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The Power of Water - June 2015


June 2015
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Continuity & Change

Continuity and change. These are two words you rarely hear in the same sentence but they have been on my mind lately. As the process to find my successor unfolds and I prepare to step down at the end of July, these two words have taken on new meaning.

No matter what, someone else will be running NACWA. And this new leader, working in partnership with the Board, will take NACWA in a new direction to meet the challenges of the 21st century. This is not only appropriate, it is essential to the well-being of any association because those that do not embrace change, die on the vine.

NACWA has always embraced change and the evolving needs of its members. We have changed our name from AMSA to NACWA to signify a broad shift in how we perceive our role and how others should perceive our industry. We have transformed the reputation of our members from polluters to true environmentalists and public stewards. We started as a small band of 15 agencies and now represent the large majority of the sewered population in the U.S. We started as a policy organization focused solely on funding and now are the trusted resource on a full suite of technical and policy issues at the national and, increasingly, the regional and state level. We are changing the way the Clean Water Act is implemented and we are branding our sector as resource recovery agencies with the Utility/Industry of the Future initiative.

While change is critical for the survival of an organization, there are key aspects of an organization that the Board of Directors, the membership and the staff have thoughtfully built together over decades that are inviolate and must endure. One such aspect is NACWA’s core purpose to “be the leading advocate for responsible national policies that advance clean water”. Equally important and inviolate is NACWA’s culture, which is steeped in the character of its members: dedication; service; loyalty; a sense of being a part of a great family; and, underlying it all, a results-driven mindset based on a vital sense of mission.

In the final analysis, “continuity” and “change” are essential ingredients that work together to drive successful organizations. Yet, in politics, in business, and in association management, we want to know whether our future leaders are “change agents” or simply “supporters of the status quo”? This, however, is a classic Hobson’s choice, a forced decision between two concepts that in and of themselves are meaningless. “Rocking the boat” or “change for change’s sake” is counterproductive if not downright foolish. And only a fool would maintain the status quo if it is ineffective or no longer in the best interests of their organization to do so.

In my view, the key is a leader who can identify that which is already great and make it greater and to identify things that are lacking and create greatness. When you put the best of change and the best of continuity together, you get the Power of Vision.

This Power of Vision is embodied in our Member Agency leaders and also in our senior staff – it is part of our culture. In my view, change already is, and should continue to be, part of NACWA’s culture. Ironically, change is baked in as part of the status quo for any great organization – of which NACWA is one.

NACWA’s record of achievement on a range of issues over the years, advocacy or otherwise, is truly remarkable. These accomplishments are based on a basic philosophy – stick with what works and change what doesn’t – constantly! I have heard members tout how terrific the staff is – they are right, and this is a reflection of our culture. We are tough advocates and innovative collaborators. We can be this way because water is a bipartisan or even nonpartisan issue. I look forward to a bright future for NACWA with a leader who understands that what is great about NACWA will become even greater and who recognizes the unusually strong foundation he or she is inheriting.



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