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Understanding your Chamber’s North Star

October 29, 2021Doug Peters, President & CEO of the Abilene Chamber

I remember years ago, as a youngster in the Chamber of Commerce business, delivering a presentation to aspiring and existing entrepreneurs on how to start and expand a business. Every Tuesday morning from 9:00-11:00 am. And, again, on Thursdays from 3:00-5:00 pm. I had that presentation down.

And in the 35 years since those early days as a staff member of the Dayton, Ohio, Chamber, there’s one thing I shared in those information sessions that has stuck with me.

I’d share with those folks the importance of planning. Understanding where they wanted to go in their business, and the value of having a written plan to help them get there.

I likened it to trying to drive a car without a steering wheel.

And as corny as that analogy was, it helped people. They began to think about planning in a different way.

Your Chamber does the same thing. Each summer, we tuck ourselves away – board members, committee chairs, staff – and talk about three things.

First, we talk about the feedback we’ve received from our membership that speaks to the value they receive for their investment. We take the time to understand and evaluate what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and whether or not it still matters.

Second, we take a look at the current conditions. What has changed since we last set out to plan on behalf of the region’s chief business advocacy organization? And I can tell you that I’ve seen and lived more change in the last two years than in my prior 33 years, combined.

And third, we talk about member expectations and how our work on their behalf can benefit their bottom line, both directly and indirectly. Remember, the Board and committee chairs are, well, you. They’re your representatives in an organization whose mission is to enhance our regional economy and the quality of life that attracts people to live, work and raise families here.

Through intense interaction and dialogue, what emerges from our summer planning initiative is a strategy, known in Chamber circles as a Program of Work.

That document becomes our “North Star.” We look to that document daily as we make decisions throughout the year. And we ensure that we’re doing what we’ve committed to, in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

In that Program of Work are key priorities of the organization – initiatives and efforts that are important to the Board and, by extension, your business or organization. Once priorities are identified and agreed upon, we create a plan – a document that not only sets out what we’ll do, but also how we’ll do it and ultimately how we will measure our progress. This month, the Board will vote to approve the Chamber’s Program of Work, our “North Star,” for this year.

It isn’t a one-size fits all document, either. We know that each year has its own dynamic and fluid influences. We allow for those things that happen that require our attention. And we know that no matter how hard we try, we can never be all things to all people. But we won’t stop trying.

And to ensure that we’re meeting the expectations of our partners while still leaving that time to react to situations that require our attention, we’ll once again look to adopt five specific organizational goals. Each goal has objectives and measurements in place, so our volunteer-led organization is held accountable for the items they deem most important over this next year. Those goals include:

  1. Deliver relevant and high-quality member programs, events, services, and information to the business community. The backbone of what we do every day. At the direction of our executive committee, we’re going to look at our current programs and events to ensure we’re bringing value to our members while engaging our partners.
  2. Work to ensure the Big Country business environment is inclusive for all. We’re going to work to attract, retain and engage businesses and professionals across our entire community. This is about helping create opportunity for all and ensuring that everyone has access to the tools and programs to help them succeed.
  3. Accelerate Abilene’s business friendliness. We continue to look for the right space to create a campus for entrepreneurship and business that will include some of our like-minded community partners.
  4. Grow, recruit, retain and nurture talent and workforce needed for the future. Workforce continues to be the biggest challenge we hear in our conversations with our partners. In order to keep Abilene competitive, this must continue to stay at the forefront of our efforts. Today’s efforts will yield results in the future.
  5. Continue to operate the Chamber with excellence. We’re going to continue to be good stewards of our resources (and that includes your time!) and will track and measure our work against our goals. We will strive to provide you great return on your investment.

We’re grateful for the support we get through those businesses who support us and drive our mission. Thank you for your commitment.

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