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March 30, 2010

The Power of Members

In a recent issue of Associations Now, five CEOs were asked to share their "most powerful member-recruitment tool." Answers ranged from the specific (high tech education) to the broad-based (high visibility.)

These are, of course, important to our organizations. And perhaps, "important" or "successful" better describe these tools. But to me, the most powerful member-recruitment tool is our members--able to leap over tall buildings and recruit members in a single bound.

When I hear a new member say, "I joined because Bob told me about his membership," I picture Bob wearing his Society cape and with our logo emblazoned across his chest. It was probably a 5-10 minute impromptu conversation--no market research, no marketing plan, no brochures, pamphlets, free gifts, no variable data imaging, fancy envelopes or wafer seals. Just one member sharing his experience and concluding with a message that membership is worth it.

Alas, for many of us, members are also our most untapped resource for member recruitment. With all the buzz about word-of-mouth marketing and member evangelism, your membership should be growing quicker than Stephen Colbert's Facebook page--which hit 1,000,000 fans in 8 days. Yes, our members are our most powerful member-recruitment tools. Are you taking advantage of them?

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Welcome Carolyn Hook!

Welcome to our newest Acronym blogger, Carolyn Hook, who's joining us from the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants. When she's not blogging on Acronym, Carolyn is NJSCPA's membership and operations director. She's also taking the lead on a strategic volunteer relations initiative for her association.

Please give Carolyn a friendly blog welcome!

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Previous post on consulting

The post on consulting has been removed from Acronym. The purpose of this blog is to create a space for dialog about leading and managing associations. While some controversy is good and inherent in such a space, this post was blatantly and unnecessarily disrespectful to an entire group of ASAE members. As a result, we decided the post was inappropriate for Acronym.

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March 26, 2010

Sponsorship innovation

I've been thinking about sponsorship opportunities, and the challenge of communicating value and ROI to sponsors. Sometimes, I'll be honest, I've sold sponsorship packages to people and not been completely convinced the entire investment was worth it, but they had a budget they wanted to spend and made their choice. However, I've also noticed that many of the corporate contacts and advertising agencies we work with are increasingly looking for ROI justification. What about these crazy ideas?

  • Offer money back as a refund if the sponsor is not satisfied with the results of the sponsorship?
  • Offer a full or partial refund if an event that is sponsored based on an event attendance level isn't met?
  • Offer a scaled sponsorship fee related to actual attendance (pay $2000 if attendance is between 50-100 people, etc.)?
  • Only bill for the sponsorship if it generates X amount of leads or sales for a company?
  • Create an actual ROI report for every sponsorship opportunity, based on some kind of standard, shared with each sponsor after the event?
  • Sell exclusive, multi-year sponsorships for certain events?
  • What about sharing profit margins and costs with sponsors, and working with them to help you find an appropriate balance for the association and for them?
  • What about letting sponsors share in major decisions related to the sponsorship (like food selection, meeting space, curriculum, etc), or letting them plan the specific sponsored event completely, with staff support and some controls?---note to all meeting planners, please don't kill me if your sales department asks you to do this
  • Providing/arranging for specific one-on-one time for sponsors and attendees for in-person events---attendees would love this, right?

I am coming at this from a relatively small association and these are half-baked ideas at best right now. I would love to hear feedback from all types and sizes. And I'd love to hear any innovative ideas related to sponsorship!

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March 24, 2010

Fight, Flight, or Freeze?

When faced with a threat or an environmental stressor, animals have been known to engage in a fight, flight, or freeze response. The human brain reacts similarly in a crisis situation, and because organizations are essentially people, our human instincts and reactions affect our associations.

My boss and I discussed the fight, flight, or freeze concept as it relates to association work during our "Making Lemonade Out of Lemons in a Sour Industry" presentation at the Great Ideas Conference earlier this month. We presented a situation analysis of our association and explored the decision-making process and the tactics we employed to survive one of the most tumultuous economic environments our members had ever experienced.

In early 2008, our leadership team presented our board with a market analysis that resulted in five core strategies, and when the recession set in later that year our board had to decide: fight, flight, or freeze?

In other words, do we run to safer ground by launching new initiatives and targeting new markets, even if they're outside the scope of our mission? Do we freeze in our tracks, hunker down with our members, and wait for the storm to blow over? Or do we focus on what's in front of us, continue with our strategies, and fight through it?

These all are natural responses and there is no right answer. Experience, instinct, collaboration, and leadership play a role in making the best decision for the association. When evaluating our own options, we challenged the board with three questions: what is our focus, who do we serve, and what's in it for them?

Having just developed a strong mission statement for the association, our board was able to answer those questions without hesitation: we are a credentialing organization, we serve advanced investment consulting and wealth management professionals, and the value we provide is world-class educational content.

Ultimately, the board's decision was to continue with what we already had set in motion. The board and staff were confident that the five core strategies were in alignment with our mission and that we had developed the resources and infrastructure needed to meet those strategic goals. And with the help of volunteer and staff discipline, the avoidance of mission-creep, conservative budgeting, and serendipitous timing, we were fortunate to experience growth (albeit small) and increased member satisfaction in 2008 and 2009.

So what is your focus, who do you serve, and what's in it for them? Those three questions seem so simple, but if you presented them to your board today would you receive clear, consistent answers? It can be a helpful exercise for simplifying what is often an overwhelming array of member types, benefits, and initiatives, and can help you determine your association's own path when it comes to fight, flight, or freeze moments.

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March 23, 2010

Advice vs. advice


Pictured at right are two business books we have here in the office. I haven't read either of them, so I can't speak to their literary value, but they do make for some good juxtaposing, don't they?

They illustrate an idea that came to mind as I worked on a feature about really bad advice for the March issue of Associations Now:  

For any piece of advice, there is a completely opposite but equally reasonable piece of advice.

Consider these words of wisdom you've likely heard before:

Look before you leap Go with your gut
Save wisely  You can't take your money with you when you die
Make a good first impression Don't judge a book by its cover
The pen is mightier than the sword Actions speak louder than words

Of course, I'm not the first person this has occurred to, as a quick Google search revealed. But I bring it up because understanding advice is vital to association leaders, for two reasons:

  • Any person, CEO or entry level, will seek, receive, and offer both good and bad advice throughout his or her career.
  • Associations, in many ways, are in the advice industry. Your members come to you and to each other to exchange knowledge and learn from others in the profession-—to offer each other advice.

But if every piece of advice has a perfectly reasonable opposite, is all advice a sham? And if advice became worthless, wouldn't associations be in trouble?

Maybe these are silly questions, and I won't claim to have any answers to them, but I do want to point to some more in-depth thoughts on this topic from some people much smarter than I:

"The Dirty Secret Behind Writing Advice." Writer's Digest publisher and editorial director (and blogger) Jane Friedman opines that, despite making a career in advice for writers, some of the best skills can never be put into words and passed on. Some skills are just innate. "I can't teach the exceptions or pleasing eccentricities (or what can boil down to a matter of confidence or nuance)," she says.

"It's Less About Theory and More About Thinking." Association executive and consultant Jamie Notter argues that our constant thirst for outside input actually reduces our critical thinking. "What if we had to explain more of our choices and specifically could NOT cite best practices as the rationale? This requires more thinking, and in the end, I just don't think we collectively value deep thinking enough to make room for it in our organizations."

"A Piece of Good Advice," a feature from Associations Now that fellow Acronym blogger Scott Briscoe, CAE, wrote back in 2007. He offers "an advice strategy" for association leaders that has some great points, but he also cites a psychological study that "demonstrates that people have a tendency to misuse advice and make worse decisions as a result," which puts some scientific evidence behind Jamie's thoughts referenced above.

"Trust in all sources of media declines." We couldn't get through this topic without coming around to social media. The 2010 Edelman Trust Survey showed that trust in a lot of sources of information has declined in recent years. Most notably, trust in "friends and peers" declined significantly (see the slide at 0:58 in the video). This is a new development as the speed of social media continues to increase. While Twitter allows you to pass along 50 links in a day, your followers know you can't have read every single one of them well enough to know they're worthwhile. And how much good advice can you fit into 140 characters, anyway?

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March 22, 2010

Associations and the pronoun test

When talking with members, volunteers, staff, etc. about your association, pay special attention to what pronoun they use in place of the organization. Do they say "we" or "they"?

I had run across this before, but it was reading Dan Pink's blog that got me thinking about it in this way, so I'll link to him.

Two parts to this post. First, the less interesting part. I'd bet most staff use "we". If I'm the CEO, that's probably what I want to hear, because, as Pink notes, when employees refer to the organization they work for as "they," it's a sign of disconent. But in the case of associations, if it's purposeful use, it could be a good thing. Technically, the association is actually an organization of people with a common interest, so staff referring to the organization as "they" in a purposeful way is a realization that the staff is working on behalf of someone else. The organization is actually the members; the staff administers the needs of that organization.

The more interesting aspect of the pronoun test is what members use to refer to the organization. I would guess the board says "we" all the time. Highly engaged volunteers and members probably say "we" a lot, but in many contexts, when they are talking to people not on staff or the board, will often say "they" unless it is about a particular project, committee, report, etc. that they are working on. I'd guess less engaged members use "they" almost exclusively. To me, this is another rebuke of the dues-paying model of associations. That model suggests people will pay dues to belong to something, and say "I'm going to our annual conference." But if most members use "they," then the members don't actually feel like they belong to anything; they see themselves as consumers. What are the implications for association leaders?

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March 17, 2010

From missions to mantras, big deal

I'm still chest-deep in all the Great Ideas Conference stuff. I read each of the 1,682 Tweets that used the #Ideas10 hashtag during the three days of the conference; I've read a couple dozen blog posts on the conference; and I've reflected on the sessions I went to.

A lot of the buzz was about this idea of missions being better crafted. Guy Kawasaki calls for a mantra of four words or less. Dan Pink wants a sentence. And a couple of the breakout sessions talked about crafting missions with more or better meaning. Kawasaki and Pink in particular set the Twittersphere ablaze with their comments. My take on the idea:


I don't mean to downplay the need for mission statements, and the less they sound like blah, blah, blah the better. (I'm in favor of staying away from the one-sentence mission that says this organization is going to help this trade, profession, or interest in these three areas doing these three things.) But the rally that even an expertly crafted Kawasaki mantra will generate only goes so far.

I kind of like what I consider the closest thing I think ASAE & The Center has to a mantra, which is the first half of our Value Proposition: We connect great ideas and great people. There's a certain amount of rallying I can do around that. But that mantra doesn't help me justify decision making. I don't look at that--or any other mantra you or anybody else could come up with for an association of association executives--and see something that will help me justify killing a program or choosing one idea over another.

Missions, mantras, sentences-- or value propositions, causes, positioning statements, visions, or any other synonym or pseudosynonym you can think of--are only really good for one thing: a spark of understanding. Start with any mission statement and there are tons of different directions you can take it, and these are what really matter, not the mission statement itself. Don't expect to take your 75-word mission statement, boil it down to a three-word mantra and suddenly have the veils lifted from the eyes of your staff, volunteers, members, and the public. The dirty business of change is still going to be a tough slog. Perhaps a mantra or sentence or whatever can help, but it's useless without a lot of will, guile, and probably luck.

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March 15, 2010

Isn't "content curator" just another term for "reporter"?

A few recent posts in the association blogosphere have the idea of "content curation" on my mind. I love this idea, but the term also bugs me a bit. Before I explain why, let's get up to speed:

  • What is content curation? It takes the idea of a museum curator and applies it to the modern-day stream of information. There's too much info in the world, both in real life and online, for a normal person to sort through. A curator expertly sorts through it all and delivers the most valuable, useful info.
  • Two weeks ago, Jeff De Cagna wrote on SmartBlog Insights that content curation is "[o]ne of the most significant innovation opportunities for associations."
  • The next day, Jeff Cobb at the Mission to Learn blog offered some additional thoughts, including a short bullet list of the essential roles of a curator, and wrote, "Bottom line: A curator is an individual or organization who excels at helping others make sense."
  • And the idea (but not the term) came up again last week here on Acronym in Samantha Whitehorne's post from the Great Ideas Conference, "Everyone's role is to edit."

I wholeheartedly agree that content curation can and should be a central role for associations. However you go about delivering that info to members—magazine, blog, e-newsletter, Twitter feed, seminars, conferences, or (better yet) all of these—that's a valuable service, particularly if you're the best (or the only) curator of info in your industry.

With that said, please don't be intimated or confused by the term "content curator." The journalism major in me knows that it's really just a fancy word for "reporter."

I'm not looking to get into another argument over semantics here, though. "Curator" is a great term, and I don't discourage anyone from using it. But I believe linking it to the idea of the traditional "reporter" is important because it's something we're all a lot more familiar with. Don't make pursuing this role at your association complicated, because it's not.

Chances are, your association is doing it already, in some form. If your magazine highlights interesting case studies from your industry, that's curation. If your communications staff sends alerts to members with the latest updates on proceedings from Capitol Hill, that's curation. These aren't revolutionary ideas.

"Curation" simply captures the extra nuance that comes with this role in our current age of information overload. And as information overload gets worse and worse, good curation will become more and more valuable. That's good news for associations.

And there's more good news: since a curator is a reporter, you have a large pool of professionals with the necessary research, analysis, and communications skills available to fill that role for your association. They all used to work at newspapers.

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March 10, 2010

Interview injustices

Okay, I'll admit it, I am not an expert. But I have to set the record straight, as I have participated in enough interviews from both sides to know that many interviewers/interviewees are spending too much time googling "interview questions" and not enough time focusing on the interview process.

Let me paint a picture; an interviewee walks into a room full of 5 people, and has to sit in the hot seat. Each one takes a pot shot, reading off of a notecard some lame-generic question they pulled from the internet 5 minutes before the interview started, something like "If you could be an animal, what would you be?" (an eagle because I want to fly) or the dreaded "What is your greatest weakness?," and the even more dreaded response "Um, I think it's that I'm a perfectionist" ... kill me now!

To me, the best interviews I've had are conversations, not inquisitions. Obviously there are things that you can't ask legally. However, through thoughtful and relaxed conversation, you can learn a great deal about a person. And I think the point is not to find the perfect candidate, but to find a creative, qualified employee who can grow into a dynamic part of the team.

A friend of mine who recently went in to interview for a sales job was given a pen at the beginning of the interview. The CEO then asked him to "sell me" on the pen. If I was in that interview I would have said "Thanks for the pen" and bolted. I don't want to work for someone who is that limited in their vision. What's next, charades?

Here are my thoughts on good interviewing. Dispute at will:

• I want to know not just what someone thinks, but what they feel too. This will tell me how they will react emotionally, and complement or aggravate the people they might work with.

• I like people to be real, and honest. I don't want them to answer the questions as best they can to increase the chances of getting the job, I want them to be honest and share their challenges, fears, and triumphs comfortably.

• I like interviews in which both parties are prepared and engaged. Every position, no matter the level or pay, deserves to be evaluated and treated as an integral part of the association.

• I would never disqualify someone for a typo or a weak hand shake; those things are small when taking into context the entire experience that is a single human being.

• Negotiating salary should not be a "whoever says the number first" event, but rather a discussion of resources and individual needs.

Let's hear some fun interview stories! Me first; once, I showed up so early for an interview, I interrupted the one before me. Another time, I was specifically told NOT to dress up, and I did so anyway ... and they never called me back ...

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Tweets of the Day: Great Ideas, Day Three

I can't believe Great Ideas is over already! But even though the physical conference is over, there's still a ton of good stuff to read on Twitter and elsewhere.

There was a veritable flood of tweets yesterday during Dan Pink's closing general session (note to self: Get a copy of Drive). Today's Tweets of the Day represent some major themes that seemed to resonate with folks participating in the #ideas10 conversation:

RandiSumner: Dan Pink: Human nature is not passive. Have you ever met a 2/4yr old who wasn't by nature active & engaged? #ideas10

slopez1: The more people have autonomy over time, team, technique and tasks the better the performance #ideas10

FrankFortin: Self direction is the path to engagement. #ideas10 This might be my takeaway of the week.

shellyalcorn: Activity and scurrying is not evidence of creativity #ideas10

raganfore: @DanielPink: By far, biggest work motivator: making progress in one's work. #ideas10

maggielmcg: If making progress in one's work is biggest motivator, what does it mean that assns are notorious for slowness hampering progress? #ideas10

maddiegrant: The purpose motive is associations' secret sauce. #ideas10

SteveDrake: Pink: Key question for each of us: was I better today than yesterday? #ideas10


March 9, 2010

Content is king.

A phrase we've all definitely heard before, but it came up in two of my sessions today, and something that I think will continue to be top of mind as associations think more and more about how to manage their content strategy.

In "The New Face of Publishing" session, the three speakers stressed that it's important to move away from thinking of your publications as only publications. Think of them as content. And as you move forward with your content strategy and start incorporating digital and electronic versions, keep reminding yourself that you're still pushing out the same content, just in different vehicles that will still benefit your members.

I heard the phrase again in Sean Walters, CAE, and Beau Ballinger's presentation this afternoon. They shared their experience with the Investment Management Consultants Association and how both their members and nonmembers alike value their content, whether it's peer-reviewed journals, conferences, or research materials. The results of their content strategy: increased membership and attendance at their events (something that all associations are looking for in this economy). What practices are you implementing to keep your content king?

On a side note: Wondering what the queen is if content is king? According to a quote shared by Amy Lestition, CAE, in her presentation, it's ease of use.

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Two questions to ask yourself

I had the chance to interview Dan Pink about a little more than a month ago to talk about his new book and a few other things. He gave me so much great stuff, but unfortunately all of it couldn't fit in this month's article (Shameless self-promotion: Read the article here). That's why I was so happy when he brought something up in his presentation this morning that I couldn't fit in print, and that was the whole idea of asking yourself two questions.

The first: What's your sentence? "When it's all said and done, ask yourself what it's all about?" says Pink. He gave the example of President Lincoln's sentence: "He preserved the union and freed the slaves."

The second question: Was I better today than yesterday? Pink admitted to the audience that most of the time his answer to this is "no," but very rarely does he have that answer two nights in a row.

So as you wrap up your Great Ideas experience and head to the airport, keep these two questions in mind.


Boost your organization's emotional intelligence

During the "How Emotionally Intelligent is Your Association" session this afternoon, Sally Baker from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) explained her organization's journey to improving their emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the degree to which you understand your own emotions, others' emotions, and how you use this information to build relationships. Baker, the director of public relations for AAEP, answered questions about her perception of her own emotional intelligence as her staff did the same. She found a huge disconnect between how she viewed her relationship management skills and how her staff viewed them, overestimating her emotional intelligence (again, the awareness of emotional states of herself and others) 67 percent of the time.

Of course, this is huge. But it's not uncommon. How often do you go to work and feel like your boss is ignoring you? Or how often are you the boss and you are busy with projects, not realizing that it seems like you are ignoring those you work with?

Baker says that it was a tough pill to swallow, but instead of retreating decided the best way to help herself and her organization was to work on self-management and her interactions with others in the office. Unlike IQ, you can significantly alter and increase your emotional intelligence through active observation and change.

Switch to the staff's view of their emotional awareness, emotional management, internal relationship management, and external relationship management (which members had already rated staff interactions with them between four and five out of five). Each level scored high marks, with the exception of internal relationships.

So what's next? AAEP staff made simple promises to one another. First, permission to ask why or how decisions in the organization were made. So much of the negative internal relationships were a product of miscommunication, with no one asking "why?" and instead making their own (incorrect) assumptions on why things happened. Staff leaders made a point to visit with each of the 14 staff members daily to show that communication is at the top of their to-do list.

Second, staff members promised to end what Baker calls the "downward spiral of conversations"--ones that begin in a negative way (like office gossip) and will inevitably go downhill from there. Staff decided on the safe words "downward spiral" to stop those conversations before they started.

One year later, staff took the same test. Their internal relationship management increased by 30 points because of what Baker calls the "small things that staff committed to and participation from each staff member."

Luckily, these small changes have a huge trickle-down effect. Not only did staff relationships improve, but Baker says she hopes it will increase members' satisfaction as well. A lot of my posts have focused on member relations, but colleague relationships are the root of better service. Taking a serious look at your emotional intelligence makes for happy employees and happy members.


Take back the performance review

In today's closing general session, Dan Pink told us to take back the performance review. He says that the once-yearly review with your boss just isn't enough to improve your performance, and I have to agree. Especially when you're new at a job, or new to association work in general, it can be challenging to benchmark your progress and know that you're achieving what you were hired to do.

Pink says to take performance reviews into your own hands and be proactive with your goals. Enter DIY [Do it Yourself] Performance Reviews. Pink says to set your goals independently at the start of the month, don't outsource this exercise to your boss. At the end of the month, assess your progress on the goals you made for yourself. What tools do you need to succeed? What would you do differently? What did you do well?

But maybe the DIY method is intimidating. Instead, Pink says to meet with a small group of colleagues or peers to create goals at the start of the month and evaluate progress together later. Added bonus: group members will hold you accountable for the goals you made.

Either method you choose will increase the level of engagement and ownership you take with your work with just a few simple steps.


Quick Clicks: Great Ideas, Day Two

Attending Great Ideas virtually? The Socialfish blog has arranged a chat today at 1:15 ET so those who can't be at Great Ideas in person can share what they're learning.

Lynn Morton shares her notes from Guy Kawasaki's and Dan Pink's general session talks. She also posted some thoughts about what an association of the future might look like, inspired by a session she couldn't attend. (I'd love to see what others have to say about that!)

Jeffrey Cufaude argues that sometimes the best idea is just to leave well enough alone.

Ellen Behrens suggests an idea in response to blog posts from the conference: implementing exit interviews for members who don't renew.

And if you're sad you missed Dan Pink's general session speech today (and it sounds like it was inspiring), you can still see his TED Talk, or read his recent interview with Associations Now.


Did you see it at Great Ideas?

The daily photo roundup...

McNally on alignment-and hugging your club

Golf session-proper alignment

Jamie Notter perparing for his session or admonishing his laptop

Cooking Up Leadership Session at Great Ideas 2010

Business Model Innovation Workshop at Great Ideas 2010

Lunch at Great Ideas

Radde's Get the Blood Flowing

Idea Lab


Tweets of the Day: Great Ideas, Day Two

Keeping up with the #ideas10 tweets yesterday was a fun challenge! But picking just one Tweet of the Day was even more challenging. Here are three that really stood out for me:

"Tweet I should really put into practice" award: tee_special: It is more effective to do 1 thing in 10 minutes rather than 3 things in 30 minutes #Ideas10

"Tweet that made me think" award: AssocBisnow: Relationships with members begin long before they join and never end #ideas10

"Tweet that made me laugh out loud" award: FrankFortin: Aaaah... power. Now I know how Mad Max felt about gasoline. #ideas10

Any ideas or tweets that really made you stop and think yesterday? Share them in comments!

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March 8, 2010

What does golf have to do with leadership?

More than you may think, according to the facilitators and participants in today's "Leadership Through Golf" program. Here are a few leadership lessons the participants took from the game. [Editor's note: Two golf-related factoids I learned today were that it only takes one finger to hold a golf club and that the pad below your pinky is considered your sixth finger in the game.]

They both take trust. Once you learn the five basics of your swing, you have to trust that you're doing them well and that they all work together. The same can be said of the staff you manage. You have to know what their talents are, give them work to do, and trust them to do it well.

They both require a stance. As a leader, when you take a stance, you identify your values and focus in on a goal. In golf, that may be hitting the ball straight or landing on the green or getting your ball in the hole. Another commonality: Your stance requires a bit of flexibility.

They both deal with alignment. Much of your golf swing depends on how your body is aligned. When it comes to leadership, you want to hire employees who align with your organization's core values.

They both have to do with force versus power. In golf, the harder you try to swing (the more force you use), the shorter distance your ball will travel. According to one of the facilitators, what you're looking for is effortless power, not powerless effort.

They both require tools. In golf, each club does different things and requires different movement. Its application to leadership? Depending on the task at hand, you are required to put different tools to work.

Any other golfers out there who see other commonalities?


Making memories

In today's session "Memory Power for Executives," presenter Scott Bornstein led the audience in some exercises to improve their ability to remember names and important details. For the rest of Great Ideas 2010, take a few of Bornstein's tips with you as you network and hear more useful information.

Create logic to help you remember. Rote memorization doesn't always yield the best results, but using your own creativity can greatly improve the amount of information you retain. Bornstein says that your mind works best when making connections, so creating a connection point that makes sense, even if it's just to you, can be the best way to recall the information you need.

For example, if you'd just met me at the conference but I wasn't wearing my shiny gold name badge, you could remember that my name is Summer by deciding it's your favorite season, and I'm your favorite staff person that you've met so far. OK, that may be an easy one (and slightly ridiculous). But what about the name Stephanie? Maybe you met Stephanie when standing on the steps of the hotel, and you noticed that she was wearing a skirt down to her knees.

Review information seven times within the next 10 days. For better long-term memory, Bornstein says that you must practice what you want to remember at seven different times--not necessarily for a long time or consecutively--in the 10 days following the introduction of information. So when you hear a great idea tomorrow that you want to remember, you should retrace your footsteps into next week to recall that idea without reading your notes. Plus, each time you review your information, it will be easier than the time before.

So when you see me, or my fictitious friend Stephanie, please be sure to say hello.


Read this now, or maybe when you have time

"Maybe we should start a book club."

Have you found yourself saying this, or hearing it? Just recently I heard these words in a meeting, met with a positive response by all in the room.

Today in the session "Using Ambassadors to Increase Membership," staff of the Alliance for Innovation discussed the book club that they created for their member ambassadors (the spokespeople of their organization among colleagues), part of an overall effort to increase engagement. After a while, the Alliance for Innovation did a survey of how the ambassador program was progressing and the value of their benefit offerings--their blog, e-learning, and book club.

And as it turns out, the book club was competing with a very valuable member asset: time. The ambassadors said they have no time to read the books. So instead of scrapping the book club plan altogether, Alliance for Innovation decided to increase engagement with ambassadors by finding out their favorite reads on innovation and making a reading list from those titles. They also decided to invite more guest speakers to discuss the books and create webinars around the revamped list.

There are two things that stood out to me with their book club revamp. One is that they listened to members, made the survey public, and are showing an effort to change to reflect the feedback received, a major theme throughout the sessions I've been to so far.

The second point is the idea of competing with, basically anything and everything, for members' time. Working on the magazine and newsletters, we know that our audience is a busy group of people and between work and personal life have little time to spare. One of the most important things about member offerings is proving that they're worth members' time. What makes your association worthy of a member's time?  

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We ran out of rhubarb


What does cooking have to do with running an association? As it turns out, quite a lot. In today's session "Cookin' Up Leadership," Rhea Blanken gathered a mixed group of association professionals, from CEOs to entry-level to mid management, then created diverse teams to make a meal from scratch.

"I just want it to be good. I'm not a manager," says one of the lead chefs while she's stirring a steaming pan of tasty-smelling food. She was chosen to be head chef of her group, though typically she works under others' leadership. The food her and her teammates are cooking will be served to another group.

"We're working for the other team and not just for ourselves. I just want it to be good for whoever eats it."

An animated teammate of the head chef appears who asks what she can do to help the lead chef. By day, she's a CEO. Today, she's a sous chef and works for the head chef. "I get impatient," she says. "We ran out of rhubarb, which we have to use to make the dessert." The other three teams were able to snag some of the precious rhubarb, but this team was left out. The other teams promised to share. This isn't a competition; it's an exercise in teamwork. "But I noticed that people were OK [in theory] with you using something, but if they need it, it's a different story," says the sous chef.

What does this have to do with running an association? Think about it this way: how often are you short on resources? How many times does your team need to work with another department to meet a goal, but it doesn't seem like that other team will give up ownership of a project?

Blanken admits there were a few tricks in the process. CEOs were purposely put in positions that had to answer to others, while those that typically aren't in the lead were put in charge. It was interesting to watch the head chef evolve during the cooking process. To start, she seemed a bit unsure of herself and obviously ready to please others. But when the sous chef hadn't measured out the melted butter before another teammate poured it into a dish, the head chef sprang into action. "We can just add flour to the mix."

As time went on, her confidence level in leading noticeably increased. Meanwhile, the sous chef was ready to throw out the dish before asking the head chef what to do. "That's typically how I operate at work," she says. But when another teammate pointed out that maybe the head chef would have an idea of what to do to salvage the dish, the sous chef says it all clicked. Sometimes leaders, who are ready to spring into action, should find out what your teammates know. That's the point of having staff members. They bring a new idea or perspective to a situation or project that you might have been ready to toss out.


Everyone's role is to edit

In this morning's session "It's All in the Mix: Determining the Right Communications Lineup," presenter Monica Joda Baruth from the American Water Works Association said something that really stuck for me (and that may be because it's my day job): "Everybody's role today is really to be editors."

Her point was that your members are constantly bombarded with content, whether it's coming from your association or not, so they have to be choosy. What can you do to help? She says not to throw everything at them. You have to edit information down into edible bites that they can digest. That means everything from your magazine to your journal to your emails to your marketing materials. Put yourself in your members' shoes. Wouldn't you want to receive information that is pertinent and digestible and that actually compels you to read it? Which all ties back to a point that Guy Kawasaki made yesterday (which Sheri Jacobs repeated in her session again today): The worst thing for your association would be your members ignoring you. What are you doing to keep your members from doing just that?


3 idea nuggets...

...that could perhaps turn into Great Ideas--heard in Idea Labs this morning:

  • Establish a rewards program that offers rewards (meaningful rewards) to members for being highly engaged with your organization.
  • Foundation fundraising idea -- Have a consultant, staff person, other expert who is really engaged with your organization and is pretty well known among members. Ask them if they'd consider giving a free day/program/etc. that your foundation can auction off.
  • You've heard this one before: Get new members involved immediately. The idea part: if you're a national organization with chapters, what can you do to help your chapters accomplish this?
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Being a manager that really takes ownership

Radde Demonstration

As a manager, own the communication you have with your staff.

This was my main takeaway from Thrival System's Paul O. Radde session, "Build a Resilient Team at Your Organization," at the Great Ideas Conference.

The story he told to illustrate it was a conversation with the head of the pharmacy at Walter Reed, where so many of the injured soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan return to the U.S. It's a stressful, always on type of position, one where errors are magnified, even life threatening. The head of the pharmacy told his staff that if he has something to communicate to them, it is his responsibility to explicitly do it. He doesn't want them trying to read what he means--they don't know, for example, that he had a fight with his wife last night and is in agitated state or that traffic was terrible and he has a sense of road rage.

What this manager was telling his staff is that he was responsible for the communication between them. If it gets screwed up, and there is a mistake as a result, it is his fault. That's the manager we all want to work for.


Sights from the first day of Great Ideas

Here are some photos from the first day of the Great Ideas Conference at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO.

Kawasaki session

THe Full Room at Kawasaki Session

Guy Kawasaki Book Signing

Great Ideas at The Broadmoor

Dan Pink's books

Welcome Reception at Great Ideas

Don't Wait, Don't Wait Session

Don't Wait, Don't Wait fun

Great Ideas at The Broadmoor

Nelson Rangel at Opening Reception

Opening Reception Trout

Punchline at Opening Reception


Tweet of the Day: Great Ideas, Day One

Reading through the twitterstream from Great Ideas, it sounds like attendees are gathering some great takeaways. I couldn't pick just one to be our Tweet of the Day, so here are three that stood out for me from day one of the conference:

karuggeri: #ideas10 if you build it they will come isn't true... build it around engagement, content and context and they will come and come back

dcoriale: #ideas10 lesson learned today: @broadmoor the BLUE liquid is soap, little CLEAR bottle is mouthwash.

MagusVision: Why are crayons associated with "innovation"? It's like trying to cure cancer with a bandaid. Innovation comes from #leadership. #ideas10

Are there other tweets you saw that you'd nominate Acronym's Tweet of the Day? If so, leave them in a comment!


March 7, 2010

Don't worry be crappy

Ok, one more Guy Kawasaki post. His 5th tenet in the art of innovation is "Don't worry, be crappy."

Am I wrong, or are associations hypersensitive to criticism? We spend a lot of time trying to get things perfect. Actually, I'd say we spend a lot of time trying to get things really good, which is quite different.

But what Kawasaki said was you can't be afraid to serve something that is only mostly baked--"Don't worry be crappy." Now that doesn't mean, he says, you can be forgiven for developing a crappy product. Rather, "you want to ship something revolutionary with elements of crappiness to it."

Your organization is going to function better if it's speedy with its release and then takes feedback to improve the product.

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The great idea of day one

Two Idea Labs into this year's Great Ideas Conference, and there's already one phrase that I've heard in both of my sessions: "That's a great idea. I'm going to steal it." Sound familiar to any other attendees?

In my first session "15 Great Ideas to Re-Energize Your Meetings," facilitator Marsha Egan turned the table on attendees, telling them she wasn't going to stand up front and list off 15 things they could do to make their meetings remarkable. Instead, she was going to ask everyone to talk about what they think are the elements of a remarkable meeting and to discuss what made previous meetings they attended or hosted remarkable, so everyone could compile their his or her own list. I can't tell you how many times I heard, "Wow, that's one to copy," or "I have to try that" both at my table and across the room.

The same is true for my second Idea Lab, "Unlocking the Potential of Your E-Communications." During group activity time, my tablemates talked about what's working and what's challenging when it comes to sending their members emails and e-newsletters. Again I heard, "That's great. I'm going to have to try that when I get back."

Personally, as an editor, I can't tell you how many times I've been inspired by an article I've read or a layout I looked at and gone back and used that for something I was working on at Associations Now. So the next time you're stuck on a project or not sure how to solve the problem your facing, think back to what you learned from your colleagues here. They just may have the answer. After all, as the saying goes, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."


A different way to look at lost members

On a membership survey, how many people rate the offerings of your association a five out of five? Bob Stearns, the presenter of today's session "Refresh, Renew, and Ignite Association Member Loyalty," says those fives are your loyal customers, or "top box" members. And of course, we all want to have a membership created of fives.

Stearns says there are a few ways to engage your members to increase top-box members, and one of the key ways is simply to ask current and former members, "What could we be doing to better serve you?" But as one audience member pointed out, it can be tough to get responses from people who may have already left your association, and they can often pinpoint the weaknesses you need to know about.

Just like your mother always said, honesty is the best policy, and Stearns says you must be honest in your interaction with members when asking what your organization could be doing better. You have to be ready to prove that you will do something with the information that they provide and even be willing to report back on the changes you implemented because of their feedback.

I can't help but wonder, though, if it's really as simple or even worthwhile as it sounds. The question-raiser in the session pointed out that, after a poor dining experience, she's not necessarily going to give detailed feedback when the server asks if everything was OK. I can say the same for myself, no matter how sincere a server or manager may seem. Maybe it was such a terrible experience, the diners want to get out and never look back. Or maybe it's just not worth the effort to the customer to explain what went wrong. And the same can probably be said for a few members who don't renew.

But, going back to a point that Guy Kawasaki made in today's opening session, sometimes you need to focus on the people who are buying your product, even if it's not your originally-intended audience ... and even if you want to know why that originally-intended audience doesn't want your product. Instead, as Stearns mentioned, it's worth your time to figure out why some people are rating your organization a five, and those fivers will likely respond to you. Find out what you've provided to them to make such a worthwhile experience, and instead of focusing on the lost ones, figure out how you can make the fours become fives, and on down the ladder.

It sounds counterproductive to give up on those that gave up on you when you're in search of improving your offerings. But it seems to me that sometimes you just have to let go.


Make a Mantra for Your Organization's Innovation

Editing is a challenge. As project editor for Associations Now and ASAE & The Center's e-newsletters, each day I spend time wrestling with proper word choices, word counts, and overall content clarity. During the opening session at Great Ideas 2010, Guy Kawasaki offered the audience 10 tips on innovation [Editor's note: Audiences love easy takeaways and tips.], and one in particular that editors-at-heart will love.

Number two on Kawasaki's list? "Make Mantra."

"Most mission statements suck," he says. And with many in the 50 word count range, [Editor's note: That is about a quarter of the word count of this blog post.] many mission statements are clunky and hard to remember. Instead, Kawasaki suggests making them succinct and only two to three words long.

Those words need to say a lot, too. You should be able to explain the purpose of your organization, and essentially its benefit to the world.

But like any article that comes in just a touch too long, yet full of useful information, taking something like your mission statement to the chopping block is a daunting task. Luckily, my job and other editors' work are a living testament to the value of cutting copy in the name of good content, and maybe your mission statement could use a revamp. If you were to take a stab at editing your organization's mission statement, what would you say?

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Kawasaki on the art of innovation

Guy Kawasaki

A lot of good takeaways from Guy Kawasaki's general session, and one big conflict for me. It's the conflict I want to explore.

Kawasaki gave 10 steps to the art of innovation. Step 3 was "Jump to the Next Curve." Kawasaki is an innovator, a venture capitalist; you could describe him as a thought leader, an early adopter, a critical thinker. It should be no surprise that he favors making big jumps in improvement rather than small, incremental steps. That's what he mean by jumping to the next curve. It's not about making the incremental improvement of a bigger name keynote speaker; jumping to the next curve is rethinking how and what a general session at an annual meeting is.

So the contrast is his eighth point: "Churn, baby churn." Once you've jumped the curve, put out the beta, learn, improve, put out the next version, learn, improve, etc. I don't know if Kawasaki would bristle at this or not, but to me this is the definition of incremental improvement. I think Kawasaki meant to also churn from curb to curb, but clearly at least on of the examples he talked about was to be quick to release and then improve the product the next time.

In general, I think associations spend tons of time on incremental improvement and not near enough time jumping to the next curve. But I think there has to be a place for both. The art, and something I'd like to ask Kawasaki, is how do you know when to keep churning on a product and when to jump to the next curve?

I think one common answer might be to wring all the value you can out of a product and then move on. Getting out a little quicker might mean having the philosophy of getting out when the product is on top, when it reaches its goals and is doing well. But I think my optimal answer is both more aggressive and more conservative. I think you jump to the next curve while the product is still gaining momentum. Obviously that sounds aggressive. The conservative part comes in because if you don't get it and you're waiting to be on top or to wring the value out of it, the risk of clinging to something too long is too great, and the upswing of the next curve would actually be more important and lucrative to your organization than the value of getting to the top (or wringing the last bit of value from something).

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Quick Clicks: Great Ideas, Day One

Welcome to everyone attending Great Ideas this week! (I'm not there in person this year, so I'm looking forward to experiencing the conference from the perspective of a virtual attendee.) Today's Quick Clicks features a few early blog posts related to the conference specifically, as well as some others related to "great ideas" more generally:

Jeff De Cagna rounds up some information about the conference, including a podcast interview with general session speaker Dan Pink.

Jeffrey Cufaude shares some thoughts on Drive, Dan Pink's new book, and how it relates to motivating volunteers.

Jamie Notter talks a bit about why he has been to every Great Ideas Conference.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel shares her top five favorite sayings and quotes; in a comment, Maddie Grant adds two quotes from the Great Ideas general session speakers.

TMA Resources has launched a new blog, Beyond Relevance, "a conversation on the new paradigm for associations." Definitely worth reading all of the posts so far.

In a related post, Shannon Otto at the Splash blog says that associations should aim higher than relevance (and shares some thoughts on how).

Tony Rossell breaks down four basic methods associations can use to test a free trial membership program.

In the Aptify CEO blog, Amith Nagarajan argues that innovators must be able to act without perfect data in hand.

Bruce Hammond has a great story about how a friend has saved his job by trying new things.

Ann Oliveri found some insights on the power of saying no (and saying yes) in Seth Godin's new book Linchpin.

Jeff Cobb discusses the power of content curation for organizations and individual learners.

Marsha Rhea at the SignatureI blog shares some tricks leaders can use to overcome our brains' selective interpretation of the world around us.

Shelly Alcorn continues her look at how mighty associations can fall: part 2, part 3.


March 5, 2010

New study on exec attitudes about the economy

ASAE & The Center just released its latest economic study, this one features results of a survey that generated 960 responses, each from a different association, conducted earlier this year. The survey form duplicated the questions asked in the Spring of 2009, providing a nice comparison and benchmarking tool. A few of the things that interested me:

  • It's interesting that in a lot of areas in 2009, execs thought the economic climate would have a worse affect than it actually did have. These areas include sponsorship, fundraising, and annual meeting-type events.
  • Where execs were most wrong, though, was predicted in the first economic study we did after the economy soured in early 2009, when we got responses from 8,500 members of 97 diverse associations. The data from that study suggested that there would not be a mass movement from face-to-face meetings to online events. This was contrary to the expectations of association execs, 61% of whom were expecting revenue from online education to increase. In actuality, only 33% reported in 2010 that such revenue had increased.
  • There's a striking dichotomy in the 2010 data: 62% of execs think overall revenue will stay the same or increase in the next 12 months. However, only 48 % think revenue from membership will stay the same or increase. It's worth watching if execs think there is a fundamental shift away from membership as a revenue stream.
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CEOs flipping the proverbial burger

On Wednesday, Steve Tobak at BNET's The Corner Office blog offered another interesting perspective in response to the CBS TV show Undercover Boss. When I wrote here about it three weeks ago, it was about executive compensation tied to engagement. This week it's a more simple question: should a CEO be able to do the front-line jobs of his or her organization?

Tobak's answer to the question is "no," and I agree with him. At an association, for example, I wouldn't expect a CEO to be able to code a website, juggle meeting logistics, or synthesize research data. A smart CEO hires people who are more skilled at these roles, anyway. And conversely, I wouldn't expect the specialists who do those jobs to be able to facilitate the board of directors, speak on camera as the face of the organization, or even just manage a large staff.

But I don't think Tobak quite says enough about the need for a CEO to have a deep, personal understanding of how the actual work of the organization is executed. To stick with the burger metaphor (in fact, the Undercover Boss episode in question was about the CEO of White Castle), I think the CEO ought to know exactly how long the burger should cook on each side, because the quality of the burger is what the customers experience. Understanding the craft that makes the company's customer experience possible can only better inform the CEO's decisions.

Associations don't make burgers, of course, but they do produce meetings, seminars, knowledge resources, advocacy, and so on. The association CEO should understand the details of crafting these efforts successfully.

This all begs one question, though: what about CEOs and executive directors of small-staff associations? Under a certain number of staff, a CEO doesn't really have a choice but to understand a lot of the front-line work, because he or she likely has to be the one personally doing much of it. So I have a couple questions for association executives out there:

  • At a small-staff association, is that experience with front-line work an advantage, or would you rather be able to delegate more duties?
  • At a larger association, is understanding front-line work a challenge for the CEO?

I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

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March 3, 2010

Engaging Young Professionals

Thanks for that wonderful introduction, Lisa. I look forward to interacting with the other Acronym readers.

I'm excited to begin this foray into the association blogosphere and hope that my contributions to Acronym help articulate the value that young professionals (YPs) can bring to an association. However, I certainly can't speak on behalf of an entire generation so much of what I write will be based on issues relevant to the broader association community.

That being said, I do want to use this opportunity to discuss some considerations for engaging YPs within your association. Too often we categorize people by characteristics that they embody: age, skills, knowledge, or other demographics. And while these identifiers can play an important role in building camaraderie, they can also be harmful and lead to broad generalizations and prejudice.

Rather than resorting to sweeping statements (I cringe whenever I hear "Entitlement Generation"), it's important to treat YPs just like you would any other members. What does that mean? It means that associations have to demonstrate value and provide relevant benefits to YP members. More often than not, YPs want the same things that more seasoned professionals desire: access to expert content, advocacy, a gathering place for like-minded individuals, and the ability to make a difference. To successfully engage your associations' YPs, you need to show that you understand their needs, that their opinions matter, and that you value their support and contributions.

At the same time, YPs have an obligation to prove that our contributions can go beyond "knowledge of social media". We have to be able to express our feedback positively and respectfully. Believe it or not, YPs are capable of providing constructive criticism. But we won't be taken seriously if we don't approach situations with good intent, or if we don't step up to leadership roles when opportunities arise. If we assert ourselves and prove that we are willing to do the work to make valid contributions, we should trust that our associations will continue to provide benefits and services to meet our needs.

Each one of us has the ability to positively impact an organization. We should always remember that, despite generational or other differences, we're all on the same team and we all want to see our associations succeed.

If you're interested in more insight on engaging YPs, I recommend checking out the "Make Room for Us" article on page 36 of the January 2010 Associations Now supplement, The Volunteer Leadership Issue. In the interest of full disclosure I will tell you that I'm one of the YPs interviewed, but I think the questions raised by the editor and the answers given by YP volunteers offer some unique perspectives. And if your association is interested in ramping up your recruitment efforts of YP members, you should check out Avenue M Group's just-released benchmarking study, "Attracting Young Professionals to Your Organization," which can be downloaded from their Web site.

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Welcome Beau Ballinger!

I'd like to give a warm Acronym welcome to our newest guest blogger, Beau Ballinger. Beau is joining us from the Investment Management Consultants Association in Greenwood Village, Colorado. In his role as membership and communications manager, Beau manages media relations efforts, internal and external communications, and the development and delivery of member benefits, and serves as the editor of the Web site.

Prior to working at IMCA, Beau was public relations manager and membership recruitment manager for the Financial Planning Association in Denver. He's a member of ASAE & The Center's Young Professionals Committee as well as a board member of the Public Relations Society of America’s Colorado Chapter, and he's part of the inaugural class of the ASAE & The Center Leadership Academy for Young Association Professionals.

Please help Beau feel at home here on Acronym. We're glad to have him with us!