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February 26, 2007


The March 2007 Harvard Business Review has an interview with Howard Gardner, author of the forthcoming book Five Minds for the Future. I was drawn to the article because Associations Now is also publishing an interview with Dr. Gardner this month, and I was curious to compare and contrast the two articles. (If you have any interest in leadership, I’d recommend reading both—Gardner gets at very different points in the two articles.)

In the HBR piece, Gardner discusses the importance of mentoring in helping younger workers develop a strong sense of the ethics of their chosen fields. He notes that, in speaking with young professionals, “The influence of anti-mentors—potential role models who had been unkind to their employees or who had shown behavior that others would not want to emulate—and a lack of mentors is something that we underestimated in our studies. Negative role models may be more powerful than is usually acknowledged.”

This struck a chord with me, and as I consider the idea, I’m surprised to realize how much of my personal management style has been shaped not by the good examples but by the bad ones. Many things I strive to do as a manager—like moving heaven and earth to do a review on time, or providing constructive feedback immediately when needed (in a private setting) instead of letting issues fester, to give just two examples—came about because I’ve seen the atmosphere that can be created when these basic things don’t happen.

What lessons can you thank your anti-mentors for?

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February 23, 2007

Reading Room

I was reading an article this morning from The Daily Dog about breaking into blogs. They asked Burt Helm of BusinessWeek's Brand New Day blog for tips on how public relations professionals can "break into" the blog world. As is so often the case with me, the thing I took away from the story didn't have anything to do with the topic.

In the article, Helm recommends using Technorati to find blogs pertinent to your industry or business focus, but he adds, "I find better blogs and ones that I really like through word-of-mouth and talking to sources. I always ask important executives what they read online."

I have never asked an important executive what blogs they read. Maybe because I'm in Mississippi and worry that I would get a blank look and have to explain what the big deal about blogs is for 15 minutes. But I'm asking you today. (And if you are an important executive, please let me know so I can say in the future that I have in fact asked important executives what blogs they read.) You obviously read this blog periodically if you are reading this, but what other blogs do you read regularly - and why?

Here are a few I enjoy that are not specifically association-related:
- TP! Wire Service - It's just a collection of interesting stories, but what a collection!
- Fast Company Now - Brief entries with just enough meat to make you feel like you're learning something new but not so much that you think there's no way you can chew it all.
- Creating Passionate Users - Always makes me think
- mental floss blog - I love the blog as much as I do the magazine.
- 800.CEO.READ blog - I don't seem to have as much time as I like to read business books lately, so at times I live vicariously and just read about business books. ;)
- rexblog - A blog by Rex Hammock, the owner of Hammock Publishing. He has become a blog friend along the way, but many years ago, he was just writing an industry blog I read about magazine publishing (and other interesting stuff, too, which is honestly probably why I kept reading).

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February 22, 2007

Food for thought on customer service

Customer service is a hot button these days (did you DC-area folks see JetBlue’s giant mea culpa in the Washington Post the other day?).

You might be interested in checking out two interesting blog posts on the subject:

Seth Godin diagnoses what he thinks is wrong in customer service today and proposes some changes.

Seht also points to Joel Spolsky’s blog, where he writes on the seven steps to remarkable customer service. My favorite section is actually bonus step #8: creating a customer service career path that attracts the best and brightest applicants to spend several years in customer service on their way to their longer-term career goals.


ETA: David Gammel also found Joel Spolsky's post to be of interest, and has some good comments of his own.

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February 20, 2007

Creating an Ideastorm

Via Shel Holtz’s blog, I came across something new Dell has launched that has great applicability to the association world.

Dell’s new Ideastorm site allows users to propose ideas for new products (or tweaks to existing products), vote for ideas they like with just the click of a “Promote” icon, and discuss ideas that are in play.

The best part (I think) is labeled “Ideas in Action”—where Dell intends to report how they are using the proposed ideas. Since Ideastorm is less than a week old, they don’t have anything in that space yet—but I think it will be critical in terms of keeping users involved. Compare this with a typical feedback cycle where a member or customer fills out a survey and possibly, months later, sees a newsletter article summarizing the survey results and a few sentences on how the results will be applied.

Could your members come up with a storm of ideas this way?

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February 16, 2007

The permanent resume

There’s an interesting post over at the Fast Company Experts blog on the future of the resume. Jory Des Jardins argues that, in the next 10 years or so, recruiting will lean more and more heavily on social media and pre-existing contacts with a company through blogs, wikis, and websites than use of traditional advertising channels.

I definitely think there are trends in this direction, but it raises a couple of questions in my mind:

- How much will this affect folks whose jobs don’t involve writing (or don’t involve writing to a great extent)? If I’m hiring a magazine editor, it really matters to me whether or not they can write a coherent sentence on their blog. If I’m hiring an accounts payable representative, written communication may not be as critical.

- How will this impact first-time job hunters fresh out of school? Will their crazy high school MySpace pages, or intemperate comments on Blogger, impact their ability to find a job?

- Will the ability to find so much of someone’s past online polarize the workforce, particularly along political lines? Will hiring managers skip over candidates whose blogs reveal deeply held opinions that are very different from those of the manager—even if those opinions have nothing to do with the job in question?

How many of you have used Google or similar online tools to learn more about a potential hire?

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February 13, 2007

One year

Today is my daughter’s first birthday. (Cue the balloons and confetti!) I look back, and it’s amazing that only one year ago, she couldn’t even focus her eyes. In 12 months, she’s developed gross and fine motor skills—from picking up small objects to walking. She’s learned to understand the concept of speech, to speak a couple of words and understand a lot more. She can eat solid food, stack blocks and knock them over, and annoy her older brother. All important skills for the future.

I’m bringing this up not to get all nostalgic on you, but to demonstrate how much can be accomplished in a year. If a baby can go from being, basically, a blob to being a walking, babbling toddler in 12 months, how much can you and your association’s staff and volunteers accomplish?

I have seen so many business plans that amount to “we’ll do pretty much what we did last year, with a few tweaks.” Heck, I’ve written a few. And of course you need some stability in your association’s products and services from year to year.

But what if you tried setting a significant stretch goal for your department or association—ideally combined with the elimination of your least-strategic activity? Something that you think, if you all work together, you just might be able to accomplish. Something that’s the equivalent of learning to walk in 12 months. What would the impact be on your association?

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February 7, 2007

In the Eye of the Beholder


In conjunction with its 150th anniversary, the American Institute of Architects asked Harris Interactive to develop a survey of 2,000 ordinary Americans to find out our favorite buildings and structures. They were shown photographs and asked to rate 247 buildings nominated by 2,500 architects in various categories. The architects were surprised at the results.

The Empire State Building topped the list. Other than the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, no building of the past decade made it in the top 30 in the poll. Only two in the top 20 were built in the last 35 years: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial (10) and the World Trade Center (19). Some architect favorites are notably missing, including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Seagram's Building in New York and Louis Kahn's Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif. (See the complete list here. The association plans to post the results in blog form to get even more feedback at www.Aia150.org.)

"The Bellagio -- I can't believe it," Edward Feiner, a director of the Washington, D.C., office of top corporate architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which has five buildings on the list, tells Alex Frangos in a Wall Street Journal article. "The Bellagio is tasteless."

In the last AIA survey of architects in 1991, Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water house in Bear Run, Pa., topped the list. It's No. 29 on the general-public survey. Architects ranked Thomas Jefferson's University of Virginia as No. 2. It's not on the new list at all.

After I stopped laughing, I realized the example makes an important point for all trade associations - even if you know your members and know what your members like and admire and feel about your industry and what it stands for, are you sure that John Q. Public feels the same way?

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The Advent of Ubiquitious Communication

A new study from comScore Networks analyzes behavioral differences and attitudes among key wireless consumer segments described as:

- The Cellular Generation - 18 to 24 year old young adults grew up with cell phone awareness, experiencing cell phones as a part of their everyday lives

- Transitioners - 25 to 34 year old cell phone users whose usage began to infiltrate everyday life during their teen years and early adulthood

- Adult Adopters - 35 years and older group that was not exposed to cell phone until adulthood, and tend to have the most functional view of cell phones, with many requiring just the basics and showing limited interest in emerging technologies

Serge Matta, senior vice president of comScore Telecommunications Solutions, tells the Center for Media Research: "During the past decade, cell phones have dramatically changed the communication habits of American consumers... As cell phones continue to evolve in terms of design, functionality, and features, it is vital that cell phone providers and manufacturers understand the differing needs and desires of these distinct consumer segments."

I would add cell phone providers, manufacturers AND associations.

I have heard much talk about how to connect with the younger folks entering the workforce. It generally revolves around how to market a meeting to that generation, how to sell a group in which half don't vote on the importance of advocacy, and what cool widgets to add to the Web site. Nothing about cell phones - the one thing, it seems, that somehow bonds all of those groups above.

Last year, we began offering advocacy alerts via cell phone - after I had a member comment that he would have been glad to call his legislator about our issue but he didn't get our action-alert e-mail until two days later. It hit me then that as great as our system was that could send out our alerts with a touch of button to thousands of people on our grassroots action list across the state within minutes - if they didn't read the e-mail until two days later, it didn't really matter. (It was a hard lesson learned the hard way. I shed a tear or two, I promise, for the fallibility of my cherished technology.)

I'm not saying that the ability to view alerts via cell phone has solved all my problems. Far from it. Not all members want to give me a cell phone number (even though I cross my heart and hope to die that I will never call them on their cell phone unless I really, really need to or if it's an advocacy matter of utmost importance that demands immediate attention where your hospital or our state will lose millions of dollars). It makes duplicate work for me, as I have to do the e-mail alert and then record a cell phone alert too (and it's harder to give instructions over a cell phone when members can't type in their zip code on a computer to find out who their legislators are).

But it made me start thinking differently. It made me start thinking about the services that could be pushed to a cell phone. And not all are expensive - some are even free. During our get-out-the-vote efforts for 2006 elections, we used a free service, txtvoter, to allow our members and their employees to begin the process to register to vote via cell phone. They even let us create a banner, free of charge, to post on blogs and Web sites. (Click here to see ours - look in the upper righthand corner.)

I felt like those two offerings were really just dipping my toe in the water - letting our staff and our members get used to the idea. (After all, it could just be another one of Shawn's crazy ideas.) Recently, I began investigating what other associations are offering in this area. Here are some great ideas from other associations to steal (or borrow, if you're squeamish):

- The Wisconsin Alumni Association offers cell phone backgrounds on their Web site. Great shots from around their campus...ready for your cell phone.

- The Dallas Mavericks, a member of the National Basketball Association, offers free ringtones to Cingular customers featuring the players and coach telling you to pick up your phone.

- The Canadian Diabetes Association recently began their Project Redialâ„¢ program - which allows diabetes advocates to donate their old cell phones to the association. In addition to promoting reuse and recycling, the program raises funds for diabetes research, education and advocacy. The American Lung Association of MIchigan held a similar cell phone drive.

How could your association use your members' cell phones to advance your mission? What are you doing now? Leave a comment here or e-mail me at slea@mhanet.org.

Read the press release about this study here or request a copy of the full report here.

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February 6, 2007

Strategy vs. reality

This month’s Harvard Business Review has an interesting article by Joseph Bower and Clark Gilbert on ways that a company’s high-level strategy can be derailed (or enhanced) by decisions made down the line by staff. The authors state:

“What we have found in one research study after another is that how business really gets done has little connection to the strategy developed at corporate headquarters. Rather, strategy is crafted, step by step, as managers at all levels of a company—be it a small firm or a large multinational—commit resources to policies, programs, people and facilities.”

One story Bower and Gilbert tell is that of a newspaper company that tried to redirect corporate strategy to focus on Internet advertising instead of print. However, the new strategy foundered during actual interactions between ad sales reps and customers. The sales reps had existing relationships with customers that understood and wanted print ads, not online options. (And I’m guessing their commission structure favored a $40,000 print buy over a $2,000 online ad, although the HBR article doesn’t specify.) Of course the sales reps kept right on selling print advertising, no matter what they were saying at corporate headquarters.

Bower and Gilbert have a number of recommendations on ways to use the budgeting/resource allocation process to align organizational strategy with the reality on the ground. I’d like to make a few of my own (more general than theirs):

Understand what motivates your staff—and correct as needed. If your staff are primarily rewarded when their department comes in under budgeted expenses (or over budgeted revenues), they are motivated to make their department successful … potentially at the expense of other departments. Create a reward system that focuses on association-wide goals, not departmental goals; that way, you motivate managers to be willing to sacrifice their own revenue for something that will benefit the organization as a whole.

Hire (and retain) for your strategy. If your association wants to be nimble (for example), you need to hire people comfortable with nimbleness and change. Look for this during interviews and watch for it during introductory periods. Consider what behaviors are needed to make your strategy a reality and incorporate them into the review process. (Note: This idea was originally given to me by Christopher Worley and Ed Lawler, who I recently interviewed about their book Built to Change.)

Recruit volunteers for your strategy, too. The best staff in the world won’t necessarily be successful in implementing your strategy if your board doesn’t embody it, too. Actively reach out to volunteers who embody those same traits you’re hiring for.

What are some things you have done (or would recommend) to help make sure that your staff and volunteers are actually living your association’s strategy in their day-to-day decisions?

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February 1, 2007

Engaging Tomorrow's Association Leadership

I had the opportunity to attend The Great Ideas Conference this past weekend. It was a great opportunity to connect with old friends and meet some new ones – not to mention getting to watch ASAE & The Center staff along with Marriott staff adeptly handle a fire emergency that would have left many a professional weak-in-the-knees.

While I thought all of the programming was outstanding, timely, and relevant, I was particularly struck by the opening session speaker, Dan Heath. As others have posted on this blog, Mr. Heath walked us through what in his mind are the Six Principles of making ideas “stick.” That is, what makes some ideas, programs, products, and services stand-out in people’s minds versus others that, well, simply do not? What struck me during the presentation, and afterward, was that while there were 600 association professionals and industry partners present (which was outstanding), I couldn’t help but wonder why so many others were “stuck” back at work and unable to take advantage of the great programming.

I know, I know… time, budgets, and meeting conflicts. I realize that. I am more referring to the associations among ours that simply do not invest in continuing education and professional development for their staff – especially mid-level staff. I realize that not every association has the means to send one or more people out of their city or state for a meeting. But do they even do that? I think as association professionals and industry partners that we have an obligation to speak out and to politely confront those association leaders who attend programming but leave behind key staff. We need to convince them to expose as many of their staff as they can – be it 1 or 10+ - to the community that we call association management, or we risk losing the future of this profession to other professions. In my fifteen year career I have seen very good people move on to other professions in part because they were never aware of all that the association management profession has to offer. I have usually been fortunate to have my participation supported today but that was not true in the early days of my career.