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January 31, 2008

Project Management - An IT Imperative?

A theme I kept hearing in sessions and conversation today was around project management, and the importance of having clearly-defined project owners who shepherd large inter-departmental projects to completion. That's not particularly new - we all pretty much agree on the importance of that role. However, I noticed today that technology staffers often end up playing that all-important project management role. I know that's true where I work, and it was also true in a number of circumstances that I heard about today. So, why is that? Are IT people really better project managers than other staff members? I doubt it. Do we communicate somehow more effectively than other staff members? I doubt that too. Was there some magical project management curriculum embedded in whatever training we underwent to become technology professionals? Nope, at least not where I went to school! So what is it?

Here's one idea: At least where I work, IT sits in the catbird seat because pretty much everything our association does has some kind of technology component. Therefore, IT tends to be more aware of the breadth of activities going on in the organization, and we also have established relationships with many staff stakeholders. Plus, we are uniquely qualified to evaluate which tools and technologies would be appropriate for the task at hand. When you put all these things together, it seems natural that IT will be the ones to run the show when it comes time to get the next big project started. My question: is this really optimal? Is it sustainable to expect your IT people to drive all of these projects? Does that foster an "us vs. them" attitude among staff? More importantly, should we be encouraging organizational awareness and building project management competency in other parts of our staff?

What do you all think?

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Other bloggers on the Technology Conference

Other association bloggers are attending the Technology Conference, too (and welcome, all of you!). Here are some links to commentary on other blogs about today's conference:

- Kristi Donovan at Work/Life Strategy was inspired by the opening general session.

- Rick Johnston of the CAE Weblog also has a comment on the general session.

- Dave Sabol of Associated Knowledge wrote about his trip down to DC for the conference.

- Maddie Grant at Diary of a Reluctant Blogger wrote extensively about what she saw during her day at the conference; her posts cover social network envy, open source solutions, harnessing the data captured in social media sites, and what really goes on at the Technology Conference.

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Web culture is nice culture

Was at a session where ASAE & The Center's chief technology officer, Reggie Henry, was one of the copresenters. When the topic turned to websites that solicited feedback in the form of ratings or reviews, Reggie made the comment that it's human nature for feedback to be more negative than positive.

I don't agree with Reggie. I don't think people are going to jump on an association who enables ratings and reviews and use the function to blister the association's products and services. In fact, I think the predominant culture is the opposite. Most folks will say nothing, but the ones motivated to say something online generally like to be positive and, at the least, provide constructive criticism.

I was going to say that perhaps Reggie was right in face-to-face situations, but I don't think that's true either. We've all likely been victims of the pile-on, where a small group of members gang up to cause a storm of negativity. But I think the more casual "that session was great" or "the article was useful to me" or "so-and-so was wonderfully helpful on the phone" is far more common. Perhaps the negativity is more memorable? And maybe that's true online, too.

But I don't think the online culture, particularly when we're talking about an association and its members, will be negative.

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An Additional Association Technology Conference Resource

My first session at the technology conference was Web Analytics 101. I almost didn’t go. First, there were two other sessions I wanted to attend and second, I already produce the web stats for my organization— so I already know this stuff. But I am glad that I went.

On top of learning some wonderful ideas I can use to get more value from the monthly web stats I compose, I was also made aware of a valuable resource I can use to get more value out of the conference.

If you haven’t had a chance, check out ASAE & the Center’s Associapedia wiki. It’s evolving as the conference unfolds, but there are already a handful of entries containing great information you can use (whether you are at the conference or not).

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Do You Have a Gardener?

Near the end of the opening session of the 2008 Association Technology Conference, the speaker (and co-author of the book Wikinomics—How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything) Anthony Williams, answered a question about how associations can ensure that social media tools such as wikis and blogs will succeed. In short, his answer was to get a gardener—a person to help you champion the cause. Someone to help plant, grow, and cultivate social media. He said, that social media, like plants, need care to grow and flourish otherwise they will wither and die early on.

Of course, the nature of a session like that is that the speaker can’t answer every question every attendee has. So I will run my questions by you.

Do you have a gardener for your social media? What does your gardener do? Should the gardener be staff or a volunteer? And how do you go about getting your gardener the tools needed to produce lush social media landscape?

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Live blogging on Tech Conference general session

Anthony Williams’ general session at ASAE & The Center’s Technology Conference started off with a lot of the stuff that you’ve heard before. We heard the staggering numbers of the growth of blogging and the number of people joining FaceBook. We heard about the reach and importance and accuracy of the Wikipedia. We heard about Proctor & Gamble’s gamble to go outside their organization for more than half of their research and development. We even heard about the net generation and the incredible impact this generation who grew up being on the Internet from the time they could talk is poised to make.

Interesting, good stuff to hear, but most of us have heard it before. Then Williams, author of Wikinomics, got to the points of his talk, and he started to connect the dots of what it all means. I’m focusing on two of his points in this post – maybe others will focus on other points.

First is the idea of “Ideagoras.” Williams dubbed this the “eBay of innovation.” These are collections of people who gather together to solve problems or give expert advice. In fact, ASAE & The Center and many, many other organizations have been engaged in this kind of activity for more than a decade. Ideagora 1.1 has to be listservers (with 1.0 being the message boards that dominated the Internet in the late ’80s.).

Current online collaborative tools can be deeper and richer than listerservers – we just need to figure out how to do them.

The second idea is his notion of “prosumers,” combining the term producer and consumer. Prosumers want to be deeply engaged in the product development process. The idea, particularly among the net generation is becoming expected – Williams cited a study that 70 percent of those asked would willingly participate in product development for a company to produce a product that they’d be interested in if the company would just provide the platform for that inclusion.

Again, associations could be a case study of prosumer 1.0 as much, if not most, of product development involved members creating a product or program for themselves and other members to consume. And once again, what Williams is talking about is a huge step forward because collaborative tools today take product development out of the boardroom and onto a wiki, and instead of the best of ideas from a dozen people, you can capture the best ideas of hundreds or thousands of people. And, once again, this is becoming the expected model.

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Take time to make time

Time and time again we hear that the number one factor working against people taking advantage of learning opportunities is time. But, how much of a factor really is time? Don't we control how we spend our own time? Don't we all spend time each day on things that don't return enough value for the time we spend? I know I do.

When asked in today's Technlogy Conference Town Hall Meeting how many people had been to any form of technology training in the last year, a startling percentage of the room indicated that time had prevented them from taking advantage of any technology learning opportunity.

I'd argue that time isn't the real reason that we don't participate. Instead, I believe we don't say no to the things we know have little value or have difficulty distinguishing things that will have true value.

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Got a Technology Plan?

Hello all! Thanks to ASAE & the Center for inviting me to be a guest blogger here at the 2008 Association Technology Conference & Expo. I've never blogged before, so this will be interesting!!

Yesterday, the conference officially began with a Town Hall session. As we entered the room, everyone received a cool little clicker so that Reggie Henry could "ask the audience" about their perspectives on various technology issues. One question that really struck me was "Does your organization have a formal technology plan?" Almost 70% of the audience responded "No" but even though most folks didn't have a technology plan, the vibe I was getting from the room was "What is wrong with y'all? How can you NOT have one?" So I started wondering - when did technology become so strategic that it now deserves its own plan? When did it stop being a set of tools used to get a job done, a means to an end?

Perhaps one answer to this question is at the point that technology services (e-mail, internet, etc) became a commodity. One audience member likened technology to electricity where you flip a switch and expect your lights to come on; it has become an expectation that these services will be available 24x7. So now that the basic technology infrastructure is in place, we are challenged to think more deliberately about how else we can use technology to further our missions, support our strategic initiatives, and ultimately serve our members.

What do you all think?

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January 30, 2008

Quick clicks: Social media ideas and opportunities

Some interesting links for your Wednesday afternoon:

- Jeff De Cagna and Ben Martin (of Principled Innovation blog and Certified Association Executive blog fame) have launched a video blog focused on the association community, Principled Innovation TV. Fellow association bloggers Maddie Grant and Matt Baehr are also participating. Definitely an experiment worth watching.

- Tompeters.com has created a wiki to help Peters’ readers help each other in their efforts to implement his ideas. I bet this is a concept that associations and other organizations could harness as well—could your members help each other implement a new standard or practice related to their industry?

- The World Economic Forum at Davos this year has gone all out to integrate social media tools into the event. Photos on Flickr, video on YouTube, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Second Life—it’s definitely worth checking out as inspiration for ways you could reach out to interested parties who can’t attend your next meeting. (Thanks to Sara Costello at SHRM, who posted a message about this to ASAE & The Center’s International listserver.)

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January 29, 2008

Hard conversations that need to be had

I consider myself fortunate in that my job requires me to have hundreds of conversations with different associations, technology vendors and consultants each year. Increasingly, I’m struck by the conversations we are not having. It’s no secret that for most, if not all, associations the real contact with constituents happens on the web. But if you look at most associations technology strategies, they center on association managements systems. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that AMSs aren’t important, clearly they are. But just what is an “association management system” anyway? I’m not sure I have the answer, but I know I do know that how people “associate” has changed drastically in the last few years and the systems that manage our associations have remained pretty much the same for the last, uhh, a long, long time. It’s time to talk about that!

I recently had a conversation with the COO of a relatively large association that went something like this:

COO: We can’t seem to get a technology strategy that works for our organization.
Me: Tell me a little about your organization.
COO: Well, we have a staff of 160, our budget is just over 40 million and we have about 25,000 members.
Me: Who developed your existing strategy?
COO: Our IT manager.
Me: (Silence)
COO: Reggie? Reggie?
Me: Does the IT manager take part in senior staff meetings, attend board meetings, talk much with the CEO?
COO: No, the IT manager reports to the CFO who represents IT views and needs.

The rest of our conversation can’t be printed here. But here is my question. How can any organization of any size not have someone with an understanding of technology involved in the organization’s strategic conversations? We need to talk about that!

I was recently invited to participate in a board meeting of an association who was thinking about decreasing the emphasis of its website and particularly its wiki and blog areas. You see, the wiki and blogs were becoming more and more successful. Members were starting to spend more time there than reading the magazine, or visiting advertiser supported “traditional” web pages. Links were showing up in the blog that took people away from their site, to sites that sometimes didn’t necessarily reflect the association’s point of view. The wiki was fast becoming the place where members went for “relevant” information. Finally, one of the board members said “the problem is that these new technologies don’t fit the association’s business model”. The CEO leaned over and quietly asked me what my take was on the discussion. My answer to him and to all of us: “What’s wrong here, the successful blog and wiki, or the association business model?” We need to talk about that!

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Have a Heart: Wear Red This Friday!

As if Fridays aren’t great enough, this Friday has the extra good element of being the American Heart Association’s popular National Wear Red Day. We’re talking red dresses, blouses, pins, lipstick, handbags, ties, socks, whatever. Thousands of organizations, cities and individuals nationwide are signing up to wear red and/or give $5 (with organizations often matching employee donations) to help raise awareness and boost prevention of the number-one killer of women: heart disease.

I especially like the tools that the association has developed to promote this major element of the Go Red for Women campaign, which is celebrating its five-year anniversary: a Brown Bag Goes Red Powerpoint for staff lunches, a downloadable guide and newsletter, a save-the-date e-mail reminder for staff and members, a free DVD toolkit, a tax receipt, memorial or tribute cards, and posters.

Consider participating in this fun, easy and important activity to help bring an end to a disease that affects so many. Doing something good can be mighty attractive.

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Fast Company Co-founder: Launching a Social Responsibility Discussion—A Primer

Sometimes it’s hard to start an important conversation, one that might alter your organization forever. Handled awkwardly and with little forethought, a discussion meant to inspire ideas, motivate action, and re-envision outcomes can turn out pretty lame. That’s often how I feel about any rah-rah sessions and books related to “change” or, worse, “big change.”

Recently, Susan Sarfati, CEO & president of the Center for Association Leadership, and I spoke at different times with Alan Webber, better known as the high-energy co-founder of the very hip business magazine Fast Company. Almost every page of every issue of Fast Company is about change, but it’s cool change, if you know what I mean—like how to get your boss to let you use video games to train your co-workers.

Anyway, cool change—and how to talk about it--seemed a natural topic when I got an opportunity to chat with Alan myself, so I asked him how association leaders can begin effective discussions of one of the biggest and coolest business changes of the past 20 years: the use of strategic social responsibility to create business opportunities while benefiting society and the planet.

“People at all levels of an organization should ask themselves two questions,” Alan replied.

“(1) What keeps me awake at night? What is the gnawing problem or issue that I feel we are not addressing and that, deep in my heart of hearts, I am not happy that we are not speaking to the issue?

“(2) What gets me excited--pumped up--about getting up and going to work in the morning?

“If you can be honest about the answers to those two questions, you begin a conversation both about the deficiencies and strengths of the organization, and that’s where [this journey] has to start,” Alan stated. “What should we be doing that we are not doing that we all know is true? And what are we doing that we should amplify because it’s our greatest opportunity to make a difference?

“Those are open-ended questions; they are not multiple choice,” he continued. “And the more people who speak honestly about those questions, the more you begin to hone a sense of direction for the future, and it taps the energies and aspirations of people in the organization.

“If you can identify a very small set of opportunities—say, three to five answers to those questions--then you can get into more tactical questions: What do we know? What are we good at? How can we do things differently from how they are being done today? Who should we be talking to for more information? What are the simple steps we can take so that what we learn, what we commit to, can be turned into real action and … built into a feedback loop, so that we can see our actions impact the area we have chosen to work on? How do we structure conversations with the outside world to get and provide input? Do we start institutionalizing brown-bag lunches with people inside and out? Can we create the equivalent of a talk show inside our organization, and then how do we get that talk show broadcast over a Web site or put in print so that more people get into the conversation? How do we convert to action?"

Alan called this discussion process a way of “structuring yourself to be a thoughtful, creative, innovative and knowledge-hungry operation as you go into a new area. Tackle it like a wonderful opportunity for research and development.”

Stay tuned for the March 2008 Associations Now, which will contain part of Susan’s and my conversations with Alan on trends and corporate lessons from the social responsibility arena, as well as potential cool changes generated by our Global Summit on Social Responsibility, being convened April 30-May 2 by ASAE & The Center.

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January 28, 2008

Items to Note

This week is the 2008 Association Technology Conference and Expo. As a guest blogger for the conference, I thought it might be nice to share one of my tips for getting the most out of conferences such as this upcoming one. It’s probably not much of a surprising tip, but it’s one I don’t see people doing as much as you’d think.

Take notes.

My goal is to bring back every great idea to my association. But there is often a deluge of wonderful ideas in a very compressed period of time. Taking notes is the key for me to remember all those ideas.

I am also not passive about note taking—I seek out information in all sorts of places: in sessions, on the expo floor, in the hallway, and at a networking event. And trust me, the best ideas seem to zip past you when you are least expecting it. At last year’s tech conference I got a great tip while talking to another attendee as we waited in line to pick up our coats. It’s amazing how much you pick up on by just staying attuned to it.

Record every idea of interest and cast the biggest net possible. Then, when the day is over, go back over those ideas and reorganize and clean them up. If you do, you will have a valuable tool you and your association can use for a long time.

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Using wikis

Just a quick shout out to Stephen Barr's column in The Washington Post today on the Office of Management and Budget's use of internal wikis to be more efficient and collaborative. If the plodding federal government can use such a tool with such success, your association can and should be, too. After all, we are kind of in the collaboration business. For that 1 or 2 percent of your membership who are engaged and want to be involved... wikis can be an excellent way to involve them.

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January 25, 2008

Crucial Conversations

How are you at crucial conversations? You know--those situations in which you are involved with others, in which the outcomes and the relationships are at stake?

I was in one of these last week in Phoenix, where 16 of us came from various parts of the U.S. to attempt to settle and dispose of disputes between my parent organization and two of my subsidiary component organizations. You know the situation—it’s common in national and global associations. The meeting was important. The situation had a 15 year history, needed resolution, and all affected parts of the organization needed to move on to other, positive activities. We're all familiar with this type of situation.

Fortunately, and due entirely to the positive and constructive leadership of all 16 of us, we succeeded. It wasn’t easy, but it was important and we reached unanimous agreement on all major points. There were diverse opinions about everything, and fortunately, open minds on the important points. That evening we had a “victory reception and dinner”, complete with a signing of a Proclamation of Achievement and Appreciation by all participants. They say all’s well that ends well, and we made sure we ended very well, indeed.

There’s a great book that helps address crucial conversations. Coincidentally, it’s titled Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High. Authors are Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler, published in 2002 by McGraw Hill, and subsequently a New York Times bestseller.

Building from their research on the subject, the authors define these crucial conversations as those that “occur when there is a lot at stake, when emotions are strong, and when opinions differ”. The authors suggest the importance in such situations of having a clear sense of desired results (outcomes) as well as a clear sense of the desired relationships when the crucial conversations are concluded. This is not a situation in which one may want to do ones thinking out loud!

You can Goggle the book notes or buy the book (or both). You may be better prepared for your next crucial conversation. Good luck!

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Would Your Staff Rank Your Association as a Great Place to Work?

Job sharing and telecommuting options. Onsite fitness centers and loads of professional training. These are just a few of the benefits offered employees working at many of Fortune magazine’s “Top 100 Companies to Work For." While the much-anticipated annual survey results appear on newsstands February 4, I doubt many folks will be surprised to learn that Google ranks number one. Filling out the top five are Quicken Loans, Wegmans Food Market, Edward Jones and Genentech, respectively.

Congratulations go to several business partners of ASAE & The Center that also appear on the list: Marriott International (72) and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts (88)! Both invest in and empower employees to go beyond simple competence and use innovation and imagination to create a rewarding experience for guests that also reflects the corporations’ strong values and principles.

Like corporations, many associations and nonprofits are re-examining their workplace culture and employee benefits because they, too, want to be a great place to work—especially as the market for good talent tightens. Informal research done for ASAE & The Center’s new Social Responsibility Initiative finds that numerous professional associations, in particular, are surveying staff more regularly to determine their needs and wants, and are paying particular attention to the desires of young workers in the hope of retaining these emerging but impatient leaders.

Also mentioned more frequently are staff engagement tools such as volunteer opportunities, employee wellness team initiatives, one-on-one career coaching even for non-senior-staff, customized skills training and get-away get-togethers such as retreats in interesting places (not your typical hotel conference room!).

When ASAE & The Center first introduced the Social Responsibility Initiative in August 2007, one of the most frequent questions we got in the Social Responsibility Lounge at the Expo was “Does this help me get and keep employees?” Yes, according to many studies. But I haven’t yet found such a study that is specific to the association/nonprofit sector, so more work needs to be done.

I suspect we’ll hear much more about this important “return on investment” in our discussions about the business case for strategic social responsibility at the Global Summit for Social Responsibility April 30-May 2 (hey, come join us!). Meanwhile, I look forward to hearing all of your ideas about what makes a workplace great—and whether associations and nonprofits are doing enough of what’s needed to earn such an esteemed title.

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January 24, 2008

The Super Bowl: Are Associations Ready to Get in the Game?

What does the Super Bowl have to do with associations and nonprofits? You’d be surprised. Almost 90 millions Americans are expected to watch the Patriots-Giants game February 3, so I’m hearing buzz about the involvement—current and past—of associations in everything from cool messaging for lucky ticket-holders (Mothers Against Drunk Driving and cab wraps), to those super-popular, ultra-expensive TV ads (let me get out my list).

Recently, for instance, I ran into online speculation about whether any of this year’s $2.7-million, 30-second ads either from old-timers (Federal Express, Pepsi, Gatorade, etc.) or newer-comers (GoDaddy.com, Victoria’s Secret) would prove as controversial to associations and nonprofits as in 2007.

Last year, the National Restaurant Association was noisily unhappy when a “demeaning” Nationwide ad depicted singer-now-more-famous-for-short-marriage-to-Brittany-Spears Kevin Federline as a fast food cook fondly recalling his glory days as a rap singer. The post-airing ruckus about Federline’s apparent unhappiness with a fast food career upped the online viewing of Nationwide’s ad by an estimated 12%, according to market researchers, and has piqued interest in the company’s advert this year.

Likewise, America’s beloved Snickers bar got in trouble when its marketers created a Super Bowl ad that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation accused of promoting prejudice and violence against gays. In the ad, two mechanics sharing the candy bar accidentally kiss and then “try to distance themselves from any perception of being gay by ‘doing something manly,’" said HRC in a press release. In addition, one of the three alternative endings to the commercial shown on the Snickers Web site depicted the men “violently attacking one another – which sends a dangerous message to the public condoning violence against gay Americans.” Parent company Mars Inc. pulled the entire campaign the day after the game.

And, finally, who can forget the General Motors ads with that appealingly pathetic factory robot that was fired from its job for making a mistake? The resulting “suicide” via a leap off a bridge in a dream sequence sparked immediate reaction from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which was furious about the “inap­propriate” use of “depression and suicide as a way to sell cars.” Surveys showed that the public appeared to agree the nonprofit.

Click here for a fascinating free abstract from an article published in “Measuring Word of Mouth Vol. 3” by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association that further details the influence of controversy in building brand awareness via Super Bowl ads.

This year, nonprofits and associations might have greater concerns because of the increasing sophistication of marketers, who now create elaborate and engaging cross-media campaigns aimed at building excitement and brand awareness well before kick-off time. According to Peter Hershberg, managing partner, Reprise Media, “Unlike many lost in the previous years, marketers are expected to finally use search and social media sites to capitalize on the excitement and brand awareness generated by their ads in the big game.”

Working a more positive side of Super Bowl madness is, well, MADD. Arizona Color Promotions and Discount Cabs (which holds exclusive rights to ferry customers at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale) donated 25 eye-catching “Drive Safe and Sober” commercial vehicle wraps and taxis to help MADD kick off its 2008 drive to promote responsible driving. The effort is especially timely since Arizona, which expects 150,000 tourists during Super Bowl week, recently passed some of the toughest drunk-driving laws in the U.S.

“This project will go far toward publicizing the dangers and costs of drunk driving, which is 100% preventable,” says Ericka Espino, executive director of MADD Arizona.

Game on!

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Introducing your Technology Conference bloggers

In one week, ASAE & The Center will be hosting the 2008 Association Technology Conference & Expo here in Washington, DC. For those with an interest in association technology issues--or just an interest in associations--several Acronym bloggers will be writing in about what they see and learn during the conference.

Regular staff bloggers Scott Briscoe and I will both be there, as well as two special guest bloggers who kindly agreed to join us for the Tech Conference:

- Becky Granger, CAE, director of information technology with EDUCAUSE.

- Caron Mason, CAE, web communications specialist with the American Industrial Hygiene Association. Caron has blogged with us before during social media month, and we're glad to have her back.

For those of you who are attending the Tech Conference--we look forward to seeing you there!

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January 21, 2008

Quick clicks: Alternative membership models and more

A few interesting posts I thought I'd share with you all:

- Tony Rossell's Membership Marketing blog always features thoughtful posts (and often equally thoughtful comments from his readers). I found his recent discussion of alternative membership models to be particularly interesting.

- If your association offers webinars or something similar, you should definitely check out Michele Martin's post on what she learned from her experience as a webinar presenter at the Bamboo Project blog.

- Cindy Butts at AE on the Verge posted some really interesting feedback from some new members on what they'd like to see change at their association. I bet a lot of what her members said could resonate with your new members, too.

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January 18, 2008

Banned phrase of the week

"It is what it is."

Can't stand it.

Saying that means that you accept defeat. You've given up. There are times when all of us want to throw up our hands and admit and accept defeat. I get it; it happens to me, too. But if you don't come back from those times determined to take action, then it's time to get out of whatever position is putting you in that place.

A scenario: A CEO tries to cut the size of her board in half with a major governance change. She gives it her best shot, enlists the help of dozens of volunteers and staff and consultants. In the end, though there was some interest, the board votes against it.

It is what it is, right? The CEO just has to live with all the problems she cited as being created by a large board.

If that's the attitude that prevails, I feel bad for that CEO.

Rather than accept defeat, get to work. Perhaps she should give it a little time and go for it again. And again if she has to. Even better, perhaps she should start developing alternative ideas that might address the problems she sees.

Just because we can't directly change a particular outcome or position, it doesn't mean we are defeated. Never accept things as they are; always work to create what will be.

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Your Meeting - The Soundtrack

One way to make your meeting more memorable is to consciously brand your event via all of the senses, including sound.

As I write this, I am listening to the soundtrack of a three-day event I attended last March. The first track, Red Hot Chilli Peppers' "Hard to Concentrate," triggers all of the positive memories and feelings I have for that event, the people I met, and what we accomplished together. If this music was delivered with the email promoting the next event, I would register again in a heartbeat.

Each of the three days had its own playlist, building on the theme. At the time, I am sure I was barely conscious of the music, much less the lyrics, but now listening again, both combine to reinforce the intellectual and emotional take-aways.

Although I have frequently heard music at meetings, loosely themed to the city, I can't recall another event where the organizers planned an event, conscious of all five senses.

Do you score your meetings? Do you make the playlist available to participants?

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January 16, 2008

Quick clicks: New association blogs, PCMA posts

- I’ve come across several new association blogs recently (well, new to me, anyway) and I thought Acronym readers might like to check them out as well. David M. Patt, CAE, is blogging at Association Executive Management; Helen Thompson is blogging at X.0 (I love the subtitle “Guilt by Association Management”); and Margaret Core is blogging at Event Management 2.0. Most recently, David posted about financial and contracts management; Helen wondered if she should pursue the CAE designation; and Margaret discussed converting website visitors to conference registrants. Give them a visit!

- Sue Pelletier of face2face is blogging from PCMA’s meeting, and is sharing tons of good information that she’s heard at the conference.

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When right is wrong, and wrong is right.... or so it appears

If you're ever trying to get me to read something, shock me.

Kristin's post about Melinda Gates reminded me of Steven Pinker's New York Times Magazine article, "The Moral Instinct."

Pinker shocked me by telling me that Bill Gates was morally superior to Mother Theresa, and that some guy named Norman Borlaug was morally superior to both. Shock for shock's sake doesn't do it; Pinker uses interesting logic to make the point. You don't have to buy it. I don't, not really, but he does make an interesting point.

What does any of this have to do with Acronym or associations? Well, if you're intrigued, read the article, which is about how we define and use morality and make decisions—and I'm someone who believes every decision is a moral one. But the reason I bring it up is it reminded me of an old debate with Maddie Grant (see here, then here). My position: embrace the counterintuitive, seek alternative and even contrary opinions, find strong "no" people and talk with them. These are ways to add creativity and thoughtfulness to the decisions you make.

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January 15, 2008

The Woman Behind Bill Gates Gets Out Front

The world finally gets a glimpse of the most powerful woman in philanthropy today—Melinda Gates—in a first-time interview appearing in the January 7, 2008, issue of Fortune. At age 43, she’s been a wife for 14 years, a mother for 11, and a co-leader of one of the world’s most powerful philanthropic entities—the $47-billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation--for just seven. But don’t underestimate her. Her story reveals her as tough, energetic, nurturing, determined and, surprisingly, often successful in her quest for normalcy despite the billions. I strongly suggest you give it a skim at least.

Some of the most interesting tidbits from the piece are as follows:

--Melinda says the couple decides on major ($40 million or more) grant requests by asking two questions: Which problems affect the most people? And which have been neglected in the past?

--“Stay focused” was the only advice given them by Warren Buffett after he donated $3.4 billion and promised to pass along 9 million Berkshire Hathaway B shares (now worth $41 billion) as well.

--Although the Gates Foundation and its accomplishments are formidable, Melinda believes much more is possible through strategic partnerships with other major foundations and companies. Their most successful? The GAVI Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) and its distribution of vaccines to 138 million children in 70 poor nations. Their least successful? Education reform in their own community. Melinda says they have learned from their failures and have shifted tactics to try again.

--Bill once gave $50 million toward fixing New York City schools. The city commissioner in charge of directing that money successfully? Joel Klein, the guy who headed the federal antitrust case against Microsoft 10 years ago.

--Both Bill and Melinda are avid puzzle makers. Maybe that’s why they’re so willing to take a big-picture approach to complex world problems and then establish a strategy for resolving them one piece at a time!

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January 14, 2008

Small Rant Re: No Way to Sell a Meeting

I have been invited to a AMA conference for "medical communicators" - seems like a great opportunity to network with my counterparts from around the country, and it's even on 'my' coast - which heightens the appeal. So, I've told them I'm planning to go. In fact, I've told them four times, and counting.

Three separate sources in the organization have sent me emails inviting, then prompting me to reserve a spot. The first message, from someone I’ve met, wrote "Respond to this message to let us know you're coming, and you'll get a discount." So, I did, and he confirmed it, twice.

The next message, from someone else, sent two weeks later, said "Respond by the early-bird deadline to get your discount."

Confused, I wrote my contact to ask whether I needed to pay by that early-bird deadline, or just reserve a spot, which I had already done. Twice.

He apologized, and assured me that my place was held, and I had nothing more to do – real registration wasn’t open yet, anyway. Fine. A bit miffed, I waited to hear when *real* registration was open.

Except then I got another "Early Bird Deadline Extended!" message from the original contact on January 9, telling me about the new 'pre-registration deadline.' Which, thinking I've already responded, I skipped, until this weekend when I looked more closely at the message. This one actually links to a registration site. And the language has changed!

Suddenly I'm confused and a touch panicky - have I just cost my employer money by assuming I was all set? 'Pre-registration deadline' sounds like the date by which one must *pay* to get a discount.

So I go online this morning to register, though I may be late. Better to get it done, anyway. But there is no program, there is no fee to pay, and aside being forced to RSVP for a luncheon identified by acronym I don't know and that is not defined, there’s nothing specific at all.

I think all I’ve just done is tell them I’m coming. For the fourth time.

This is no way to market a meeting. For all their outreach, I still have little idea what I’m in for.

I don’t know yet: when is the housing deadline? When will real registration open? Now that I’ve pre-registered through their system, will it let me register again when it’s time to choose my itinerary and pay? And when exactly might that be?

Lessons: 1) ‘Save the date’ marketing is great, but keep the number of messages at that end limited – to one or two. 2) Know what the right and left hand are doing. It confuses and alienates people when they get duplicated messages that don’t acknowledge what they’ve already done to respond. 3) Don’t aggressively market the event until you’ve got the program, deadlines and details set. 4) If you want people to pre-register, make it *real* pre-registration, so that it’s possible to pay at that time. We don’t want to register twice.

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January: Leadership & Operations

January, it seems, is the classic time for leadership publications. ASAE & the Center publish their respected Volunteer Leadership issue each January. I generally order extra copies each year for our Board of Governors and Senior Vice Presidents.

I’ve posted twice this month about business operations and technology, because I think it’s important to recognize that successful business operations are a major key to achieve the results and tangible success we desire for our organizations. If you’re interested in operations, as I am, then another good January resource is the January Harvard Business Review “Leadership & Strategy for the 21st Century” issue.

Although written for business, there are many topics equally useful for associations, with features this January such as “Putting Leadership Back Into Strategy”, “Mastering the Management System”, Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy” and the compelling “Innovation Killers: How Financial Tools Destroy Your Capacity to Do New Things”. Departmental comments in the issue deal with “Why Mentoring Matters in a Hypercompetitive World” and “Where Will We Find Tomorrow’s Leaders”—topics that are as common to the non-profit world as the for-profit.

I am a strong advocate of the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) as a tool to identify strategy and successfully link it with operations, enabling an organization to successfully cascade strategy throughout the organization’s operations, using metrics and key initiatives. Using the BSC, it is even possible to embed strategy in annual performance planning and evaluation for staff and volunteers—which we are doing. “Mastering the Management System” by Kaplan and Norton, the Harvard Business School professors who are the founders and developers of the Balanced Scorecard, is an important read for those of us looking for ways to better connect strategy with operations.

“Successful strategy execution has two basic rules: understand the management cycle that links strategy and operations, and know what tools to apply at each stage of the cycle”, say the authors, Norton and Kaplan They go on to present thoughts on how closed loop management systems link strategy and operations, a management system tool kit, mapping strategic themes, and an example of how to organize your management meetings to be effective. Want to think about improving your operations this year? After reading Associations Now, check out the January HBR issue.

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Memery

If you haven’t heard of memes (or you’ve seen the word used and don’t know exactly what it’s referring to), they’re sort of like internet chain letters. Someone will start a meme on his or her blog—for instance, answer a series of questions, or list the first 10 songs that show up in her iPod on “shuffle” mode. Then he or she will “tag” a series of other people, asking them to do the same thing on their own blogs. (I’ve also seen this done via e-mail.)

A lot of memes are fun, get-to-know-you activities. Sometimes they’re more serious, like raising a difficult question and asking others to blog about it.

A meme has been making the rounds in the association blogging community recently, with bloggers sharing eight things about themselves that their readers might not know. Participants so far have included Cindy Butts, Kevin Holland, Matt Baehr, and Maddie Grant. Maddie “tagged” Scott Briscoe and I, asking us to share our eight things. While Acronym doesn’t usually include more personal posts from our bloggers, we thought this could be a fun exception.

That said, here are my eight things:

1. Two of my uncles played in a band with Bruce Springsteen when they were teenagers (I believe they practiced, at least sometimes, in my grandparents’ garage).

2. My father stood my mother up on their first date. He had to come up with really good concert tickets to get a second date.

3. My brother Alex was born on my third birthday. Apparently I was not gracious about sharing my day with him at the time—but now it’s a lot of fun to be able to call him on our birthday.

4. I have two children: Gray is seven and Meredith is almost two. Gray wants to be a member of IGDA when he grows up; Meredith remains undecided.

5. I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 10 years now. If it is ever revealed to me that Diet Coke is not vegetarian, I would have a very difficult decision to make.

6. As Scott will tell you, I am many different kinds of geek. It was imprinted on me early. Some of my first memories are of watching Star Trek with my father (original series, episodes “Shore Leave” and “The Squire of Gothos,” for those who are curious) and some of the first books I can specifically remember reading are The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

7. I’m always reading. One of my favorite things as a child was to spend the day wandering the aisles at the Virginia Beach Central Library, reading any book I wanted for as long as I wanted.

8. We recently lost our wonderful German Shepherd, Cassie. We still have three cats; Christopher, the oldest, is 21, and we’re fairly sure he’s planning to outlive us all.

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Quick clicks: Ask the CAE, no excuses

- Ben Martin of the Certified Association Executive blog is launching a new feature, "Ask the CAE." Be sure to send him great questions!

- Michele Martin of The Bamboo Project Blog and Katya Andresen of Getting to the Point both have interesting posts up about not allowing excuses (like "We don't have the budget" or "We don't have the staff") get in the way of the great things our organizations could be doing.

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January 12, 2008

Not Governed by....but acting as if you are

We are surrounded by regulations that we have to operate inside of in order to ensure that we stay on the right side of the law.

How about selecting to be governed by laws that do not actually apply to you? For example the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to employers wth over 50 employees - but my association (5 employees) has chosen to act as if governed by its provisions.

How about SOx - No, not the Red or White ones, but the Sarbanes Oxley Act passed by Congress as a response to scandals such as Enron? while designed primarily for public companies, the act provides outstanding guidance on control documentation for all organizations.

I will cheerfully let a lawyer correct me on this, but I believe that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (the bit that precludes discrimination on the basis of on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin) only applies to entities with more than 15 employees.

For all of those associations that are not governed by these provisions (and others) it might be worth investigating whether declaring your intent to act within the regulations might at least show a commitment to fairness and transparency.

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January 11, 2008

Getting less specialized

Another post inspired from reading Roger Martin's Opposable Mind.

In the book, Martin describes specialization as an evil that gets in the way of considering alternatives when making decisions. Bear with me, this is a pretty dense quotation:opposable%20mind2.JPG

Functional specialization is especially inimical to integrative thinking because it undermines productive architecture—the keeping in mind of the whole while working on the individual parts. Functional specialization encourages the sequential or parallel resolution of discrete parts of a business problem. The result is that what is optimal from the perspective of one function will take precedence over what is optimal for the firm as a whole.

Translation: specialization leads to turf battles.

Senior staffs (and entire staffs for small associations) need to check their specialization at the door when thinking about strategy for the organization. I think this is an especially hard skill, so if turf battles are endemic to your organization, or if the old "because that's the way we do things" excuse is customary, one way to attack the problem is to think of it as a problem of competing specializations.

For a more in-depth look at how to get senior staffs functioning well as a unit, check out the article in the January Associations Now by the authors of Senior Leadership Teams: How to Make Them Great.

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Linking Technology & Business Operations

Last week I posted about a recent McKinsey article focusing on the importance of linking technology and an organization’s business operations in order to create “real wealth”. McKinsey authors Manyika, Roberts and Sprague discussed eight trends that they say will help shape businesses and the economy in coming years. Here are a couple of the trends that seem to have implications for many of our associations:

1. Using consumers as innovators: Consumers can co-create with organizations and with your association. The Internet has evolved into a global platform supporting communications, interactions and advocacy. The authors suggest that organizations can tap into this new mood of customer engagement.

One example noted is Threadless, an online clothing store that asks customers to submit new designs for T-shirts and the community at large votes for their favorites. The top 4-6 designs are manufactured and the winners receive prizes. The authors note that companies that involve customers get better insights into customer needs and behavior and may even be able to reduce the expense of acquiring and retaining customers.

At the same time the authors caution that companies open to allowing customers to help it innovate must ensure that the companies aren’t unduly influenced by information from a vocal minority. Companies must also be wary of focusing on the immediate rather than longer-range customer needs, as well as care to avoid raising and then failing to meet customer expectations.

2. Putting more science into management: the authors point out that technology helps managers use ever-greater amounts of data to make smarter decisions and to create new competitive advantage and business models. Examples include “ideagoras” (eBay-like marketplaces for ideas), predictive markets, and performance-management approaches. Amazon.com is an example of advanced customer segmentation, using its recommendation engine correlated to purchase histories.

The authors suggest that leaders should recognize and capitalize on the power that information provides for their organizations. At the same time the authors caution that information is power; broadening access and increasing transparency may influence organizational politics and power structures. The authors also caution about the analysis paralysis that often accompanies data-driven decision making.

How are you and your organization thinking about technology and business operations in new ways?

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When a Charity Screws Up

I was having tea with three friends recently, and we started talking about the charities we most support and the types of relationships we’ve developed with them. We each had long-term ties to at least three charities, not counting our religious institutions, but we were not happy.

After we shared our initial passions for certain causes, we started exchanging stories of the times when these charities had let us down—calls that went unanswered for weeks or never, promises to send materials that don’t arrive, wrong contact information, direct mail appeals sent within days of each other, and clueless staff.

I recalled a time when I told one nonprofit that our family was willing to spend up to $2,500 to help one of our sponsor children who had “aged out” of the nonprofit’s program and gone to technical school. We wanted to pay the tuition. We never heard back from the charity—and I called three times! Staff who promised to “check into it” never responded.

Same with an idea that I pitched whereby all of us sponsors of poor children in the same small South American village would meet online to talk about the possibility of a larger group donation to the school, which had no athletic equipment or playground. I’d have been disappointed but would have lived with it with no hard feelings had the group simply said no. But the group didn’t say that. A staffer would hear me out and murmur politely and supportively that he/she would talk to a supervisor and then….nothing. Four times this happened.

My friends’ all had similar stories of frustration and brick walls, yet all of admitted that we continue to donate to these groups, even volunteer occasionally. We sighed that we truly want to help solve Problem A or assist Person B, so our desire overrides the “hassles” of dealing with some of these charities, many of which are well-respected, well-known “leaders” in their field.

So if that’s the kind of treatment that donors are getting from “leaders,” what’s happening in the smaller ranks? Is the “leadership”—great donor servicing, motivated and helpful staff, a culture of real follow-through, materials that actually share information on how the organization is measuring its impact—actually more likely found within small, lesser-known nonprofits? Have the big boys gotten so big that it has become okay to be rude, incompetent or egotistical? Maybe some of those folks are reveling in the recent studies that show individual giving is higher than ever, so they don’t think they have to work as hard to attract those dollars.

I have no idea, but I can tell nonprofit leaders this: Don’t assume we individual donors—the ones responsible for the vast majority of your revenues—will stick around forever. Competition among nonprofits has grown, and it’s rare that I can’t find another charity whose mission matches that of my current irritating recipient. Donors are becoming more educated than ever about charities, and they’re starting to hold them accountable in new ways. It doesn’t take much more than a few clicks anymore to find who is competing to serve the underprivileged, fight pollution or “lead” in any number of the efforts to better the world.

After tea, I got an e-mail from one of the attendees—our talk had made her decide to abandon a charity she had supported for more than 20 years. She had already found a replacement and was excited by her move. Meanwhile, I had mixed feelings—sadness that a charity with such a worthy cause had blown it, and joy that a friend had found fulfillment in another nonprofit’s effort.

When was the last time you or your nonprofit sister organization got serious about donor satisfaction? And I’m talking about something beyond those quickie e-surveys. I’m thinking focus groups, one-on-one donor “check-ups,” donor coaching and more. Think about it, because as a donor, I am.

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January 10, 2008

Information Reduced Diet

Over the holidays, I read The 4-Hour Workweek. Not because I'm actually after a 4-hour workweek, but more so, because I'm always open to new ideas for balancing work with life (often a challenge for many association professionals).

The book was a quick and entertaining read with some solid tips for focusing on what mattered, and wasting less time on work for work's sake. Though, there was a little too much emphasis on world travel as the ultimate end-product of freeing yourself up from endless work crunch.

Here is the book's author, Tim Ferriss with a brief interview where he discusses the "information abuse epidemic":

Anyway, the most worthwhile section was titled "Elimination", where among other things, the author says we should stop watching/reading the news, stop surfing the web, only check email once a day, unsubscribe from all newsletters/etc, never answer your office phone, and so on. By doing so, time is freed up to do the work that really matters. The book does go into more detail, as well as give tips to avoid distractions and reorient output towards results (as opposed to volume).

As a New Year's Resolution, I've taken on this "information reduced diet", doing many of the things suggested in the book (though, not all ;) And, so far so good. I don't feel any less informed or out of the loop. There seems to be less chaos/urgency to each day. And, most importantly, I'm crossing off many of the big items on my to-do list that kept getting pushed off due to the deluge of email and other daily distractions. Will be interesting to see how long I can keep it up for...

PS: Tim Ferris did a more extensive discussion, along with One Person/Multiple Careers author Marci Alboher, as part of the Authors@Google lecture series.

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The numbers keep adding up

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has reported that 48 percent of Internet users have been to video sites like YouTube. I was particularly interested in the fact that 15 percent of respondents reported that they had viewed video online "yesterday."

In other news, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research reports that Facebook has more than 60 million active users and an average of 250,000 new registrants each day since January 2007. (He got the stats from Facebook's website.)

This isn't to say that every association must start looking into online video or that Facebook itself is where you have to be. But I have to wonder if associations that haven't made any moves toward experimenting with these new forms of communication and interaction (in whatever form works best for their particular profession or industry) are going to have a really hard time catching up if they wait much longer.

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January 9, 2008

Quick clicks: Social networks, trendspotting, slide shows

A few links that may be of interest:

- For those of you who enjoyed Jason Della Rocca's recent Acronym post on working with external social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, Matt Baehr of the BlogClump blog has a short post up on the success of a similar experiment his organization is conducting.

- Dave Sabol of the Associated Knowledge blog is planning to post each Tuesday in his blog about upcoming trends, large and small, that may have an impact on association. His first "Trendspotting Tuesday" post shares some predictions from several social media experts.

- Jonathon Colman of the Nature Conservancy really has some great ideas, and I'm not just saying that because he's commented on Acronym before. The npMarketing blog points to some slideshows Jonathon has posted with good information on topics like cultivating your constituents online, search engine optimization, and web marketing for fundraisers.

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January 8, 2008

Control, trust, and power

I sometimes get behind on reading the listserver digests, so I'm just now getting to the Executive Management Sections discussion from last week about intrusive, micromanaging board members, who cite their fiduciary responsibility as they delve into every detail of the financial reports.

I liked Michael Gallery's reply: the issues are more primal than the finances of the organization. Fundamentally, the issues are trust and control. As he notes, explaining what fiduciary responsibility really means and what directors' and officers liability insurance is for aren't going to solve this problem.

I'd add a third issue to Gallery's two: power. I think control, trust, and power are going to be at the heart of many, many conflicts--not just on boards, but on senior staff, in partnerships, and in many other settings.

I wish I had a silver bullet that would enable execs to manage control, trust, and power. No one does, however. I guess those are recurring themes in loads of the articles I've been a part of in Associations Now and, before that, Executive Update. Some quick thoughts on each of the three:

Control: A clear purpose and a clear set of norms and expectations together with how progress will be measured are essential. Just because everybody starts at the same place doesn't mean they will all see circumstances the same. They won't. But if the begin point is clear, I think it's easier for everyone to accept the majority position, even if as individuals, a few disagree.

Trust: To me, this is a little easier to explain, though it may be just as hard to put into practice. You build trust with transparency and honesty. I think most folks would agree that they try to live by those two words. I also think most of us fail miserably upon close examination. This is especially important in the association context: the membership deserves to know what data and deliberations are behind the decisions that staff and boards make.

Power: I'm a believer that the more power you seek, the less power you will have. Perhaps that's just wishful thinking. To understand the power issue, I think you have to examine the motivations of those involved. Why is it important to them to have power? I think compared to the other two, power is the hardest to manage.

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National Pro Bono Week: A Model?

A Northern Ireland professional association, Business in the Community, has developed for the UK what could be a great model for professional organizations worldwide: National Pro Bono Week, which has been held each November for the past four years. As part of the initiative, the association has reached out to other professional groups and companies to invite them to give “free support to the community and voluntary sector” for a week or even a day.

Response has grown quickly, with more than 1,100 hours of professional and technical assistance donated in 2006. Included were financial, information technology, and architectural assistance, as well as mentoring, media consulting, and leadership coaching.

What’s different about this give-back effort is that it crosses into many professional fields, uniting the entire sector for a week of positive community involvement and support. It also allows each profession to decide for itself how and where it will focus its pro bono efforts for maximum impact.

While the U.S. already has designated volunteer and philanthropic days in which some organizations participate, we have not looked outside of our silos to see if it makes sense to join forces with other professionals eager to benefit their communities. Maybe that’s a resolution worth considering in 2008.

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January 7, 2008

Video snacking

Elliott Masie's Learning TRENDS e-newsletter today has an interesting riff on ways to use video to reach your members and customers. He cites a New York Times article on the rise of lunchtime video--office workers viewing some news or entertainment highlights with their sandwiches.

Masie suggests, "What if we harnessed the concept of Video Snacking for learning? Imagine your organization producing a short, 5 to 7 minute show every day for viewing during lunch."

Could your association take this idea and run with it in a way that works with the ebb and flow of your members' schedules?

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January 4, 2008

Tradeshow on life support? Pull the plug.

I have a lot of great ideas about running an association...

Dues? It's a decaying model that needs to be rethought.

Member retention? Forget about it. Work on engaging the people who want to be involved and don't worry about member numbers.

Tradeshows? Well, that's the topic of the day for me. Recently on ASAE & The Center's Meetings and Expositions listserver, someone asked how to enliven a tradeshow so attendees will visit booths.

There really is only one good answer to the query: make sure the exibitors have products, services, or information that the attendees want to talk with them about. Anything else is a cheap gimmick that won't do any long-term good.

Don't get me wrong, there are some things to do. I don't want to call them "best practices" because they're really more like "don't-be-stupid" practices. Don't schedule education over top of tradeshow time. Put food in the hall to draw people there. Things like that.

But raffles and bingos and prizes and scavenger hunts—all just gimmicks. If you put people in a hall together and they don't talk to each other, that's a tradeshow on life support. You need to go through the steps to find out why people aren't talking to each other and maybe even try a few different, nongimmicky approaches to try to jumpstart conversations, but be prepared for them to fail... and pull the plug.

You don't have to be a particularly astute observer to notice that I'm ripping apart some pretty fundamental and significant revenue streams for associations. Perhaps you also have noticed that I'm not king... or even an executive director (...or even, as Kevin Holland is so nice to point out in a comment, senior staff). I don't have the financial solution to these questions. But I know this—if you are constantly fighting member attrition or (gulp) decline, then it's time to at least consider how your organization stays relevant (and solvent) anyway. And if your exhibitors are complaining because no one is talking to them, it's time now to be thinking about how that revenue stream is going to be replaced or otherwise accounted for.

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Eight Business Technology Trends to Watch for 2008

This article in the January 2008 McKinsey Quarterly by James M. Manyika, Roger P. Roberts, and Kara L. Sprague, notes that “Technology alone is rarely the key to unlocking economic value: companies create real wealth when they combine technology with new ways of doing business. Through our work and research, we have identified eight technology-enabled trends that will help shape businesses and the economy in coming years. These trends fall within three broad areas of business activity: managing relationships, managing capital and assets, and leveraging information in new ways”.

See http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Information_Technology/Applications/Eight_business_technology_trends_to_watch_2080 for the full article.

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January 3, 2008

What do you think?

2007 was a very good year for us at Acronym; we were joined by some great new guest bloggers, we hosted some highly successful liveblogging from ASAE & The Center events, and we couldn't have been more pleased with the response to our social media month event in November. But we want 2008 to be even better.

To that end, we'd like to ask for the most important feedback of all: yours. For those of you who visit Acronym, whether regularly or not, we'd be very interested in your thoughts about the blog:

- What should we be covering that we're not talking about now?

- What should we do more of?

- What should we do less of?

- Who would you recommend as a potential guest blogger?

Of course, we can't guarantee that a particular guest blogger will say yes, but any and all feedback will be a huge help to us. Leave a comment; let us know what you think. Thank you so much!

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Hotel Fam Trips—Thai Style

Things get a little different when you ‘step offshore’ to inspect sites for a possible conference.

It all starts at the Bangkok airport – I was met by a uniformed driver in a Mercedes.

The first thing that hits you at the hotels is the service. Multiple people escort you and you bags to the room, and there is no discreet cough for a tip – they are gone before you can reach into a pocket. The second thing is how new and clean the rooms are. Huge bathrooms with separate showers and double sinks. A bathtub that you can almost swim laps in, a bedside console to control lights, TV, A/C and drapes (only seen at the Wynn in the US by me) and a TV the size of a movie screen.

And the rate I was quoted for my 2010 event? $225 a night. Only one hotel in town quoted me a rate over $300 a night, and they were almost apologetic about it!

The cost issue in Bangkok is an interesting one. Yes, you can get a (fake, and bad ones at that) Rolex for $25, and knock-off t-shirts for $3. You will notice that the people buying this junk are all western. The Thais are in the many high-end malls that surround the better hotels, shopping at stores like Prada and Gucci. Similarly, you can get a great meal at a ‘local’ place for $5, but I paid over $35 for the dinner buffet at a good hotel. Overall for an event, your costs will be lower than had you done it in a major western location like London or San Francisco – but not exponentially lower. Realistically, the greater the ‘labor input’ to what you are buying, the greater the savings. So the cost to rent an LCD might seem about the same as in the US, while the cost of an engineer to run A/V for the day would be much less.

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Welcome Kevin Mead

I'd like to welcome Acronym's first new guest blogger of 2008: Kevin Mead, CAE, president, North American region and executive director, worldwide operations, for IGAF Worldwide.

Kevin joined IGAF Worldwide as president in 2002. Previously, he has served in positions related to membership and customer relationship management, conferences, field services, certification development, internal audit, and finance, so clearly he approaches his work from a broad base of experience and knowledge.

Kevin is also a savvy world traveler (this recent article of his from ASAE & The Center's GlobalLink e-newsletter is a great example). We're glad to have another blogger with a good sense of the international association picture.

Welcome, Kevin! We're pleased that you'll be a part of the Acronym conversation.

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January 2, 2008

Right break at the right time

Got started on Opposable Mind by Roger Martin over the break, one of the books that's been neglected on my "to read" pile for too long.

The one sentence premise: When making major decisions, the best leaders create a new, better solution from the obvious options being contemplated.

It's an interesting idea, and I may have more on that later as I read more of the book and let my thoughts crystallize about it. But one passage in the book reinforces a notion on leadership that has been percolating with me recently. Here's what he wrote:

"I am certain that a variety of capabilities contribute to business success. Intelligence, drive, and good health all play a part. So does getting the right break at the right time."

It's that last part—the right break at the right time—that I think is the single most important determinant of successful leadership. I don't think it's total randomness or just luck. There's something more to it, but it's not anything that can be neatly studied or written about. It's what bothers me about lesson-based business books. When you look at people who can be described as achieving success, it's because of the way they acted (the decisions they made) given the circumstances they were in.

I'm not saying there's nothing to gain from Drucker or Peters or Collins or Roger Martin. I think they each make important observations that probably do help describe the successful decisions given a circumstance. It's just critical to understand that it's entirely possible to make the same observations about decisions that are not as successful given a different set of circumstances.

To me it's an iterative process and everyone is going to have ups and downs—sometimes huge ups, and sometimes huge downs. The important part is for leaders to see the impact their decisions are having and to adjust them or even scrap them entirely if that's what's needed. That's why these days I'm leaning more toward thinking of much less concrete ideas of leadership: what does it mean to act with courage? What does this decision say about you and are you being authentic? Are you transparent? What is trust? Why is it relevant?

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And we're back!

Welcome back, Acronym readers! We hope you all enjoyed your New Year celebrations, and we appreciate your patience while Scott and I took a holiday break from blogging. We're back, and we hope to start the year off right with some new guest bloggers (soon to be introduced), more great posts from the bloggers you already know, and new ideas.

We also wanted to take this opportunity to thank Ben Martin of the Certified Association Executive blog for choosing Acronym as his best blog about associations for 2007. We're honored, and we greatly appreciate Ben's kind words about Acronym. Congratulations as well to the other blogs and bloggers that Ben selected as the best of the year--as his list shows, there was a ton of great stuff going on this year around the association blog community. We're looking forward to the conversation in 2008.

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