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April 30, 2008

Stories as Influencers for Socially Responsible Behavior

Compelling stories have emerged as potent tools in forwarding discussions about what values members gain when their associations are involved in socially responsible practices, programs, and goals. At both my morning and afternoon tables at the Global Summit on Social Responsibility, association professionals barely took a breath between sharing and commenting on each other’s stories, whether they had to do with an organization’s actions or an individual’s choices. Frankly, it’s a challenge to capture every anecdote for later thought or follow up, but one colleague told me that he had taken almost 25 pages of notes in less than six hours!

I’m feeling especially attuned to the power of storytelling today because I’m halfway through the excellent book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, which I thought would be good prep for the summit. Also, co-author Joseph Grenny—whose last best-seller, Crucial Conversations, was referenced several times at my table today-- is speaking August 19 at ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting and Expo.

According to Influencer, “people will attempt to change their behavior if (1) they believe it will be worth it, and (2) they can do what is required.” Stories that guide people to those conclusions must contain both “a clear link between the current behaviors and existing (or possibly future) negative results” and “positive replacement behaviors that yield new and better results.”

Those of us at the summit today heard such “high-point stories” recounted on the stage, in the coffee line, and from attendees at some of the 14 connected sites across America. I liked the examples given by CEO Scott Steen of the American Ceramic Society. First, Scott described the rapid membership growth achieved by the National Association of Counties after it cleverly arranged a deal with a corporation that allowed the association to provide prescription discount cards to members for free distribution in every county in America.

Second, he cited the National Academy of Engineers’ inspiring work with members to identify 14 “grand challenges” such as making solar energy affordable and reverse-engineering the brain. The organization then spotlights research and grant money focused on those topics. “They’re saying to their members, ‘Here is where to go to make a difference as an engineer,” explained Scott, adding that the organization is using the initiative to “define their mission in the world and show how engineers and their industry are making huge differences.” I can’t wait to hear what comes out of Thursday’s “dream” process….


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Decisions, decisions, decisions, decisions, and more decisions

"It took us billions of decisions to get into this situation; it's going to take billions of decisions to get us out of it."

This is a quote from Bill Millar from the American Public Transportation Association, who was at my table during the afternoon session.

The point he was making is that we can't just make the decision to eradicate poverty, for example. We have to establish and sustain a culture that ingrains social responsibility initiatives and ideas into the fabric of all the decisions we make.

For example, one of the ways associations inspire their members is through general sessions speakers at their annual conferences. What if it became standard to book at least one speaker and had at least some breakout sessions with socially responsible themes? In this way, the idea that we can and should make a difference on this globe can become part of what we talk about and part of the culture of our organizations.

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UN Millennium Development Goals

Economists Jeffrey Sachs in his presentation made note of the UN Millennium Development Goals. His challenge: discuss what your constituency could possibly do to help with the identified goals:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development

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Recapturing our youth

During a table discussion earlier today, one of my table-mates told a great story: When he was 18, he decided that his town needed a teen center. So he went out and set one up, by himself. With donated space and materials, within a few months he had the teen center open--and within a few weeks it was filled with local teenagers.

At our table, we all wondered at what point during a typical life we lose that ability to say "I want to do this!" Without joining the committee or running for the board, without waiting until you finish grad school or until the you get that promotion, just stepping up and getting it done.

Of course, there are people who never lose that ability--those are people that change the world. But for those of us who may have lost some of it, can we each individually give ourselves permission, the next time we see a problem in our work, just to go out and solve it? It doesn't have to be a huge problem, or even related to the topics we're discussing at the Global Summit--it could be the problem presented to you the next time a member calls. But if we could all recapture that fearlessness, how much better could we serve our members and our organizations?

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Twitter coverage of the Global Summit

For those of you interested in Twitter, or up-to-the-minute coverage of the Global Summit, you may want to check out the Global Summit page on Twemes, a site that collects Twitter posts that are tagged with the same descriptive tag, all in one place. Jeff De Cagna used Twemes to set up a place for anyone interested in Twittering about the Summit to conglomerate their posts.

Just as some examples, Jeff posted a "tweet" earlier today: "Collaboration quickly emerging as a critical theme of the conversation...my question is how to make it sustainable." Dave Witzel asked, "How important are new social assets, like Wikipedia and Linux, to global development?"

To see more of what Jeff and others post about the Summit, go to http://twemes.com/globalsummit.

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Enduring Ideas: Understanding Your Organization

Are you trying to better understand your organization? Are you responsible for innovation and constructive change in your association? Perhaps you’re considering an organizational and career change, and are thinking about what makes organizations successful. If so, a recent McKinsey Quarterly article may be interesting. “A Watershed in Thinking About Organizations” is an April 2008 McKinsey article that revisits their 7-S Framework, introduced in the 1970s. The interactive article, the first in a series, “reflects on 7-S…introduced…to address the critical role of coordination, rather than structure, in organizational effectiveness.” Readers can click on any of the seven elements in the framework and listen to McKinsey’s description of the element.

The article can be found here.

The article goes on to note “While an increasingly complex business environment has rendered some (organizational) models obsolete, others have endured.” McKinsey says the series presents “frameworks that are as relevant today as they were when first created.”

The 7-S framework “maps seven interrelated factors that influence an organization’s ability to change—shared values, skills, staff, strategy, style and systems—and shows how these forces interact”. The framework suggests that achieving progress in any one part of the framework “will be hard to achieve without progress in the others.”

Here’s an illustration of the 7-S framework:

7-S Framework

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Call to action from Jeffrey Sachs

Author and economist Jeffrey Sachs is speaking to the Global Summit on Social Responsibility this afternoon, and he just made some comments which (as an association communicator) I found particularly striking:

According to Sachs, scientists and other specialists are often aware of problems affecting our planet long before others are; he said there is often a 10- to 20-year lag between when specialists know of problems and rest of America knows about them. Since many associations represent those very specialists--what are implications of that gap for associations?

Sachs asked how we can reduce that gap between what is known by specialists about potential risks we face, what is known generally, what is known within the government, and what is acted upon. If our members have that knowledge, how can we as associations help reduce the gap and transfer our members' knowledge more effectively, to the benefit of the community as a whole?

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Asking your members the question

Live at the first day of the Global Summit on Social Responsibility, David Cooperrider is on the stage describing the appreciative inquiry process we will use at the summit, but I felt compelled to write something about his opening remarks.

He said, “We are living in a time to connect these things together and scale them up, and that’s what associations do in professions, in industries, in sectors.”

The statement planted this seed in me: When was the last time you actively sought to ask your members what they do in their companies and in their communities to make life better? Finding out these stories and figuring out how to “scale them up” is one way to answer the question, what does social responsibility have to do with my mission?

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April 29, 2008

Getting Started on Social Responsibility: A Look at the UN Millennium Development Goals

Eradicating hunger and poverty. Achieving universal primary education. Reducing child mortality. Ensuring environmental sustainability. These are just four of the eight United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established in 2000 to resolve the world’s greatest social, economic and social problems.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor to the UN on the MDG and a speaker at ASAE & The Center’s Global Summit on Social Responsibility April 30, recommends that association leaders consider starting with these goals as they contemplate the business opportunities presented by such global challenges.

“I believe every association has as its responsibility, as well as its self-interest, awareness of those global goals, readiness to advocate for them, and readiness to step up for them and say, ‘We will support them through our own specific actions that are appropriate,’” Sachs said during a phone interview last week. “My guess is that many, many of these organizations have never even considered these Millennium Development Goals,” in large part because “we’ve hardly been told anything about them….”

He also suggests we learn from the positive and negative lessons gained by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to date. Two lessons in particular are the “extremely important” need for organizations to take a proactive stance or risk severe reputational harm, and the need to understand that associations are “going to have to operate in a kind of public-private partnership to play an effective role.”

As an example, Sachs cites the pharmaceutical industry’s proactive declaration that it had “created a tiered pricing system that would make their technologies available free to the poorest people while continuing to operate under the patent system in the high-income countries. That was a very creative and positive response that diffused what was a growing crisis.”

The full interview with Sachs about five potential roles for associations and nonprofits in global problem solving will appear in an upcoming issue of Associations Now.

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Doing our part for social responsibility: IdealRoute.com has environmentality

Rising gas prices have added insult to injury, coinciding with the flattening of the real estate market in Virginia and around the country. Realtors all over the world spend much of their working days driving from property to property to property, burning fuel and, as prices go up, money. Our association has recently implemented a new program that we feel achieves that elusive triple bottom line: Benefit to members, benefit to the environment, and benefit to the association.

It's called IdealRoute. It solves the age-old traveling salesman problem: What is the most efficient driving route between three or more locations and then get you back to where you started? Here's how it works...

Just add addresses one at a time to the text box below the map and when you've added them all, click "Calculate Fastest Roundtrip." Using a Google Maps mashup, IdealRoute determines the optimal route between all locations and even gives you turn-by-turn directions for all destinations that you can print out (double-sided, of course) and take with you. And it works for routes anywhere in the USA.

By now you've figured out that IdealRoute could be useful for your association work or personal life as well:
1. Determine the ideal route between hotels in your convention's host city.
2. Discover the best order in which to run your weekend errands.
3. Plan your sightseeing itinerary to cut down on travel time.

In the press, The Boston Globe, Inman News, and others have covered IdealRoute. We invite you to give it a test drive, too!

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April 28, 2008

Am I green yet? Pre-thinking about the SR Summit

Tomorrow I will work from home, cycle to an appointment, then get dropped off at the train station to head to Seattle to participate remotely on Wednesday in the Global Summit on Social Responsibility. It's a crazy week for me, as we have houseguests, I returned from our annual meeting yesterday at 2 pm, I'm holding the first print proof of our new magazine in my hand (gah!) and I've got another publication to get out this week, and I'm preparing for a committee meeting on Tuesday. But I'm pushing most of that aside to make room for this conference in at least one day in my professional life. I helped to plan this venture, and I wouldn't miss it. Are you in? Can you participate, even from your desk, for a little while? Here's a link to learn about registration: http://www.eshow2000.com/gssr/home.cfm.

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April 27, 2008

Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions

The bit on cultural distance in the Rethinking the American Model article (April 08 issue of Associations Now) serves as a good excuse to point to Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions (nice summary at Wikipedia).

I often use the website's home vs. host country comparison tool to gain insight ahead of international "interactions" (ie, travel/conference abroad, foreign chapter stuff, etc). For example, the USA vs. China dimensions show the Chinese are way more long-term oriented, whereas Americans are significantly more individualistic, among other differences.

In addition to all the web resources, Hofstede has written several books on cultural comparison. All worth a look if your association crosses borders.

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April 25, 2008

Unlocking cool

If anyone knows innovation, it’s Jeremy Gutsche, founder of TrendHunter.com. He makes a living studying it. His online magazine follows the newest trends and tells the world what will be cool in six months, a year, or five years. He spoke this morning at the 2008 Digital Now conference.

Gutsche is a sound-bite seeker’s dream, so here are several of his snappy bits of advice on finding and fostering innovation and "unlocking cool," with some thoughts added in italic:

“Situational framing dictates outcome.” What you believe may be blinding you to reality.

“Complacency will be the architecture of your downfall.”

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Don’t try to fight culture or the world around you. Accept it and adapt accordingly.

“Innovations must often fail.” This is perhaps the most important point he made. We have to accept the bad with the good and have faith that every failure is an opportunity to learn and increase the likelihood of future success.

“Create opportunities for failure.” Great example that Gutsche shared: the BBC established a “gambling fund” to develop programs that very few people thought would work. The Office, one of the BBC’s most popular shows (and now a popular show in the United States) was a gambling fund idea.

“Innovation starts with observing your customers.” Put yourself in their element. Visit them in their places of business. Create open online environments for them to interact.

“Senior people need to be crazy.” Aren’t they already? (Sorry, bad joke from a millennial). What Gutsche meant is that senior-level leaders need to encourage, accept, and foster wacky ideas. Too many great ideas from all levels get killed at the senior-leadership level.

“Relentlessly obsess about your story.” i.e. stick to your mission and reinforce it consistently through your marketing.

“Simple, direct, and supercharged.” According to Gutsche, these are the qualities of “infectious” marketing.

I followed up with Gutsche after his session and asked him about his emphasis on embracing any crisis as an opportunity. He even promoted declaring a crisis so as to bring that opportunity out into the open. “When you are in a crisis, regardless of how you got there, you get good ideas,” he says.

TrendHunter.com prides itself on finding the “next big thing,” seemingly in contrast with the previous day’s keynote message about the long tail and the death of culture-wide blockbuster hits. Turns out the next big thing for any organization is just a matter of scale. “So many things can be a success,” Gutsche says, “but that doesn’t mean everyone in America buying a toaster.”

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Quick clicks: Dithering

- This week, Ann Oliveri had one of my favorite blog post titles in a while: The Knowing-Dithering Gap. I know I've seen that gap before.

- Are meeting attendees beginning to expect more opportunities to engage with presenters? Or can a lack of such engagement driving people away from traditional education events? Jeremiah Owyang at the Web Strategy by Jeremiah blog shares some direct experience with changing presentations based on audience response, and Krys Slovacek at the Gathering blog talks about creating engagement with audience response systems.

- Welcome to another relatively new association blogger: Chris Davis at the Beginning Marketer blog. Chris, thank you for blogging!

- Jeff Cobb at the Mission to Learn blog is launching a newsletter focused on free learning opportunities--great stuff for smaller associations or those forced to reduce their staff development budgets as the economy gets bumpy.

- If you've enjoyed Joe's posts on Acronym from the DigitalNow conference, you may also be interested in the official DigitalNow blog. They're doing some neat things with incorporating photos via Flickr and video into the blog, as well as providing a lot of presentation materials through the blog.

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April 24, 2008

It’s all about users

More from the 2008 Digital Now conference. A common theme bubbled up in several of the sessions today: focusing on users.

Specifically, many of the thought leaders have hammered home the importance of thinking like your members and website visitors, listening to them for their needs, and asking them how your content and services should be structured.

Dan Guarnaccia, VP of product marketing at Sitecore, listed the seven habits of effective websites. Number one on the list? “Your members are in charge.” Later on, he talked about taking an honest look at your website and finding the holes – the places where your members look for content and either miss what’s there or find nothing at all – and patching them up.

Matt Loeb, CAE, staff director at IEEE, conducted extensive usability testing for the online portal for IEEE’s magazine, Spectrum. Members were asked to complete tasks on IEEE’s website and were monitored as they did. Their feedback? The site navigation stunk (in so many words). So they redesigned it.

In the same session, Gary Rubin, chief publishing and e-media officer at the Society for Human Resources Management, said he intentionally downplays the brand of SHRM’s print magazine on SHRM’s website. “People are going to our website for broad content, not our magazine,” he said. Content from the magazine and other resources is arranged by topics and categories – which is how visitors browse and search – not by what publication they came from. (Take-home test: check your association’s website. Are the names of your publications more prominent than the content in them?)

The real doozy came from Jim Bower, founder and chief visionary officer of Whyville, an educational online virtual world for kids age eight to 14. Bower argued that the human brain interprets information in three-dimensional space, and so Whyville is constructed for children to learn by moving through and interacting in the Whyville community. He said two-dimensional information (including that on a computer screen) is “an artifact of the printing press.” Whyville seems alien to most adults, but it works: Whyville has drawn 3.3 million users. Engaged users. The kids even participate in their own governance system.

The big picture: as association staff, it’s way too easy to develop deeply ingrained interpretations of everything about your organization. Don't allow this to guide how you deliver content and services to members and consumers, because they see your products in entirely different ways.

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There is no average member

So says Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and author of The Long Tail. In his opening speech at the 2008 Digital Now conference Thursday, Anderson said associations must let go of the notion that members all share common wants and needs.

(The Long Tail was published a few years ago, so no need to go into detailed explanation of it here. If you're unfamiliar, check out the Wikipedia entry for it or Anderson's blog, titled (what else?) The Long Tail.)

Anderson cited a variety of media and corporate examples, but he related the principles of the long tail to associations with one key idea: an association’s core constituency is the vertical portion of the curve, and the long tail represents everyone else (read: mailbox members and/or nonmembers). Seems obvious, but here’s what he said about “everyone else”: they might be interested in what your association has to offer, but they just don’t have enough reasons to join or become overly engaged.

These are people who might be only partially related to your profession or who might not have the financial resources to pay for a membership or who may just not be the “joiner” types. But there’s opportunity in appealing to them. They may, in fact, never join, but maybe they’ll buy a book, or maybe they’ll download an education session recording, or maybe they’ll lurk on an open listserv or virtual community and connect with a member with similar interests.

Is your association ignoring these people? The dilemma here, of course, is that the measurable return to your association of one person finding a useful article in your web archives is next to nil, and these types of long-tail interactions will never explode into blockbuster returns. But with new technology, providing these options also costs next to nothing, and if they spread out over 1,000 or 100,000 interactions, the returns gradually add up. You just have to be patient.

The associations that are finding success in appealing to the long tails of their markets are finding creative and cost-effective ways to broaden their products and services or to broaden the audience those products are available to.

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Travel troubles

Travel problems seem to be common lately: Mike Mason at the Communicatio blog is stuck waiting for a flight this morning, and Joan Eisenstodt at The Meetings Collaborative has had some sticker shock when booking upcoming flights. I attended a meeting held by the U.S. Chamber a few weeks back, and I saw their staff struggle when one speaker scheduled for breakfast didn't arrive until lunch, and two others weren't able to make it at all. (They were able to switch their breakfast and lunch speakers, which worked well--and luckily the other two speakers were two of eight simultaneous sessions, so while there was disappointment at missing two popular speakers, attendees were able to attend other sessions instead.)

I'd like to think that most associations have contingency plans for travel-related mishaps, but I don't know that any of us are fully prepared for major disruptions like the recent cancellations and bankruptcies. What have you done to manage the situation when flight cancellations cause havoc with your meeting plans? And, to pick up on Joan's post, is your association planning for continued cutbacks on travel due to the related pressures of an economic downturn and rising airline prices?

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Volunteer Screening Procedures: Too Lenient?

Are we associations and nonprofits so grateful for volunteers of almost any ilk that we don’t ask too many questions? Apparently. According to a new report by the National Center for Victims of Crime titled “Who's Lending a Hand? A National Survey of Nonprofit Volunteer Screening Practices,” one in three American nonprofit does no background checking of volunteers, while almost one in eight (12%) doesn’t screen volunteers for anything.

The center, a major advocacy organization for crime victims, was using the survey to identify characteristics of organizations that do “regularly screen volunteers, the screening methods used, and the role of these screening results in organizational decision making.” As of 2006, 61 million U.S. residents volunteer. It’s not surprising then that of the surveyed organizations that do screen, almost half reported that they had uncovered "inappropriate" volunteers through that process.

Reasons given for not screening volunteers included concerns about cost, usefulness, and potentially offending volunteers. Those issues should pale in the face of a recent audit of 3.7 million background screenings in the past five years that found “more than 189,000 individuals with at least one criminal conviction had tried to volunteer or work for a nonprofit organization. Of those, more than 2,700 were registered sex offenders.”

But your organization does screen, you say? Check that you’re not among these “troubling gaps” revealed by the national center survey:

- 22% of screening nonprofits don’t call references.
- 25% of screening organizations don’t conduct any type of background check.
- 66% of organizations that do background checks don’t check fingerprint databases, which the center says is “the most reliable form of criminal background check.”

Bottom line? Here are the center’s top four recommendations for associations and nonprofits:

1. “Consistently and comprehensively screen volunteers, particularly if they will work directly with clients or have access to sensitive client information.
2. “Include in-person interviews, personal and professional reference checks, and national criminal background checks of names and, if possible, fingerprints.
3. “Check state databases, such as child and adult protective services, in states where volunteers have lived.
4. “Decide which histories will disqualify volunteers, screen for such histories, and re-screen at regular intervals.”

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April 23, 2008

Awards musings

I had the opportunity last week to serve as a judge for the Society of National Association Publications' EXCEL Awards, intended to recognize the best association publications--entries ranged from magazine covers to single-issue publications to blogs. Last year I served as a "virtual" judge, reading entries electronically and holding the judging discussion via conference call, but this year was the first year I volunteered as an in-person judge. It was a great and very interesting experience, and I thought I'd share a few thoughts about it:

1. Wow, motivated volunteers can get a lot done. There were 60 judges there, and we considered 800 entries in a day of work. (Another 450 entries were judged virtually.) The room was buzzing for hours as editors and designers passionately debated the merits of particular publications. And we got it all done before our scheduled quitting time.

2. Everyone who applies for an award should serve as a volunteer judge, somewhere, at least once. In a past life I was in charge of coordinating a much smaller awards program, but being a judge is a whole different experience, and it taught me a lot about what is effective for catching judges' eyes (as an award applicant) and what isn't. Not to mention the fact that I learned a lot from the other publications people on my judging team.

3. It doesn't matter what your association does--you can still write interesting, engaging stories about it. We judged entries on all kinds of topics that inherently weren't very interesting to me--but the right writers can make an article compelling no matter what it's about. I've always believed that, but I really saw it in action as I was judging.

4. It's important to take time to volunteer in this way. I love my job, but taking a day off to work with and talk to a group of people who love the same things I do was energizing. Thanks to SNAP for giving me the opportunity to recharge!

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Study Mission to India photos

Photo from Study Mission to India


For those of you who were interested in Anne Blouin's posts from the Study Mission to India, you may also be interested in the large set of photos now available from the study mission. A variety of pictures from the trip are now available on Flickr, as part of ASAE & The Center's Flickr photostream.

I hope you enjoy the photos!

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April 22, 2008

Stepping up the conversation on Millennials

As a champion of my generation’s leadership potential, I cringe at reports that perpetuate negative impressions of Millennials. With plentiful images of disinterested, superficial hipsters glued to their phones, computers, and video games, it sometimes feels like an uphill battle to prove to more experienced colleagues that many of us are committed to making a difference. I was heartened by an article on FastCompany.com that shares anecdotes and statistics demonstrating how many young women of today aim to become a new kind of leader, driven not by money and power, but by a sense of social responsibility.

On the other side of the coin, a recent podcast from Knowledge at W.P. Carey addresses a troubling trend among young people: cheating on tests and lying on resumes to get ahead in school or career. The discussion depicts the youngest members of our workforce as supremely self-centered, willing to trample ethical boundaries in order to advance their individual goals. More articles come out every day with tips for working with and relating to members of Generation Y, often oversimplifying the issue by making it seem easy to predict behaviors. The underlying goal is one of understanding, but the opposite can easily occur: readers can be lured to believe they’ve discovered what motivates a widely diverse population when they’ve only gotten a peek at one segment.

That’s not to say that experts and researchers should stop writing articles. Having an array of ideas on the table makes for a great start, but we need more opportunities to actively discuss them. This is where associations can step in and become invaluable contributors to the conversation about the role of Millennials. Inviting young professionals to speak at conferences, holding forums where younger and older workers can compare viewpoints, and encouraging Generation Y participation on committees are all ways associations can investigate this issue on a level that is more than just skin deep. I think we can add to the growing list of associations’ social responsibilities the mission to ensure that all of our members develop an experience-based belief that the young people of today have what it takes to become the leaders we need for the future.

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April 21, 2008

The Power of Unlikely Partnerships

I thought someone had spiked my iced tea when I first spotted the most unlikely of duos teamed in the same advertisement--the Revs. Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton. That they were relaxing on a couch along a Virginia beach, chatting about their shared view of the need to take care of the planet, was even more bewildering. Welcome to the attention-getting prowess of the recently launched "We" campaign, a project of Al Gore’s nonprofit Alliance for Climate Protection.

The unusual ad, part of a call-to-action series titled "Unlikely Alliances," has been garnering attention since it began running April 10. Soon to come is the second ad, which stars House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) promoting united action on climate change.

Calling itself "unprecedented in scale for a public policy issue," the We campaign depicts the critical roles of both partnerships and leadership in combating a large-scale world problem. Foremost in its messaging is that those roles require impatiently pushing aside the sometimes radical differences, whether politics, religion, or whatever, that prevent people from focusing solely on a single cause: addressing global warming.

Clearly, the alliance has a broad definition of what and who is a leader today, with parameters set well beyond the political and academic arenas in its quest to sign up 10 million "climate activists" in the next three years. While it has reached out to predictable leaders in the conservation movement (National Audubon Society and myriad others), it also has targeted youth and emerging community leaders via partnerships with the Girl Scouts of America and an aggressive social media campaign that leverages the viral nature of mobile technology, Facebook, and MySpace in particular.

In addition, the We campaign has successfully wooed often-underrated leading labor organizers, such as the United Steelworkers union. The latter made headlines only weeks ago when it launched its own "unlikely alliance" with the Sierra Club to create the "Blue Green Alliance" and national Green Jobs for America campaign.

I’ve been writing and learning a lot about partnerships as I research case studies for ASAE & The Center’s Social Responsibility and Philanthropic/Nonprofit initiatives. The newswires and newspapers are crowded with the latest stories of corporations turning to nonprofits as strategic partners, rather than strictly charities. Less common, though, is breaking news of innovative corporate-association partnerships or unique professional-trade association alliances.
That will need to change if we as a sector are going to spearhead the types of social, economic, and environmental initiatives that we expect to emerge from ASAE & The Center’s Global Summit on Social Responsibility April 30-May 2. WE—as individual leaders, organizations, industries and professions--must be the ones waving aside perceived barriers, biases, assumptions, and fears that keep us from proffering a hand to potential partners and redefining leadership in ways that accelerate progress.

"If enough of us demand action from our leaders," states Gingrich in the We ad, "we can spark the innovation we need." And I find that, however unlikely, I agree with him.

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April 17, 2008

The importance of morale

How important do you think employee morale is to your association's productivity? I've always thought it was important, but I've been doing some reading that made me bump it up significantly.

Brad Bird, the Oscar-winning director behind movies like The Incredibles, made a great point about employee morale in a recent interview in The McKinsey Quarterly [note: registration is required to view]:

"In my experience, the thing that has the most significant impact on a movie's budget -- but never shows up in a budget -- is morale. If you have low morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about 25 cents of value. If you have high morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about $3 of value."

His comment brought to mind for me a May 2007 Harvard Business Review article that made a similar point: "Inner Work Life: Understanding the Subtext of Business Performance." Psychologists Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer asked the subjects of their study on employees' inner life at work to send them daily diary entries about an event that stood out to them during each working day.

In the article, Amabile and Kramer say that "Having taken a microscope to this question, we believe strongly that performance is linked to inner work life and that the link is a positive one. People perform better when their workday experiences include more positive emotions, stronger intrinsic motivation (passion for the work), and more favorable perceptions of their work, their team, their leaders, and their organization. Moreover, these effects cannot be explained by people’s different personalities or backgrounds—which we did account for in our analyses."

What do you do at your association to raise morale and keep it high?

(Thanks to Susan Fox, whose listserver post about the Brad Bird article inspired me to take the time to read it ...)

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April 16, 2008

Quick clicks: Deep thoughts

There's some great thinking going on in the association blog community and elsewhere this week--plus some neat tools and ideas.

- Kevin Holland at Association Inc. proposes some new rules for association growth, and Tony Rossell at the Membership Marketing blog adds his thoughts.

- Jamie Notter of the Get Me Jamie Notter blog has some musings on the challenges of volunteer management, especially when some volunteers are more helpful than others.

- Lindy Dreyer at the Association Marketing Springboard blog talks about how associations can support members in transition.

- The Logic + Emotion blog shares some great examples of companies using social media to directly and imaginatively engage with their customers.

- Cindy Butts at the AE on the Verge blog has some great early results to share from a social media campaign her association is undertaking to promote home ownership in Maine.

- The Newseum's website has a cool tool: a map linked to the front pages of hundreds of newspapers from around the world.

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April 10, 2008

Redeveloping our curiosity

In the March issue of Associations Now, Jeff De Cagna outlines several new traditions associations need to adopt in order to survive. First on his list is a tradition of curiosity and a total commitment to continued learning. In order to infuse the associations we work for with an insatiable hunger for knowledge—whether it provides what we hope to find or something totally different—we first need to cultivate curiosity in ourselves as individuals.

Parents encourage small children to be curious about the world. To explore their physical surroundings and mental space. To ask questions and wonder why. In school, from kindergarten to college, teachers promote curiosity by leading students in conducting science experiments, analyzing historical events, and imagining new solutions. But too often in the work world, curiosity loses priority in favor of increasing productivity or maintaining the status quo. If, as De Cagna says, curiosity will be a necessary component of a thriving association, deeply curious people will be needed to manage them. We have the opportunity to distinguish ourselves now as self-motivated learners who look for knowledge everywhere.

Redeveloping our curiosity can happen through formal professional development opportunities, web-based forums, in-person gatherings, and good old-fashioned reading of books and magazines. To foster curiosity among our teams, we could set up a position swap where staff members provide fresh perspectives on the issues facing co-workers in other departments. Or we could ask the whole office to read a groundbreaking book and discuss it during lunch or happy hour. What other ways can we become more curious and jump-start an environment of learning in our organizations?

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Governance: How Does Your Board Compare?

Download file

A McKinsey article, published in late March, summarized the results of a global survey that generated responses from 586 corporate directors, 51 percent of them CEOs or other C-level executives. Respondents represented 376 private and 161 public companies; the remainder work at nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Twenty-six percent of the companies represented in the survey have annual revenues of $1 billion or more.

The file, above, is a Word table that summarizes the major conclusions of the study.

In summary, the majority of survey respondents said they want to give “higher priority to talent management and forward-looking strategies that maximize shareholder value, and spend less time dealing with issues such as compliance” (Sarbanes Oxley is mandatory for many for-profit organizations, and the time spent in compliance appears to have outworn its welcome).

Fortunately, for non-profits, we have not been burdened with the mandatory time and expense in connection with Sarbanes Oxley--which makes sense inasmuch as few non-profit business and governance models run the risks at the same levels that exist in the for-profit sector, and that led to the Sarbanes Oxley regulations. It is an interesting commentary that corporate board survey respondents now say that want to change priority from compliance to strategy and talent management--from reactive to proactive leadership--which are similar issues and challenges faced by non-profit boards and executives.

Back to the survey conclusions, when compared to how the survey participant's boards currently spend their time, the table in the file above summarizes where the largest percentage of respondents said they wanted to spend “more” time, and “less” time, as well as their responses of agreement or disagreement with other characterizations of their boards.

The full article can be found at: http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Governance/Boards/Making_the_board_more_strategic_A_McKinsey_Global_Survey_2124_abstract

How does your board compare with the comments from the survey respondents?

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April 9, 2008

The right way to answer the phone?

Seth Godin has a great post up today (admittedly, most of his posts are great ones) about handling customer phone calls. Here's his opening salvo: "The new rules mean that the most valuable marketing event is almost always an inbound phone call."

I'll admit that answering member calls is something I struggle with, because in my career in association communications, I've often received calls from members with questions that had nothing to do with my area of expertise--the member operating under the assumption that "communications" meant that I knew the answers to any given question they might have. I've struggled with the conflict between wanting to give great customer service and just not knowing the answer to a question. And, of course, no member enjoys being bounced all over creation while they're trying to find the one person with the answer they need.

But last week I noticed something while I was working at Springtime: The hardest questions I had to answer were the brand-new ones. Once I had told one person where the closest Starbucks was or how to get to the general session, I could answer the question easily and fluently the next time it was asked. Our meetings department gave me pretty much all the information I needed, but I had to go through the experience of answering the question once to upload it properly into my brain.

I'm wondering: Would it be worthwhile to cycle all of your staff through a few weeks of answering member phone calls? It would certainly be hard work for all concerned, but would it help your staff get a truly fluent familiarity with the questions your members tend to ask--and therefore help them to provide better customer service when called upon to answer those questions again?

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Program classification

First a quick note to readers--there's a lot of rich content in the "comments" sections of these posts. As one of the founders of Acronym, I am humbled at the level of dialog that this blog has inspired. I urge readers to dig deep into the comments. I like to think I'm interesting, and I know Lisa and all of our guest bloggers have some really cool things to say, but I'm amazed at what I learn from the comments of Acronym readers--that's where all the real smart stuff is.

To that point, I point to Virgil Carter's comment last week to one of my HR posts. Now, I disagree with the overall point Virgil makes, but his comment has perhaps changed the way I look at every single thing an association does. Here's what he wrote:

Non-profit associations generally have operations in two categories: 1) mission-oriented activities (many of these may not be revenue-producing and often are subsidized through their business operations and/or dues); 2) business operations activities(these are mission-oriented as well, but produce a net revenue margin, which goes to make the subsidized activities possible).

That's beautiful to me. From now on, when I'm proposing a new project or when I'm evaluating new proposals, the project has to be labeled in one of two ways. It has to be labeled (and evaluated) as either mission critical or organization building. Projects that are mission critical are being proposed because they are so important to the profession/industry/sector that they should be done whether or not the proposal is intended to generate a net gain for the organization. Organization building projects are designed to generate a net income (perhaps after an initial start up period), and while certainly mission enhancing, are not so critical that the organization should continue to do it if the expected income does not arrive.

As with all things, just because it is planned one way doesn't mean that it can't eventually jump categories. Perhaps after a few years the mission critical project doesn't seem to be have the same mission critical cache any more, and it is shifted to the organization building description, so it must either generate net income or be sunsetted. Likewise, it's possible for an organization building project to become mission critical continue even if it nets a loss.

Each year, the classification of each program, product, service, etc. should be reevaluated. These are the sorts of strategic decisions that I think associations have a hard time making, and, in turn, why so many programs, products, etc., that should be terminated never are.

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April 8, 2008

Quick clicks: Common sense

I've been saving a variety of links to share today:

- Tom Peters suggests that you run your ideas and proposals by an "ombudsman for common sense." I wonder how many bad ideas could have been turned into good ideas with a little common sense at the beginning of the project ...

- Speaking of good ideas, Rick Johnston at the CAE Weblog recently shared one: instead of a focus group, hold a "listening lab" guided by your customers or members and their concerns.

- Jeff Cobb at Mission to Learn learned five good presentation tips from a series of 60-second lectures.

- I'm pleased to note that Joan Eisenstodt now has a blog, Good Stuff From Joan Eisenstodt, at the Meetings Collective. Those of you who read the listservers where Joan participates or have heard her speak know how interesting it is to listen to what she has to say. (Thanks to Sue Pelletier for linking to Joan's blog first!)

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Preparing for Super-size Donations: When You Make the Top 100 Million

What do you do to prepare for what will likely be a mega-million-dollar fundraising event and media circus? Have a party! A bunch of them actually, among other tools designed to make the most of this remarkable opportunity.

To back up, Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) is one of the spectacularly lucky nonprofit beneficiaries of the estimated $75 million to $100 million raised during tonight’s much-hyped American Idol: Idol Gives Back television extravaganza, which airs on FOX Wednesday night from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The event aims to “raise awareness of and benefit various U.S. and international charities” (most of which serve children and families), and among the myriad celebrities and musicians featured will be actress and CDF board member Reese Witherspoon. The show also runs video footage of one of CDF’s Freedom Schools sites in New Orleans.

Witherspoon “will show the millions of American Idol viewers that every step we take to improve the lives of children improves the lives of all of us. As CDF turns 35 this year, we could not ask for a better birthday gift!” enthuses organization leaders.

In anticipation of the media and donor spotlight, CDF has created an Idol-oriented frequently-asked-questions page on its Web site and crafted a “watch party” toolkit and “party central” virtual list of the happy get-togethers. The toolkit includes questions that allow viewers to “participate in a discussion of the state of America's children and ways that together, we can takes steps to not only improve the lives of children, but improve the lives of all of us.”

CDF remembered to include several important elements to its new FAQ: three easy ways to “give” to the organization other than a credit card number (“Become a Fan of the CDF on Facebook!”), and reassurance and an address for more-cautious donors who prefer to send checks rather than give online, the primary donation vehicle used tonight.

Other nonprofit beneficiaries in 2008 include the Global Fund, Malaria No More, Children's Health Fund, Save the Children, and Make It Right, actor Brad Pitt's campaign to help New Orleans recover from Hurricane Katrina.

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April 7, 2008

Form 990 instructions comment period opens

The IRS just released the draft instructions for Form 990. Here's ASAE & The Center's notice about it:

The IRS this afternoon released draft instructions for the redesigned Form 990 that tax-exempt organizations will file beginning with the 2008 tax year (returns filed in 2009). The draft instructions can be downloaded from the IRS website here: http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=181091,00.html .

While the new Form 990 was finalized in late December 2007, the IRS is seeking comments on the 2008 Form 990 instructions to ensure they address the needs of filing organizations. Comments are due by June 1, 2008.

The IRS is requesting comments on all aspects of the draft instructions, including suggestions for further reducing the complexity of the form and the burden on filing organizations. At the beginning of the instructions for the core form and each schedule, the IRS has highlighted specific areas where comments might help. The agency indicated it's particularly interested in comments on the definitions in its glossary, and the instructions for significantly revised or new areas of the form such as compensation, governance, foreign activities, disregarded entities and joint ventures and hospitals. As it did with the Form 990 last summer, the IRS plans to post all comments on the instructions on its website (www.irs.gov).

According to the IRS, the draft instructions are intended to provide specific and clear guidance for completing the core form and each schedule. This approach has increased the length of the instructions, but the IRS believes the new content will make it easier for organizations to complete the form. The IRS has included a number of new tools to enhance compliance and promote more uniform reporting, including a comprehensive glossary of terms; a sequencing list to help organizations determine the order in which to complete sections of the form; and a compensation table to help organizations determine how and where to report compensation data.

ASAE is in the process of reviewing the draft instructions and welcomes feedback from the association community as we work toward submitting comprehensive comments prior to June 1.
For more information about the new Form 990, please contact ASAE's Public Policy Division at 202-626-2703 or email us at publicpolicy@asaenet.org.

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April 5, 2008

Bonus! Uncommon sensical HR #6: Dress codes

I’m sneaking this bonus uncommon sensical HR policy in on a Saturday to see who’s really paying attention.

As I was coming up with a list of post ideas, I wasn’t sure how the whole review/raise/salary thing was going to work out, so I needed another idea or two. Dress code was the next on the list.

Hold on to your hats (bad dress code pun intended), because I’m not advocating a nonpolicy here. My policy is, well, more simplistic maybe than what people might like. Here goes:

Dress Code Policy

Don’t embarrass the organization.

That’s it. All day, every day—yes, including days when the board is at headquarters.

Just as before, there are perhaps caveats to various associations that may represent especially business-attired members, but for the most part, I just think people should dress how they feel most productive (as long as it doesn’t embarrass the organization). When the VIPs come in, tell them you think it's in their best interest to have free, open, motivated office, which means it's casual. The VIPs can feel free to wear whatever they're comfortable wearing.

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April 4, 2008

Uncommon sensical HR #5: Salary policy

You know the annual issue of Parade magazine that lists the salaries of 50 or 70 people or so? Most of them are man/woman on the street types of things, with a few celebs and others thrown in. I always wonder about how they get people to give their income. And I wonder what, if any, angst it causes the organizations that employ those people.

So here’s my nuttiest HR policy of all: publish everybody’s salary. Let everybody know what everybody else makes.

What would the ramifications of such a policy be?

In the case of for-profit CEOs, it turned out to be a big mistake. The SEC thought it abominable that CEO compensation had skyrocketed from 5 times the average salary of the firm to 10 times. Over mighty howls from executives, the SEC began requiring public disclosures of CEO compensation. Major backfire! Since disclosures, CEO salaries have jumped: 364 times the average worker according to a CNN report last summer.

I realize this is an argument against my policy. But just looking at CEOs makes it different; I’m not convinced the same thing would happen (skyrocketing salaries) with my policy.

Chances are you’ll get a lot of griping and moaning, some jealousy, and other nasty emotions. But I contend that that stuff is just under the surface anyway, and it bubbles up from time to time in ways that are detrimental to your organization. Once it’s out there for a while, there’s no need for the griping and jealousy. If an employee is discontent with what they make, they are free to try to go elsewhere, inside or outside the organization. It could also be motivational to people just starting out in the lower salary ranges, if a message of work hard you will be rewarded is part of the culture of the organization. Plus, I just like the ultimate in transparency that such a policy demonstrates.

One major caveat is the specialized element of association work. There are many organizations where you not only have to worry about other staff griping and jealousy, but also members if the profession is less compensated than association management (stop laughing, there are some). To be honest, I’m not sure I can resolve this argument. I’d admire an organization that did it anyway and told/convinced any complaining members that this is what it costs to provide the level of service the profession deserves.

A final thought. If outright salaries are too sensitive, then I’d advocate a pretty strict graded salary structure—and let everyone in the organization what each job is graded at and give them access to the entire salary scale for the organization. Maybe have a $10,000 or $15,000 range makes salary disclosure more palatable.

So that’s it. Feel free to rip apart this or any other post in my uncommon sensical HR policy thread. I hope you’ve enjoyed it… as with so many of my posts, I have this sneaking suspicion that these posts will contribute to the fact that no other association is ever likely to hire me again based on my Acronym writings. Oh well, I’ll always have my shepherding to fall back on.

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April 3, 2008

Uncommon sensical HR #4: Reviews and raises

Try doing this. Try saying the following sentence emphasizing the word “performance:”

It’s PERFORMANCE review time!

Now try it emphasizing “review:”

It’s performance REVIEW time!

See? No matter how you say it, you won’t be convinced that the exclamation point should be there. So why have a process that is universally hated? Yesterday’s uncommon sensical HR practice was to scrap the leave policy; today’s is scrap the review process.

This seems so straightforward to me, I don’t know why the relic of performance reviews is still around. Even if an employee works with very little oversight, there is no excuse for her not to know exactly where she stands with her supervisor. And it’s not all the supervisor’s responsibility; there needs to be a culture where employees can freely talk about their work and the organization with their supervisors.

Having a sitdown every year just seems pretty arbitrary to me. What’s so special about 365 days (366 this year)? There should be sitdowns whenever a sitdown is needed: new projects, you’ve noticed your staff is stressed, you’ve noticed your boss is stressed, or even just because. An ongoing series of these is easily more beneficial than a four-page form with a bunch of meaningless ratings on it filled out once a year.

Raises are often tied to reviews. I’m not sure if I’m reading things right, but it seems to me that HR types have tried to distance themselves from COLAs (cost of living adjustments). I think most people know that’s a load of… of… stuff. There is a COLA component to raises whether the organization is willing to admit it or not. I say, just be upfront about it. Tell people, for example, that there’s going to be a 2 percent COLA for everybody, and each supervisor/manager/director will add merit increases as they see fit in accordance with the an overall plan for the organization.

And that leads to tomorrow’s topic: policies around salary.

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Power of positive thinking

He’s the Chicken Soup for the Soul guy, Jack Canfield. And at Springtime’s general session, he gave away a hundred bucks to one lucky attendee.

How did he do it? He held up a $100 bill and said “Who would like this?”

Hands shot up all around the ballroom. One person, though, walked up and took it. And that’s the whole point of his presentation: take action. Yes, the person did keep the hundred bucks, which might have been most of Canfield’s honorarium.

So on to a few specifics. In addition to being the Chicken Soup for the Soul guy, he’s the The Success Principles guy, his latest self-help motivational book. There are 64 principles in the book, but he focused on the first and most important:

Take 100% responsibility for your life and results.

This means you have to give up all blaming and all complaining. And no more justifying, defending, or excuse making.

What does this mean?

Here’s his example for giving up blaming.

A guy could go home from work and discover his girlfriend has left him. Just took everything she owned and moved. The guy could react by saying, (and yes, this is the story he told as he told it) “That bitch. How could she do this?” Or, the guy could reflect and say, “Gee, I wonder what I did to make her leave.”


He also gave the formula for this success principle:

E + R = O

Events plus your response to these events equal the outcome.

He gave the story of seeing a sign hanging in a store saying:

“I’ve heard there’s a recession coming. I’ve chosen not to participate.”

The basic message: visualize the outcome you want and just by visualizing it – and believing it possible, you can make it happen.

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3 critical keys for planning international meetings

Here are the tips from Leslie Zeck, director, meetings & conventions at the American Council of Engineering Companies, in her session: “A First Timer’s Guide to International Meeting Planning.”

1. Hire a professional conference organizer in the country of your meeting. “This is not the time to be proud of those three initials after your name,” she said, referring the certified meeting planner credential. “It’s not the time to know you have your checklist and your experience and you can do it. Convince whoever you need to convince to hire a PCO—it’s money well spent.”

2. Network with your colleagues who have held meetings internationally and attend a meeting in the travel and meetings sector that is being held overseas.

3. Hire a customs broker. “If you’ve held a few international meetings and haven’t had trouble in shipping and receiving, then you must be touched by an angel.”

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I want to be a dolphin

Turns out, dolphins can be awake and asleep at the same time.

That's the first thing I learned at one of this morning's concurrent sessions at Springtime: “This One Will Put You to Sleep” delivered by Deborah Gofreed, MD, medical director, Arlington Sleep Medicine.

Alas, humans are not so lucky. I specifically chose this session for the first morning session because I thought there would be bunks or something.

Alas, I was not so lucky to get a few extra winks, but I did learn some techniques that might help me get a few extra winks the next time I am in a bunk.

We all know the problem: most of us don’t get as much sleep as we think we need; most of us have trouble sleeping at least a few nights per week; average adult sleep time has decreased from eight hours to about six hours.

So what to do?

Keep a regular sleep schedule with a bedtime and wake time. For those suffering from insomnia, it’s particularly important to stick to your wake up time.

Don’t exercise right before bed, though evening exercise several hours before laying down is ok.

Drink no alcohol for four hours before going to sleep.

Avoid nicotine and caffeine in the evenings.

Don’t go to bed full or hungry.

Create a bedtime routine and follow it.

Relax in a warm bath.

Set aside a worry time a couple of hours before bedtime. This is for those of us who are tired, tired, tired, we lay our heads on a pillow with heavy eyelids, and then, all of a sudden, the mind starts racing.

Make your sleep environment a sleeping environment—no television or music.

Dr. Gofreed also had some tips to fight jet lag.

Use a blindfold.

Nap, but limit it to 30 minutes.

Limit alcohol and caffeine.

Medicate—study the different kinds of medicine and discuss with your doctor.

Melatonin—a natural sleep aid.

Begin to shift your sleep pattern before you leave.

If it’s a short trip, try to keep as close to your home time zone hours as you can.

Sleep well!

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April 2, 2008

Technical note

For those of you interested in the documents Virgil Carter mentioned in his recent post "So You Want to Be an Executive Director?" there are now live links to both documents included in the post. My apologies for the delay--there were some technical difficulties to be worked out, but now they are solved, thanks to the patient help of Amy Hissrich in our web department.

Thank you for your patience, and thanks to Virgil for sharing such great information!

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Uncommon sensical HR #3: The leave nonpolicy

Tying together a few threads in the third day of uncommon sensical HR practices: The first post is really the thread that makes all HR policies and practices work. If you’ve used the hiring and firing decisions to build a staff that is motivated to do good work, then you trust them to do it.

So here’s my leave policy: don’t have one.

Ok, ok, not exactly no policy, but do away with vacation time and sick leave as you know it. I’ll admit to being a little out of my area of expertise here (I’m sure some of you are thinking, “yeah, WAY out”), and I admit to not having a great grasp of short-term and long-term disability policies. Seems to me most places have some such coverage. So let’s say that your short-term kicks in after two weeks. Then your policy should be that everybody always has a two-week bank of sick leave. No need to track it. So if one of your valued staff (and remember, they’re all valued now) unfortunately comes down with pneumonia, he uses his 10-day bank of sick leave then moves to short-term disability. Now let’s say that employee was well enough to return to work after eight days out. After his first day back, he’s back to having a 10-day sick leave bank.

As for vacation, my policy would be as a general guideline assume you have three weeks or so of vacation each year. Take off when you need to to get the car inspected or watch your son’s recital, and take a week or two or long weekends to do fun things. My policy would be that you have to use at least two weeks time off for reasons other than you or your family being sick. You have to be able to document it. I’m not sure what the ramifications are if you don’t. Maybe everybody on staff gets a $100 bonus every year for using at least two weeks. Maybe offenders who don’t use the leave are publicly excoriated at the next staff meeting. Whatever makes people take time off.

And here’s something to please the accountants: rather than have a huge liability with a bunch of staff who have hundreds of hours of vacation saved, have a policy that for employees that have been there at least a year, pay them two weeks of vacation if they leave.

I know, it sounds like I’m an idealist. Maybe I’m gullible. I just think if you actually have a staff you trust, then you trust them not to abuse this nonpolicy. Maybe if I were actually in charge, I’d hate the day I ever thought of this idea. But maybe it’s the type of flexibility that employees would truly value.

On tomorrow’s docket: Performance reviews and raises. It’s probably not too difficult to guess where I come down on performance reviews, is it?

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Let's look at it another way

Apologies to any long-time Acronym readers as once again I'm going back to something I've talked about before.

About five months ago, diary of a reluctant blogger Maddie Grant got me fired up by saying she prefers to ignore views, outlooks, whatever that are different than hers (my post about it, and her original post). A recent short article from the New York Times Magazine reminded me once again of the value of questioning one's own views.

The article talks about new interpretations of classic social psychology experiments (you have to look past the Elliot Spitzer references, which I thought were a cheap tie into todays pop/political scene). One of the experiments is the one that demonstrated that people are basically sheep, and will go along with the crowd even when they know the crowd is wrong. But a reexamination of the data is less absolute. It turns out people usually didn't go along with the crowd, but did sometimes. Far from being a negative, as the sheep-like description would have you believe, it could be seen as a positive that first, people usually aren't sheep-like, and, second, when they are it's because they've made an active determination that in that particular case the group is more important than the individual.

The other famous experiment in which the classic interpretation is challenged is the one where people think they're giving progressively more severe shocks to other study participants (see an ABC News video re-creating the experiment). The classic conclusion is that people will blindly follow orders from people they see as superior, even when it is morally repugnant. A different interpretation is that people trust those with authority, including trusting their moral judgment.

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April 1, 2008

Uncommon sensical HR #2: Workday hours

The topic for uncommon sensical HR post number two on the surface is scheduled work hours. Below the surface, though, this is the first of two posts where the real issue is trust and flexibility.

There are some job duties in the association world that correlate to established starting or ending times. In member service, for example, you may want your phones covered from 9 am in the east to 4 pm in the west. But for most jobs, an official starting or ending time is artificial, meaning there’s no good reason for it. So don’t make people follow a rule when there’s no reason for it.

I realize people don’t work in a vacuum, they must work with each other to get things done. So maybe you establish a guideline where everybody is expected to generally be available from 10:30 to 3:30. All group meetings should respect the guidelines.

Of course I know that’s a rule that’s made to be broken, and it would be fine to break it from time to time and with good reason. But on the flip side, I’ve never heard anybody complain about not having spent enough time in meetings that day. Imagine if you could regularly count on a good chunk of either your morning or your afternoon being meeting free. Now that’s freedom!

To pull this off, you need trust in your employees. You have to trust that doing their job well is important to them. And when it comes right down to it, if you don’t trust your employees, why are they on your staff? (See yesterday’s post on hiring and firing.)

After all, everybody has job expectations. Isn’t the extent to which they are able to perform up to or beyond those expectations more important than whether they like to stay up late and get in a little late (or vice versa)?

I know that brings up the specter of performance reviews—but you’ll have to wait. That’s my topic for Thursday. Tomorrow, I’ll be making a lot of these same arguments in favor of redoing leave policies.

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"Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" case study discussion

In the April 2008 issue of Associations Now, the case study "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" focuses on the stresses and strains that can develop in an association/vendor relationship. I'd like to express my gratitude to Kerry Stackpole, CAE, and James Maloney, CAE, for providing clear-eyed commentary to be published along with the article.

For those of you who have experienced situations like these before--and those who have managed to avoid them--what are your thoughts? What could the characters in "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" have done differently to avoid the difficulties they're facing now--and what steps can they take now to change things for the better?

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