15, and 17.

NASA Mission accomplished – six times over.  Now what?

For the ARRL, in a sense, just as in the case of NASA, for the ARRL it’s also “mission accomplished”.  I will have to rely on Richard Bartlett’s assessment in his book The World of Ham Radio, 1901-1950: a social history.

In the epilogue of the book, published in 2007, Bartlett provides an answer for those who would ask him the obvious question: If you published the book in 2007 then why end the history of amateur radio and the history of the ARRL in 1950?  What happened in Amateur Radio and the ARRL over the past 57 years which is not accounted for in the book?

Why end this book as of the year 1950?  It is because the story of ham radio’s development essentially takes place in the first fifty years of the twentieth century.  Having been created, accepted, regulated, and achieved permanent status by 1950, the story after that becomes one primarily of repetition.  The one great exception is in the area of technology, and save for minimal descriptions necessary to the story, that has not been our concern.

ARRL Mission accomplished – back in 1950.  Now what?

NASA and the ARRL – Sources of identity

NASA and the ARRL have something else in common of a deeper nature.

The identities and goals of both organizations was set externally.

The Congress and the President of the United States created the national Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on October 1, 1958.  Amateur Radio was first governed by the U.S. Department of Commerce (the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor until March 1913), then by the Federal Radio Commission, and finally (in 1934) by the FCC.

The broad missions of each organization was set by other agencies

For NASA, the preamble to the act of congress was, “An Act to provide for research into the problems of flight within and outside the Earth’s atmosphere, and for other purposes.”   For Amateur Radio, the definition of the Amateur Radio Service was set in Part 97 Amateur Radio Service Subpart A–General Provisions §97.1 Basis and purpose.

If an organization gets its identity and goals outside of itself, then how much latitude does the organization have (or, think it has) when it senses that its basic purpose or goals need to evolve to stay relevant as the external environment changes?

Engineering and operations, not Strategy

The third aspect that the ARRL and NASA have in common is based on the combination of the two commonalities mentioned above.

Insofar as the identity of each organization was set externally outside the organization.  And, insofar as the goals of the organization were set externally outside the organization both organizations developed a culture of, what could be called, engineering and operations.  There was no need for either organization to develop the capability to re/define identify and or re/establish strategic goals.  The operating model of such an organization has a focus of delivering preestablished goals and sustaining ongoing operations.

In the corporate world this is never the case.  Corporations are constantly challenged to re/define their identity and re/position in the context of the ever-changing environment of challenges, opportunity, and competition.  The job of assessing and diagnosing the environment, framing an approach, and then aligning execution and resources is the job of the Chief Executive with oversight from the Board of Directors.  So, it’s no wonder that analysts, on a quarterly basis, will badger Zuckerberg, Mayer, Whitman, and every other CEO of a public company  into articulating their latest strategy.

The Take

What are the legitimate reasons for any organization to not have a strategic plan?

Well, probably the most obvious reason based on what is written above is that  an organization without a strategic plan does not recognize any challenge or opportunity in the context in which it operates.

If there is no new challenge and no new opportunity and you are satisfied with the organizations current performance then there is no need of any strategic plan.  One simply operates in a state of sustainability by repetition – for as long as you can maintain it within a budget, or for as long as you continue to not recognize a challenge or opportunity in the external environment,  or for as long as you can get away with it until stakeholders commission a “comprehensive assessment” (as in the case of Congress and NASA above) to find out why you don’t have a compelling vision of the future that can engage a national interest.

The last page on the last chapter of Richard Bartlett’s book ends with this:

Time passes on, and the old guard gives way to the newcomers.  In November 1948 death came to Kenneth Bryant Warner, who for nearly thirty years was secretary and general manager of the ARRL.  “It was Maxim who conceived our League, it as Warner  who breathed into it life and energy and vitality, whose balanced judgement and clear vision ensured its growth and success,” reads his obituary. “With his passing we suffer the loss of a great leader, an untiring servant in the cause of amateur radio.  p. 230 The World of Ham Radio 1901-1950

The way Bartlett ends his book begs the question as to why he thinks Amateur Radio and the ARRL entered a state of 57 years of unremarkable repetition.  Was it because every ounce of value was developed from Amateur Radio’s pre-defined identity and purpose?  Or, was it because in 1948 Amateur Radio and the ARRL ran out of great leaders like Bryant who “breathed into it life and energy and vitality… [ that] ensured its growth and success.” .

Bartlett does not give an answer – one way or the other.

Related Reading

NASA: What to do after Mission Accomplished
ARRL: Reaping the Whirlwind

The Boy Scouts recently celebrated its centennial
Read the intro to the Strategic Plan from Chief Executive Robert J. Mazzuca

As our first century of Scouting comes to a close, I am delighted to share with you our 2011–2015 National Council Strategic Plan. This document represents the confluence of our vital mission with a clear corporate direction and will be the cornerstone for our second century of Scouting. I am particularly proud of the grassroots support and feedback given by Scouters throughout the country that provided guidance as we developed objectives and goals that are in direct support of local councils. This investment made in setting our course may well be one of the most significant accomplishments in the history of our movement.

The National Council is committed to following this strategic direction with a very formal process; allocating manpower and financial resources appropriately, and setting course corrections as the environment dictates.

The stakes are simply too high to put forth anything but our best effort

And then read the 2011-2015 Strategic Plan

It’s amazing how many opportunities CEO’s get to differentiate themselves.

ARRL: Reaping the Whirlwind

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“Why end this book as of the year 1950?  It is because the story of ham radio’s development essentially takes place in the first fifty years of the twentieth century.  Having been created, accepted, regulated, and achieved permanent status by 1950, the story after that becomes one primarily of repetition.  The one great exception is in the area of technology, and save for minimal descriptions necessary to the story, that has not been our concern.
The World of Ham Radio, 1901-1950: a social history by Richard Bartlett

It is rather interesting that a book published in 2007 ends with the above Epilogue.  The author is essentially saying that, for him, the evolution of ham radio ended in the 1950’s  and so that is where his book on Amateur Radio will cease to tell the story.  There is nothing else to report other than “repetition”.  It’s a sort of “Mission Accomplished” and the date in history is 1950.

Look in the index of the book and you will find that the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) has about the most page references of any entry.  The ARRL figures prominently in the story of Amateur Radio since its founding at the beginning of the 20th century up until where the author ends the story.

A couple of weeks ago there was a segment on 60 minutes on the newspaper industry.  The newspaper industry just like traditional book sellers, travel agents, video rental, and all the rest have been hit by a technological revolution.  This technological revolution can be seen either as death through  irrelevancy or as harbinger of opportunity – depending on your perspective.

Repetition

Newspapers are in trouble because they continue to do what they do, and what they always did – print newspapers no matter what the massive changes (opportunities) that were in front of them all along.  Traditional newspapers are in  trouble because they were in a state of repetition while the whole world changed, and continues to change, around them.  Printed newspaper are falling into a state of irrelevancy for an increasing large number of people.

In the case of the The Times-Picayune which was profiled on 60 Minutes the reason the paper gave for not changing was the traditional audience for the paper.  The idea being that they would be loyal to their current audience and the preferences this particular audience chooses to consume their news.  But, in the end, the current audience and their preferences could not sustain the ongoing full operation of The Times-Picayune.

The Take

There is an interesting parallel between the decision of the author of The World of Ham Radio published in 2007 to cut short the history of Ham Radio in 1950 and the newspaper industry.  Both the ARRL as a proxy for Amateur Radio and The Times-Picayune as proxy for newspapers in general are caught in decades long cycles of repetition.  Both remain loyal to their existing audience.  The audience for both is generational.

As for the The Times-Picayune newspaper they were forced into shutting down parts of the enterprise due to financial concerns brought about by change.  They were forced into this unplanned event based on financial drivers.

As for the ARRL, it seems to be a waiting game of how they deal technological change which makes Amateur Radio an interesting hobby in the context of our taken-for-granted always-on hyper global connectivity available to anyone with a smart phone  and the issue of their membership which shows a clear generational preference.

This is from ARRL CEO David Summer K1ZZ posted on the ARRL website:

Mr. Sumner reported on his research into “state of the art” strategic planning by large membership associations. Perhaps because of the negative impact of the financial upheavals of 2008 and the revolution in electronic publishing, at this time there appears to be no consensus among associations as to the value of strategic planning or the best way for associations to go about it. The ARRL Board last updated the organization’s strategic plan in 2009 and normally would conduct an in-depth review three to five years later. The committee discussed the perceived shortcomings of past strategic planning efforts along with possible improvements. Without taking a formal decision the committee concluded that while strategic planning remains important to the ARRL, planning for a successful Centennial celebration in 2014 is the current priority. A fresh approach to strategic planning should be taken immediately afterward.

In 2014 the ARRL will celebrate its 100th anniversary.  One would wonder if the ARRL  Centennial celebration – its current organizational priority – is primarily a look back or a look forward.  If it’s a look forward then can the ARRL afford a delay in the Strategic Plan that sets its course for the future in the context of its membership which is in a generational bubble and modern taken-for-granted hyper-connectivity global communications technology available to anyone with a smart phone – not just those with an Amateur Radio license.

“at this time there appears to be no consensus among associations as to the value of strategic planning or the best way for associations to go about it“… is that what happened to the newspaper business in general and The Times-Picayune in particular?

Read more…

NASA: What to do after Mission Accomplished?

Written by frrl

January 14, 2013 at 6:58 pm

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