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April 25, 2007

Association Management: Interesting Things No One Tells You

The world of association management is truly wild and whacky. There are so many things that no one tells you, that you discover on your own. From time to time, I’ll try to explore some of these and seek your comments and feedback. I’d particularly like to hear suggestions from you about interesting things no one told you.

Episode 1: Godzilla Breathes Fire on the Silos!
Remember the Japanese sci-fi film critter, Godzilla?

Lest you think Godzilla trivial in your important association duties, consider the following excerpt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godzilla):

“Godzilla is depicted as a gigantic dinosaur…he is almost always described as a prehistoric creature, and his…mutation due to atomic radiation is presented as an explanation for his great size and strange powers...” (Not to mention his fire-breathing proclivities!)

“Godzilla…is among the few fictional characters granted a Lifetime Achievement Award…by MTV in 1996, becoming the second fictional character…to have received it. The character was also recently awarded with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.”

Trivial, eh? Where’s your sidewalk star?

Refocus on silos: you know silos. Associations have focused forever on silos, lovingly and energetically developing them. By definition, silos (and those in them) seldom communicate or participate in activities outside the silo. Silos exist to sustain and enhance their internal interests. They expect the association to support their interests. What’s the output of a silo? Most often it’s one or more stand-alone programs, products or services. The more silos that an association has, usually the more stand-alone programs, products and services they offer. What do we do with the output? We package and market each one, individually and independently. Am I right on this?

Is there an alternative? Here it is folks: S-O-L-U-T-I-O-N-S. Repeat after me: solutions!

Solutions are integrated bundles of products and services, highly customized and integrated into portfolios of programs, products and services to meet specific targeted needs of a customer, niche or major market segment. Solutions, by definition, offer the potential for higher cumulative value for customers, and added financial benefits for sellers.

IBM is an example of an organization that talked with individual customers, reassessed its stand-alone business products, from laptops to mainframes, divested and refocused on total business solutions.

Where does Godzilla comes in? It may take strength from outer space (not to mention a fiery breath) to change individual silos into successful solutions providers. Some folks call this realignment, (gasp!) “horizontal convergence”! With Godzilla’s help you may be able to turn your silos and stand-alone products into integrated solutions, offering added value and competitive advantages for your customers. Yes, horizontal convergence can be yours!

Be warned--solutions are challenging; not every company should attempt them. See http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/article_abstract.aspx?ar=1325

If you think your association is ready for solutions, you may want to work closely with Godzilla for a successful effort. Let me know how it goes!


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April 23, 2007

Three questions

I’m reading another interesting article from the MIT Sloan Management Review, “Improving the Performance of Top Management Teams.” (So far, their spring issue has been a great one.) While tangential to the main arguments of the article, one quote really caught my eye as I was reading:

“Consider, for example, the standardized system that 3M Co. uses to evaluate potential innovations. Each candidate product must pass a three-pronged test: (1) Is the opportunity real? (2) Can we win at it? and (3) Is it worth it?”

Does your process for evaluating proposals for new products and services help you find the answers to these three key questions?

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April 20, 2007

The resource discussion and Apollo 13

In the associations where I’ve worked, I’ve heard many conversations over the years about resource constraints. Each association has been distinct in budget size and number of staff, but no matter how large (or small) the organization, at some point, we haven’t had the time/money to take on a particular project. It was just a question of scale.

That’s why an interesting commentary in the MIT Sloan Management Review, “In Praise of Resource Constraints,” caught my eye. The article argues that resource constraints can fuel rather than frustrate innovation.

Although it isn’t cited in the article, the authors’ arguments reminded me of a scene from the movie Apollo 13 that I’ve always found very inspiring. It’s at the point in the movie (as in real life) where the explosion in one of the oxygen tanks has crippled the spacecraft, and it’s an open question whether or not they will be able to get home before it runs out of oxygen. In the film, the NASA flight controllers are brainstorming solutions, and one of them dumps a load of objects on the table—a pile of materials that exactly duplicated what was available on Apollo 13, out in space, so they could determine what could be used to save the crew.

In that situation, the resource constraints were absolute—there wasn’t an interstellar shopping mall that the astronauts could run into for coffee and spare parts. The flight controllers had to figure out a solution based on a very specific set of items—and they did it.

The next time I’m confronted with a lack of resources, I’ll try to remember the Sloan article and Apollo 13. Perhaps the article will inspire you as well.

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April 19, 2007

Part Two of Balancing Work and Life: Breskwis and Cell Phones

First, my apologies in the delay of this posting.

Turns out balancing work and the rest of life is something I still must work on – daily, it seems. Let me just disclaim that it’s all the fault of my six-month-old, who is subjecting the adults in the house to sleep deprivation such that my husband, sleep walking through chores as we both are, sent our cell phone through the washing machine this week.

In my first post, I gave a little background about my life as a working/at home mother of two, and threw down the gauntlet to say that I think associations have a role to play in helping workers balance work and family.

In this post, I want to address as best I can the challenges faced by people who do not have children. The ‘debate’ between people with children and the childfree can be almost as volatile as the ‘mommy wars’, and I don’t mean to fan those flames. I do wish to acknowledge, respectfully, that the childfree also have lives to balance with their work. They are children of (possibly aging and infirm) parents who might need care – this is just one of the enormous impacts the aging baby boomers will have on our economy.

The childfree are owners of pets who can become ill and require care. They are people with hobbies and aspirations who might be glad to have the flexibility to work from home simply to eschew a commute – or to take unpaid leave to climb a mountain or train for a marathon. To sum up the debate, people with children might look at some of those needs as ‘less than’ the need to care for a sick child, to go to a school play. The childfree sometimes feel they are made to bear the burden of shifted productivity unfairly as they ‘cover’ for their co-workers with children.

I would counter that in some respects, why employees need time off or flexibility should be a secondary consideration, behind determining whether the employee can manage the workload even with the time off. I believe flexibility begets productivity, and begets happy workers. That’s the equation that should matter to employers.

A point worth considering: We simply need more people – as employers, and as membership organizations.

As baby boomers retire or scale back their work, there will be a gap in workers – we need to be sure the workplace can welcome as many qualified people as possible. To be Jim Collins-y for a moment, this is a ‘right people on the bus’ question. They can’t get on if the bus never stops, and what’s more, I feel increasing numbers of bright people simply won’t want to get on ANY bus if they know they can’t get off.

I’m reading a book called “Strapped” by Tamara Draut right now, which talk about some of the economic pressures on younger workers today. I hope that sharing some of those facts will help illustrate how high the stakes are, and how much pressure many of us feel to get the balance right despite, or perhaps because it is so hard.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my toddler is screeching about wanting ‘breskwis’ (breakfast) and my infant is awake and fussing upstairs.

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April 18, 2007

Any day

I’ve been thinking, as I’m sure many of you are, about the tragedy that took place at Virginia Tech this week. In my case, I’m also thinking about my brother’s best friend, who just passed away in a hospital where many of the Virginia Tech victims are also being treated.

My brother’s friend was working toward his dream of becoming a ship captain by serving as a crewperson on a ship off the coast of Mexico. He took ill suddenly and declined rapidly—we’re still not sure why—and eventually was flown back to Virginia. Last night he was taken off life support and passed away.

He was 29. I was looking forward to hearing his toast at my brother’s wedding next month.

All of this makes me think: Anything can happen, any time. You can be sitting in class or working at a desk or working on a ship, doing what you love or just getting through, and an accident or a germ or a madman can change everything. We don’t like to think about it; human beings are to a certain extent programmed to deny things like death. If we worried about dying every second of every day, fear could overwhelm us, so we tend to focus on the here and now.

But for me, thinking about my brother’s friend in the hospital—the same hospital where some of the Virginia Tech students are being treated—I believe: We need to break out of that here and now focus, as much as we can. Think about tomorrow. Think about what you can do to make your life the best life it can be—however you define that. And then go make it happen. Because anything can happen.

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April 17, 2007

Associations respond to tragedy at Va. Tech

The recent mass murder at Virginia Tech claimed 33 lives, including that of gunman Cho Seung-Hui. As the public tries to make sense of the senselessness, a few associations have quickly responded with advice and condolences; no doubt the coming days will see many more efforts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has on its website resources and tips for talking to children after a disaster. The organization also will offer the advice of pediatricians who specialize in mental health and violence prevention. Also offering advice on talking with children and teens about violence and school safety is the National Association of School Psychologists. The organization has a PDF of the tips available online. The American Public Health Association’s executive director, Georges C. Benjamin, MD, in a press release offered the organization’s “deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this unconscionable act,” adding that “this tragedy and others like it underscore the need to recognize and address the public health consequences of firearm violence.” The American Association of State Colleges and Universities offered its sympathies as well; the organization has a special report on its website, “The Challenge of Campus Security.”

This blog entry was prepared by Newton Holt, senior editor, Associations Now.

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April 16, 2007

Don’t let the fossils hold you back

I recently came across a quote from Richard Danzig, former U.S. secretary of the Navy, that struck me as very insightful: “Organizations,” Danzig says, “are a kind of fossil record of what bothered their predecessors.”

Think about standard procedures and processes in your office. How many of them began because a staff director wanted to see documents presented in a certain way, or a volunteer president got upset about a particular article in the association magazine?

The quote particularly resonated with me because I had just read an article that will appear in the May issue of Associations Now (coming soon to a mailbox near you). In our May cover story, psychiatrist Keith Ablow talks about the importance of confronting your past and acknowledging and understanding the impact those experiences have had on you—either as a person or as an organization.

Now, your association can’t collectively seek therapy. But you could take the time to sit down and say, “What fossils are there in our structure and processes that we can dig up and evolve beyond?” I bet you’ll be surprised at where they’re buried.

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Idea power vs. financial power

Our newest guest blogger, Virgil Carter, is off to a prolific start. I wanted to call attention to a comment he made to a post of mine from a few days back ("A major pet peeve and gross sign of silos").

Virgil asks four excellent questions that associations should ask themselves about any new product or service ideas -- or existing ones, too, for that matter.

I also liked his point about not knowing many people losing their jobs for lack of ideas, but plenty of people fired for not meeting bottom line results. That's quite a commentary. Tells me that too much reward is given for meeting the status quo and not enough emphasis is being placed on finding creative or innovative solutions to the many needs that are constantly evolving around us.

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April 11, 2007

Big Ideas vs. Big Stars!

Wow! It’s great to be a new contributor for Acronym. I’ve been thinking and reading recently about leadership—something I know is of interest here.

The April 9, 2007 Wall Street Journal had an interesting article by Carol Hymowitz entitled “CEO Reading Lists Have Fewer Celebrities And More Big Ideas”. Ms. Hymowitz commented, “…management reading lists this year don’t include tomes by celebrity executives. Instead, readers are seeking advice on the nitty-gritty tasks of running companies, analyzing complex data to make smart decisions and expanding undervalued assets.”

A rather similar assessment appeared recently in the online McKinsey Quarterly under the title “The Halo Effect, and Other Managerial Delusions”, McKinsey opined, in an adaptation of material from the book The Halo Effect…and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers, that the advice in business books, articles and business school cases, “is often deeply flawed and, worse, obscures the basic truth that success in the business world is based on decisions made under uncertainty and in the face of factors executives cannot control”. The author of the article went on to say, “this article…explores some of the misconceptions and delusions found in the business world, particularly those concerning the ability of executives to achieve durable superior performance. These include the idea that variables such as leadership and corporate culture have a causal relationship to financial performance.”

In other words, be cautious about commonly accepted business leadership folk-lore, and more cautious about whether it will fit and work in your organization.

So, bloggers, what are you reading, and what do you consider as credible advice? What strikes you as either a misconception or an outright delusion? How much of what you are reading do you think can actually fit and be successful in your organization? Curious minds want to know…


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April 10, 2007

Cybermobbing just got easier

Did you find yourself scratching your head and saying, "so what?" as you read about the Cybermobbing trend in Mapping the Future of Your Association (1 MB PDF), ASAE's most recent environmental scanning project? The trend reads:

Cybermobbing: The channels of political infl uence are broadening to include digital broadcast media that offer specialized forums for political discussion and Web-based communities that practice “swarm advocacy” and “smart mobbing.” To attract support for their positions in this crowded public arena—and to gain the attention of elected offi cials, regulators, and agencies—associations must develop a creative, multi-pronged, and Web-savvy approach to advocacy.
I suggest that you read the Wikipedia entry on smart mobs referenced here. The Mississippi Hospital Association, employer of one of my fellow Acronym bloggers, Shawn Lea, is already using tactics rooted in cybermobbing. Using text messages, the Mississippi Hospital Association can inform their constituents that a vote on a particular issue is about to occur, and that they should phone their representative to advocate on the association's position.

I know what you're thinking: So what?

There's a relatively new (and free) web service that has recently captured the tech community's attention in a big way: Twitter. Twitter allows anyone to create a text messaging network in a matter of seconds and send text messages (or tweets, as they're called by Twitter users) via the web, instant message or cell phone to anyone who chooses to opt in to the network. The service is getting more popular by the hour, and businesses are already figuring out ways to leverage Twitter. Bands send reminders about tonight's gig. Small businesses use it as a kind of mini blog. Realtors use it

The barrier to entry on mass texting used to be quite high. Now it's just a few clicks away. How could you use Twitter in an association? Here are a few ideas:

  • Use it during conferences to update attendees about changes in the schedule or room locations. Communicating with attendees in the hours following the fire at ASAE & The Center's most recent Great Ideas Conference could have been greatly facilitated with text messages.
  • Use it with your employees to inform them if the office is closing due to weather or power outage or some other emergency.
  • Use it to provide up to the minute reporting on important developments in the legislative, regulatory or judicial arenas.
  • Sign up for Twitter, get a glimpse of what it's about, and I'm sure you can come up with more great ideas. Here are two Twitter clones, though to be fair, Txtmob pre-dates Twitter. Txtmob and Jaiku.

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    Welcome to Virgil Carter

    It’s my pleasure to introduce a new guest blogger here at Acronym. Virgil Carter is the executive director of ASME in New York City. Founded in 1880 as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, ASME is a 120,000-member professional organization with a focus on the technical, educational, and research issues of the engineering and technology community.

    Virgil comes to Acronym with a great depth of experience as an association leader. He is a past chair of ASAE & The Center’s Executive Management Section Council and served as a member of the Environmental Scan Task Force, among numerous other professional accomplishments.

    I’m looking forward to the thoughts he has to share with us about leadership, management, and life as an association executive. Welcome, Virgil!

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