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June 30, 2010

The "King" on Leadership

When I heard yesterday that longtime CNN interviewer Larry King was retiring, I immediately recalled his appearance in April 2006 during ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership's National Capital Distinguished Speaker Series, when he conducted an on-stage interview with the always-fascinating linguist and author Deborah Tannen.

But it was before the curtains parted that made the biggest impression on me: He and I did our own interview for Associations Now (July 2006), exploring highlights from his 50 years of interviews with global leaders, as well as 22 years as founder of The Larry King Cardiac Foundation. I thought I'd share some snippets about leadership from that conversation as tribute to "the King" with whom so many of us have grown up:

ME: You've had a chance through [your board work at the Dan Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue in Israel] to witness first-hand many world leaders in action as they try to reach consensus on very tough problems. What's been your takeaway from these encounters?

KING: The first thing you take away is that [leaders] do put their pants on one leg at a time. They have attained a certain position in life, and they have enormous responsibility, but they're first and foremost regular people. ... They also think about the same things you think about: 'How is my daughter doing? How is my son going to go to college?' ... I think it's enormous pressure to be a leader; in fact, I came to like politicians. ... Politicians of every stripe do something I've never done: They get to have a Tuesday in November in which they get counted, and they lose. I've never had that. I've never had a Tuesday in November when I could look and say, 'I've been rejected today.' They face winning and losing, so on that alone I give them a lot of credit.

ME: You have witnessed the rise and fall of many types of leaders and leadership styles in the world. What kinds of leadership skills do people need most today [in 2006] to succeed?

KING: They're going to need a combination of things. They're going to need the personality of [former President] Bill Clinton, who draws you to him and is kind of magnetic. They're going to need the brain of [former President Richard] Nixon, who had a steel-trap mind. He had a lot of personal hang-ups, but he was brilliant, scholarly. He really knew the game, and he certainly knew foreign affairs. You need the gentility of [former President] George [H.W.] Bush ..., who is an extraordinarily kind person. You need the aura of a [President Ronald] Reagan-- ... someone who comes into a room and makes you feel good--and the gentleness of [former President Jimmy] Carter--a very bright, bright guy. If you put them all together, that might be my perfect leader.


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June 29, 2010

5 ways to start developing a new pattern of investment

I was inspired by Jamie Notter's post on strategy as a pattern of investments. In part of the post, he talks about how associations seemed to be locked into a pattern of investments that center around membership or meetings or advocacy--equating this to coloring inside the lines. He implores us to think about what different patterns might exist.

How?

This is messy, not easy stuff, but I immediately thought of a couple ideas I have presented on Acronym before. So if I started with those two, I challenged myself to come up with three additional exercises association leaders could use to start thinking about different patterns, giving the nice, round number in the title of this post. So here are my 5 ways to develop a new pattern of investment:

1. Budget and plan differently. I wrote a post several years ago and have referred back to it a couple times over the years. In it, I advocate trashing your annual budget planning. One of the main ideas I was trying to get across was to stop making strategic decisions because of an arbitrary date on a calendar. Another idea, though, was how to look at programs. Each program has its own plan and budgeting timeline. So, for example, you are continually looking at how a program is doing versus how you expected it to do, and constantly adjusting those expectations and strategies moving forward. A year is simply too long of a timeframe for most programs--even ones that happen once a year. The next step is to institute some guidelines or procedures. If a program is consistently falls below expectations even though you've been trying new strategies, then it's time to begin sunsetting it. And this happens constantly across multiple programs at all different times of the year, not just once a year.

2. Do the exercise that Steve Anderson did that I talk about in this post on focus. Assess all your offerings and then talk about what it mean and how your organization would look if you stopped doing most of them and focused on making the ones that are most valuable even more valuable (and spend some time thinking about new offerings).

3. Carve out some Google time. It's a well worn story in innovation circles: Google telling it's employees to focus 10 percent of their time on new or different projects that are not part of their main job--and then ensuring they have the space and capacity to do so. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that such a strategy is dumb. So why isn't every organization doing something like it?

4. Develop a process for new ideas. Years ago in an old Executive Update magazine I produced, we outlined an interesting idea process (pdf). It might need to be modernized now, but it could be a place to start. The point is, develop a process for creating and considering new ideas, and then put it into practice. You can always adjust it if it's not working quite right, but having the process will encourage those who care about the organization to take part.

5. Do this exercise: Assume that in the next 24 months your organization is going to lose 75% of its dues income. What would that mean for your organization? The products and services you offer? It probably means generating income from other sources--what possibilities do you have? It probably means changes to your staff and volunteer structure--what would those look like?

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Why Staying Mum on CEO Succession Is Dumb

I was sadly reminded recently of a governance issue that most CEOs hate to discuss--succession planning--when I heard about a small nonprofit leader who was suddenly retiring in response to a cancer diagnosis.

Then I saw a new Stanford University/Heidrick & Struggles study that finds "serious gaps in CEO succession planning" in many North American public and private companies. The numbers were startling because I believed that large corporations in particular were far ahead of associations when it comes to CEO succession planning. Maybe they are, in which case, I am far more concerned now that I've read that the average board of directors is spending less than two hours per year on the topic, yet almost 40% of for-profit leaders had "zero" viable candidates to later fill their shoes.

Stanford Professor David Larcker calls the problem a "governance lapse," blaming a "lack of focus" of boards of directors who "just aren't spending the time that is required to adequately prepare for a succession scenario."

What about your board? When was the last time succession was even on your board agenda, especially when you or your CEO weren't thinking of moving on?

I asked a member who has worked in our sector for more than 20 years if she had ever heard a board talk about succession issues. "No, our CEO has been there forever and doesn't plan to leave," she replied. How about die or get sick? CEOs often don't "plan" to leave. That certainly doesn't render the issue moot. Is it that CEOs fear bringing up the topic, not wanting to "give the board any ideas?" That seems lame.

Bill George, speaking at our upcoming Annual Meeting, talks about building leadership and life legacies, as well as developing new leaders, in his classic book, True North.

More direct, though, is another annual meeting speaker, Marshall Goldsmith, whose book Succession: Are You Ready? (2009) guides you through the process of planning and executing a succession transition. He calls it "the greatest challenge for any leader," and that's saying something for this coach who has seen and heard just about everything related to success and failure in business. You can read more about Goldsmith's suggested tactics and advice in an ASAE interview with him in March 2009 called "Smart Succession Planning in Uncertain Times."

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June 28, 2010

Learning from the leadership guru

There are many, many leadership gurus--people who study, coax, learn, and ultimately instruct others on how to be better leaders. And there are probably just as many different ways to describe (take your pick of:) good/great/strong/successful leadership. If you're a continual learner, you've likely encountered several dozen gurus and taken to heart the wisdom of maybe three or four.

It wasn't too long ago that I was at ASAE & The Center's Invitational Forum on Leadership and Management--it's basically a guru gathering. That in itself probably sounds amazing to some and dreadful to others. For those in the latter group, leadership guru-ness (except for the two or three that resonate well to you) is puffery--a bunch of common sense thinly gussied up to sound intelligent. I don't exactly expect this argument to win over those skeptics, but I do argue to them that there is merit to hearing and debating how these gurus describe their points. We're talking about language, how it's used, and what it means to individuals.

So when Bob Rosen talks about three leadership paradoxes, it's less about what he means by them and more about what they mean to you. Are they the words you'd use? If not, why? What do the words mean to you?

It all makes me think about the debate about whether good/great/strong/successful leaders are born or made. My thought on this is that they are about 25 percent born, 25 percent made and 50 percent being in the right place at the right time (luck). And I'll take it one step further: of that piece that is made, probably 75 percent of that is learned from experience--you become a better leader when you are put in a situation that calls for leadership. Basically, that just leaves a tiny slice--not unimportant, in my opinion--that comes from actively seeking to learn how to be a leader. And most of that probably comes less from lectures or presentations or classes, and more from finding ways to interacting with other leaders:

Oh, and Rosen's three paradoxes?

1. Realistic/optimism--we love leaders who are honest but also hopeful and aspirational.

2. Constructive/impatience--we love leaders who are respectful and fair but also challenge us to be better tomorrow than we were today.

3. Confident/humility--we love leaders who have a strong position and point of view but also have the capacity to truly listen, learn, and accepting of alternatives.

What do these words mean to you? Do you agree that strong leaders excel in these paradoxes? Do you think they are even paradoxes at all? If these aren't the right words, how would you describe your brand of leadership? This is where the learning is.

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June 25, 2010

Doing it one better

A few years ago I had the good fortune to work with Monica Bussolati and the magazine design team at Bussolati Associates. I reconnected with her briefly at the Association Media & Publishing conference and she told me that a practice they started with the magazine they designed for me had become a staple for her studio--almost a calling card. The practice was this: A team of designers worked out ideas in a collaborative process: a messy but exhilarating affair where people came with ideas and they brainstormed around those ideas with a concept or two that emerged as the chosen ones to move forward. Then, rather than plow ahead, the group meeting ends with the direction for everyone in the group to take the top idea to their desk and make it better in the next 30 minutes or hour. They would come back to the table, and the results were often spectacularly better.

I tell the story because there's no reason this practice wouldn't work outside the creative atmosphere of a design studio. It could be an excellent challenge to any work group: Develop the absolute best solution you can as a group, then go back and make it even better.

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Marketing on a shoestring budget

Here's our third and final post from consultants who helped facilitate a series of Idea Swaps for small staff executives recently. Here, Sue Bowman from The Haefer Group summarizes the points emerging from discussions on how to market when resources are scarce.

When hosting the discussions at my table, I started the dialogue with a question: What about marketing keeps you up at night? The small staff execs who participated in this round of discussions had two common and related anxieties: 1. they wear multiple hats--only one of which was a marketing hat; and 2. they had very limited budgets.

The easy answer that addressed each of these stressors is for small staff execs to rely on one of the popular marketing packages to send frequent e-mails to their members, emphasizing the features of the organization. After two hours of discussion with three separate groups of small staff execs, we determined that perhaps the easy answer wasn't necessarily the correct answer. Instead, it turned out that the following concepts are more likely to produce better marketing strategies and fewer panic attacks.

Heavily Promote Member Only Benefits
Members and prospects need to understand how your organization:

  • Makes them smarter

  • Saves them money

  • Makes their lives easier

Don't take it for granted that your existing communication materials already do this. Our discussions focused on how we often talk about what we do but not the personal benefit we provide to members.

Understand Key Metrics
It's tough to market smarter if you don't know where your successes are coming from. Look at return on investment from various marketing channels. Understand who's coming, who's leaving, and why it's happening.

Maximize Your Use of Volunteers to Help the Organization Market
Have members and volunteer leaders contact prospects/renewing members to focus on value--from a members' perspective. Make sure EVERYONE knows the value elevator speech. Reward success with publicity and recognition.

Segment Messaging
In the case of e-mail marketing, change up your messaging in your typical contacts. Segment, segment, segment! Target vulnerable members, like those in the first several years of membership.

Build Your PR Program
Do some research, look at related sites on the internet to build press contacts. Keep the flow of information going.

Use Social Media Discriminately
Everyone agreed that there are many opportunities to market organizations using social media--including LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. The challenges that presented themselves included the time commitment, keeping content fresh, and competing organizational priorities. The majority of participants thought it was best to focus on one element and do it well.

Easy isn't always the way to go. There is no silver bullet to marketing success. But these strategies should help you sleep just a little bit better.

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Using free tech tools

Our second guest post from a consultant who led a small staff discussion at a recent Idea Swap comes from Rob Miller, Principal of AssociationCIO (contact him for more tips), who talked about ways that free and cheap technology can level the playing field for associations with few resources. Yesterday, Rhea Blanken looked at how to balance the different demands that executives at organizations with limited resources face. Later today, we'll hear from Sue Bowman on how marketing can be effective even with limited resources. To learn from your peers, be sure to check out ASAE & The Center's small staff online conference. Here's Miller:

Most organizations rely on standard off-the-shelf software tools such as Microsoft to run their business. The problem is that they cost money, and, for an emerging organization, this can be debilitating. Inexpensive and free options now exist for many of the most important technology tools such as office software suites, voice and video conference services, webinar, collaboration, and survey tools. What are you waiting for? Go get some free stuff!

Here are few of my favorites:


  • Google offers Google Voice for local and long distance service. The product allows a user to link into their mobile or LAN phone for placing or receiving calls. The cost? Nothing!

  • DimDim.com offers free webinar service for up to 20 participants in a meeting or $19 for up to 50 participants in a meeting. The product includes recordings, playback and multiple presenter workflows.

  • FreeGreenConferenceCalls.com offers free conference services for up to 250 participants.

  • TinyChat.com offers free video conferencing for as many 6 participants simultaneously.

  • The free web analytics tool from compete.com allows a user to compare web traffic of one URL against the web traffic of another, such as a competitor or like organization. (But if you are the web master, it is usually best to check the results by yourself first.)

  • Hubspot.com enables organizations to evaluate the quality and activity of a website. This is an excellent tool to deploy just before signing the acceptance form of a major website redesign project.

  • There are so many free tools available in the marketplace now. Before you buy - always pause, open up Google, type in the words "Free [insert your target]" and pursue the options.

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June 24, 2010

Learning to ride the leadership roller coaster

First up of our consultants who lead discussions among small staff associations is Rhea Blanken from Results Technology, who had these takeaways from her session:

Ever feel like you can't get out of the weeds long enough to lead your association the way you wish you could and know you should? Ever feel buried in minutiae, unable to take reflective time to image the future? Feeling unable to use the simplest time management tools because there is no time? Does this sound like a familiar small association staff chorus?

The problem with this long-standing attitude is that it's technically not really a problem. A problem is defined by its "either/or," "yes/no" quality--a decision is made confirming an action and eliminating others. A small association executive has the doing/imagining as well as the managing/leading roles constantly at play--it is not an either/or situation yet we talk about it that way. We must plan more time for "and."

This "and time" requires seeing one's efforts as a set of interdependent principles and actions, each necessary over time to create positive sustainable results to advance the organization. Too much attention on one side or the other will leave the organization lopsided. Too much concentrated activity and resources in the present will leave no room for future planning and vice versa. This is the paradox or contradiction of leadership--respecting the necessary tension between taking the time for now and making the time to think for later. Stop expecting it to be either/or. As often as not, "and" is what it looks like when it's working.

What's necessary is to create a neutral space where comparison, inquiry, discussion, and examination allow the staff and the organization to put into play the positive aspects of the supposed contradiction. This balances both sides rather than trying to force a solution into one. When we try to solve something that is not designed to be solution-based, we get resistance to the solution. A quick review of failed initiatives from board and staff is likely to reveal the reality of this circumstance. When we manage these paradoxes for their benefits and perspectives, we see attainable results. As Abraham Maslow said, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." Reach into the whole tool box.

A Few Perspectives Along the Roller Coaster

  • Leaders who see the "and" rather than the either/or of life are more effective at mediation, better able to anticipate and diminish problems from occurring, and tend to be better decision makers since they are not limited to either/or scenarios.

  • Make time in your schedule to think in the now and the future. Distinguish between problems that are inherently solvable and finite, and those that are both unsolvable and unavoidable. Investigate both the positive and negative aspects and effects of each side. Then combine the points of view in each to get a more complete picture of the known situation.

  • Be mindful of the organizational preferences to one side over another--if it favors one view over another then the decision is likely vulnerable to being overly focused and out of balance. Be clear on the positive and negative preferences the organization holds for one side over another and the reasons (check out sacred cows and historical baggage).

The bottom line
"Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome."
- Samuel Johnson

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Small staff associations: How to manage with limited resources

A few weeks ago, ASAE & The Center held a few Idea Swaps where prominent consultants lead discussions with association executives who had between 1 and 10 staff. The execs and consultants left energized by the discussions and we asked a few of the consultants to give us some takeaways from their sessions. As many small staff execs prepare to take part in our online conference, Creating the 24/7 Small Staff Association July 13-15, we thought we'd share these takeaways from three of the Idea Swaps in posts today and tomorrow.

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June 18, 2010

Patient, but not complacent

Nine days later, the comments on the "If I gave a commencement speech" post are still coming. (Thanks again, everyone!) Two words doesn't leave much room for nuance, so it's no surprise that "be patient" has different meanings for different people.

Near the end of the post, I mentioned learning patience "begrudgingly." That internal struggle of mine was nicely illustrated by a handful of responses:

First, this tweet from Jacob Wolfsheimer:

wolftrust: What would your two-word commencement speech be? http://bit.ly/dnb5fz Be patient? How about "embrace change?"

Then a comment from Shelly Alcorn, CAE:

"By continuing to promote 'patient' thinking in little things, we unintentionally stymie our ability to radically change the big things. Yes, be patient. But only when it doesn't matter." (excerpt)

A while later, David Patt, CAE, spoke up on his blog:

"They are often cited as doers, as movers and shakers, or as visionaries, and are praised for their aggressiveness and self-confidence. But frequently, they are merely dreamers. They don't understand that growth usually occurs incrementally. They ignore reality ..." (excerpt)

Hardly the first time a wedge was driven between idealists and realists, revolutionaries and evolutionaries.

These days I fall in the latter camp, but when I said I've learned patience begrudgingly, I meant that it scares me a bit, so I understand what Shelly's saying. What I fear most about developing patience is that one day it might erode into complacency and, worse yet, I might no longer see the difference. The gap between the two is the gap between success and failure.

In far better words than I can, Jamie Notter spelled this out in "The Hard Work of Patience" on his blog this week:

"[P]atience is actually more than not acting. It requires a deeper understanding of why you are not acting, and what work you need to be doing in the meantime. [...] That's hard work. In the conflict resolution world, we call this 'staying through the hard places.'" (excerpt)

Another practical example: Marketers have a rule of thumb that says it takes seven "touches" to establish a brand or product in a consumer's mind. Patience is knowing that the first six touches still count as progress. Same goes for networking, negotiating, and even learning.

And so if I could add three words to the commencement speech, I'd revise it to be:

"Be patient, but not complacent."

While this is ostensibly advice for the young, it's a challenge that spans a lifetime. For association leaders, how do you maintain patience and persistence in yourself and your staff? And is there a tipping point or a warning sign when you know you or your colleagues have fallen too far toward complacency?

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Managing your team to the top

The ongoing World Cup in South Africa offers a fascinating look at how organizations manage themselves in light of ever-changing circumstances and competition. Despite a curious lack of interest by most Americans toward the planet's largest sporting event, the non-U.S. population around the globe is riveted to the 64-game event, with businesses routinely closing for games, and giant TV screens set up in store windows and town squares to enable community viewing.

But even if you're not into soccer (futbol), you still shouldn't miss this opportunity to witness such rapid-fire exhibitions of teamwork, competitive strategy, skills execution, and leadership. Frankly, associations--often plodding, risk-averse, and tentative when they do act--could score some good intelligence from these teams for their own operations.

My husband, Andy, is an executive director of a 501©3, but more importantly, for the moment anyway, he is British and, therefore, a rabid soccer fan. (It was touch-and-go last Saturday when the U.S. played England to a tie, because that game is never "a friendly" at our house.)

During a halftime (hey, I'm not stupid), I noted that much of the Cup commentary could be directed just as easily at specific businesses as to soccer teams. I asked Andy what three parallels--and potential lessons--he most recognized.

1) Of the 32 teams in the World Cup, three to four are obvious contenders for the top prize, 24 or so are very good and could possibly surprise spectators and rise as well, and four or five merit bottom rankings. If your organization is in that 20-odd mass, the questions for the team are, 'What mindset and approach must be adopted, what tactics and strategy must be used at any given moment, what must be perfectly executed, and what pace must we set to leap us from good to great--from also-rans to winners?'

That last query--pacing--is especially critical.

While speed is essential, the competition--whether a month in South Africa or a century in your industry--is long. Substituting players so they can rest, re-analyze, and re-commit can make all the difference in your standings. Burnout or injury can affect any player; if your star-turn starts to lose his temper, do you keep him on the field and risk a red card and suspension or take him off and save him for the next game...if there will be a next game without your top player in action!

2) The handling of superstar performers, especially when they co-exist on one team, is a top challenge of any leader. Not only must managers put the right person in the right spot at the right time (per Jim Collins), they also must carefully mesh "gods" of the field into a team framework that will leverage their strengths (and egos) in ways that inspire and enable optimal performances from the entire group. Watch Argentina and Brazil address this dilemma with panache--and see how perennial underachievers like the Dutch can struggle with this kind of pressure.

3) Outstanding players aside, a team will never even make the competition if it has not been properly prepared, especially mentally. Hard, repetitive work can be boring and sweaty but builds a strong core--top teams embrace that reality. Teams and players that 'make it look easy' have invariably also worked the hardest in training and are the fittest. And this year, happiness is entering the analysts' lexicon for the first time--"The Germans look like they are enjoying themselves out there," as compared to the tight and anxious play of their overawed opponents. A mindset of resilience and fearlessness is essential.

Andy points to Germany--and it surely pains him to do so--as being "the IBM of the soccer world." Somehow doing what it takes to win is in its DNA. The team/company shows up and is ready for the competition despite shaky qualification or pre-tournament games. When the whistle blows, they are focused on winning and on taking that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to raise the trophy as a team. They don't really have any superstars, but they each know their job, and they perform. Nothing fancy. They've analyzed their opponents (data-driven), prepared for everything imaginable, and always do well.

What will it take to be the best in the world? That is the question every player, every team, every manager, and every organization must repeat, play, and repeat again.

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When Learning Happens in Committees and Task Forces

Some of the best collaborative learning experiences in any association or nonprofit can happen informally through volunteer experiences on committees and task forces. Learning belongs on your agenda along with the business of dialoguing, deciding and doing.

Formal learning takes place through leadership development programs, board orientation and officer training. Informal learning can happen through the new ideas and information flowing through our work and as brief "teaching moments" about our culture and practices routinely built into meeting agendas.

When our committees or task forces are charged with analyzing and deciding a critical issue, we can be intentional about using critical thinking processes and tools to be more effective. We could be disciplined about answering certain strategic questions or checking particular perspectives.

When we falter in our ability to communicate or get a project done, we can use action learning practices to reflect on and improve our group interaction and effectiveness.
At the end of each significant meeting, we can evaluate how well we accomplished our objectives and agree on how to be more effective next time.

When we set our goals and plan of work, we can explicitly declare what we want to learn individually and collectively. This should be as important to us as what we want our committees and task forces to achieve. The higher the level of accountability a group has the more open and willing its members should be to coaching and holding each other accountable for the success of the organization.

Instead of seeking volunteers who already have relevant experience and knowledge, we might be wiser to seek volunteers who are excited about learning how to do something bold together. Know-how is not hard to find when we start with leaning to work collaboratively.

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June 15, 2010

Associations as translators

A column on CNN.com found its way to me through the Twitter grapevine last week, and it calls out a problem in the public-relations field that I think associations can answer.

In "Bad medical writing hurts public health," Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, writes that the pains of the newspaper industry have a potentially dangerous ripple effect on public health. In short:

  1. Newspapers and other media are cutting skilled science writers for financial reasons and replacing them with inexperienced writers.
  2. Medical associations host large meetings where researchers and companies present findings of their studies, and they invite the media.
  3. Brawley says drug and medical companies are naturally inclined to heavily promote their research or products at these meetings.
  4. Inexperienced journalists are easily fooled into writing about overblown or misleading medical research (and sensational headlines drive page views, which is cause for only further trouble).

This merits mention on a major news site because it potentially affects public health, but the dynamics of the situation are present in any field, not just medicine and healthcare.

There was a time when the media was the objective referee between the sources of news and the consumers of news, but clearly that role is eroding, not only as newspapers lay off skilled writers but also as the journalist's mantle is taken up by citizens with blogs and Twitter handles.

Associations can step in here and help fill the role of referee. While an association should actively promote the achievements of its industry, it should also temper sensationalism by being a voice of clarity and authority in that industry. (Perhaps akin to the association curator role that is much talked about.)

Medical and scientific organizations do this well in their journals through the peer-review process. It's understandable, however, that the buzz of a conference can stir up hype. Behind the scenes, this is when an association's PR professionals should be making themselves known to the media as expert resources.

It's easy to forget that the public (and the media that serves it) don't have the same expertise, knowledge, and vocabulary as your industry's members, and your association is in the prime spot to serve as translator and educator for those outside your realm.

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Anatomy of a Web Launch 3: Pillars of Success

We left off on the last post by talking about the strategic sponsorship our association built with a publisher to couple resources and launch a new content and social networking website. In this post, I will talk about the strategy we created to manage the site long term.

Building Foundations. We reviewed many sites and articles related to managing sites, and especially social networking sites. We then created our management system, best described by the image below:

Pillars_Diagram.jpg

As you can see in the diagram, we generated a management platform based on what we call the Three C's: Content, Communication, and Community...and we utilize the term synergy to describe the type of atmosphere we wanted to cultivate long term, where the community builds its own content organically, meaning over time the whole begins to equal more than the sum of its parts.

The Three C's: Content, Communication, Community. Step one, develop relevant, quality content for our targeted audience. For this, our Content pillar was created, and one staff member was assigned to be the driver of content on the site, with help from other staff and an editor from our publishing partner. Goals of content include accuracy and relevancy, stories as valued content (instead of just traditional business/how-to articles), and alignment with the overall educational objectives of the association. We also established that this site would serve as the major hub for pushing content out to other social environments. For video content, we appointed our most video-centric champion in the office to work with our Content Coordinator and manage the creation of video content .

Next was the Communication Pillar. We assigned the person in our office most diligent about messaging and sharing information across our various social channels. The goals and values we set for this pillar included consistent monitoring/management of overall message and branding, monthly evaluation of search engine placement/keywords, and consistent gathering of feedback.

Finally, we fleshed out the linchpin for long-term for success of the site, the Community Pillar. We set up a system where our top 3 most passionate staff members on social networking will take the lead---we don't want to limit their passion to connect online during work hours, we want to harness it. Goals and values were:


  • To foster a dynamic and engaged professional community through encouragement and planned community-building programs and projects.

  • Consistent and regular encouragement of SIMA volunteers and Board of Directors to actively participate in the community weekly. Identification of volunteer 'champions'.

  • Creation of the 4 rules that every person should follow when posting on the community, with our goal of fostering a culture that is more like LinkedIn than Facebook.

Please engage with me and consider these questions, or ask me some questions:

  • What management functions have you all put in place for social communities?
  • What concerns or challenges have you faced with online communities?
  • What are the challenges to creating a community online that has rules of engagement?
  • How do you enforce bad behavior on a social networking site that your association built?
  • What are some fun giveaways or contests that you've seen or heard of to build community?
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June 10, 2010

Easing Content Experts into Collaborative Learning

Few content experts are skilled in designing and facilitating learning experiences so they default to familiar and safe formats like panel sessions when speaking for their associations.

To overcome this weakness, many associations offer content experts basic training in good education design for live, virtual or blended learning experiences. Some associations also rely on their education staffers or consultants to coach selected content experts, especially for technical or professional courses that will be repeated or available in an online curriculum.

If you want to help your content experts become more comfortable with facilitating collaborative learning, here are some simple tactics you might consider:

  • Explain different learning designs in a basic how-to guide. Recommend innovative formats that have worked for your members.
  • Make it easy to set up conference calls for co-presenters to plan a session together. Encourage talking in advance about how to achieve learning outcomes.
  • Give participants an upfront voice in defining their learning needs. Use online registration and social media to make it easy for participants to give this guidance to content experts in advance.
  • Designate one or two people as learning advocates in every experience. Empowering someone to actively represent the learning needs of the group reminds everyone they are in control of what happens in collaborative learning.
  • Celebrate and recognize content experts for amazing learning experiences. Set them up as role models for others to emulate.
  • Work with selected content experts who can help create a tipping point toward collaborative learning. Start with a few people who will innovate and influence others to change.
  • Check out these practical tips on how to turn experts into great teachers.

Your content experts know they stand on the shoulders of other experts. By helping them become facilitators of collaborative learning, you also help them stand shoulder-to-shoulder with others to grow and revise the knowledge in their field

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June 9, 2010

If I gave a commencement speech

It's graduation season, and a slew of celebrities and dignitaries are delivering commencement speeches at high schools and colleges across the country. (And yes, the season's nearly over, but my alma mater graduates its graduates this coming weekend, so I'm ahead of the game here, as I see it.)

Of course, I'm neither famous nor important, so I was not invited to confer my wisdom upon students anywhere, but that might be for the best. Had I been given the chance to do so, they might not have liked it. Here's my commencement address, in two words:

Be patient.

Kind of a downer, right? But it's important, and it's something they don't teach you in school.

Everything in school prepares students to "seize the day" and save the world the moment they step beyond the campus walls. This is a nice sentiment, certainly, but it means we all learn the hard way that relationships, progress, change, and success—both personal and professional—take time. A lot of time. And a lot of hard work during all of that time, day in and day out. And not just in associations, known as they are for being slow.

News last week about the Washington (DC) Teachers Union ratifying a new contract mentioned "nearly 2 1/2 years of contentious negotiations." Two and a half years is a long time to be working on anything. But that's what it took to make that progress.

This week, as I was copyediting a feature on mentorship that will run in the July issue of Associations Now, another line stuck out, this one from a mentor about difficult conversations with a mentee: "Staying on plan and understanding why the organization may not move as quickly as you would like. Discussing the value of patience is always challenging with a younger mentee."

And so that's the advice I'd give to graduating students or to young professionals entering the association sector (or any field, really). Be patient. It's the biggest lesson I've learned in my five years in the real world. (Though one I've learned begrudgingly, of course. I plan to address this in a follow up post.)

Some of this year's graduates will soon be interns or new employees at your associations. What would be your first piece of advice? What's your micro commencement speech?

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June 7, 2010

Anatomy of a Web Launch: Planning and Partnership

Now that we are ready to soft launch our site, it's fun to reflect. I would love to say that the last 2 months of site development have been a huge nightmare and challenge, but it's actually been quite painless overall. And the funny thing is, the site that we have created is actually quite simple. And that's the point, which leads me to my next post in this series (if you didn't see it, the introduction to the series is available here).

Planning. In January of 2009, I pulled together our association staff and the management team from our publishing partner to discuss and review our online presence. At that time, we as a staff had been engaging and actively using social media as a group for only a few months.

It became evident that we needed to develop a new site on a newer platform for our official publication, Snow Business magazine. The platform we were on was older, less flexible, and it was outdated. We also knew that we had to position ourselves as a leader in our industry online; there were already several successful (from a traffic standpoint) websites out there providing a threaded discussion format, but no sites delivering quality content (in many formats) coupled with a professional community. We wanted to be different. We also were overwhelmed with all of the prospects/functionalities, consultants, nings, wings, and blings, blah blah that were out there...where do we start? First, we needed a name for this monster project: Project Vulcan.

Over the course of 2 months, we made some strategic decisions that influenced our Vulcan site before it ever had a domain name. We really forced ourselves to talk about our goals as a staff/publishing team, and what we wanted to be able to deliver long-term. We didn't even look at sample sites, and every time we started talking about the bells and whistles, like 'maybe a content cloud...' we brought it back to strategy. Out of this came our Big Picture Outcomes---we forced ourselves to tie make sure these tied to strategic plan goals. Check those out here.

We also knew that in year one, we would not be able to deliver on all of these outcomes. We simply wanted to develop a dynamic, functioning platform that would allow us to build upon, and that was flexible.

Partnership. Before we talked site specifics, we had to define our partnership. We knew that the costs of a site like this for a small association by itself were difficult; we couldn't justify the cost without help.

Leveraging an existing relationship, we set up a partnership with our publisher that allows SIMA to own the new site, but outsourcing several functions to our publishing partner. This way, we could leverage; an experienced, professional editor of very high quality; a professional salesperson for ad sales; an IT consultant for IT questions; and some services from a highly competent graphic designer. We would split the expenses for development and marketing, and share profit (although the publisher gets a bigger piece of the pie, that's their incentive). Some content would be developed by us, and some by them, each owning its own content (this causes some challenges, to be sure).

I want to be clear; this site could fail long term, as could any new product launched online. However, I feel we have greatly increased our chances of success by going through a strong planning process first.

For the next post, I'll show you a really cool diagram, and talk about the initial RFP process and first steps in creating this site, please share thoughts below on the challenges of planning online products and resources in today's web environment.

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June 3, 2010

Knowing the rules is science, bending the rules is an art

As a writing and editing geek, I enjoyed John McIntyre's post last weekend, "You were badly advised," about why many of the hard-and-fast writing rules we were taught in high school simply aren't that ironclad. McIntyre is night content production manager and former copy desk chief at the Baltimore Sun.

In his post he points to "never use passive voice" and "omit needless words" as examples of rules that need not always be followed, but the greater point is that writing (and editing) is an art. One must learn the rules before learning how to bend or break them, and experience alone is what builds that capacity:

Between the simplified introductory rules or one-sentence maxims and some level of mastery of the craft yawns a wide divide. That is the space in which judgment has to develop ... . Be careful about whatever is stitched on that sampler above your desk ... it may not be as helpful as you think.

Leadership is an art, too, of course. Eric Lanke said it best last week on his Hourglass Blog: "Leadership happens when you take those principles and try to apply them to a real situation in the real world, and unanticipated conditions begin to clash with those principles."

We have our "rules" for association management, but they all have their exceptions*. Leadership experience brings the ability to judge when to stick to the rules and when to throw them out.

I'm just an editor, though, so I turn to our experienced association pros out there: What exceptions to the rules have you learned as you've dedicated your careers to associations?

(*An exception to the rule that all rules have exceptions: the rules our government calls "laws." I do not advise you break those rules.)

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The Hard Work of Collaborative Learning

Let's be honest about collaborative learning for a moment. People who just want an answer--fast--would rather listen to experts or click their way to a solution.

And those experts--well--they just barely have time to spew forth some of what they know before racing to their next great achievement.

And too many association executives are forced to crank out educational opportunities, because they are programming too many sessions, meetings and workshops to have enough time to inspect their products for learning outcomes and quality experiences.

Is this assessment too harsh? It takes time and effort on everyone's part to create a culture for collaborative learning.

For this culture to happen, association members will have to stop acting like consumers and accept their responsibility as co-creators of the knowledge and competencies in their field.

Content experts will have to learn new skills as learning facilitators and give up some control and ego gratification to put learners first.

Professional development leaders will have to take more risks and work harder than ever to create the formats and practices to support collaborative learning.

But that's a big chunk of change for any association. What are some first steps any association can take to lead a change toward collaborative learning? Let me nominate two simple steps here and then share two additional resources from our own community of shared learning. I'll offer more tips for your content experts in my next post.

1. At the outset of a learning experience, presenters/facilitators can set expectations by planning for and explaining the role learning participants will have in creating new understanding, ideas or tools.

2. At the conclusion, instead of only evaluating how the presenter/facilitators did, associations can ask learning participants to evaluate how well the group collaborated in achieving learning outcomes.

3. Use these tips to overcome resistance to active participation.

4. Experiment with new meeting formats that increase participation.

If you've got a success story to share or resources you have used, please share. We're in this transition together.

Collaborative learning does require much more from everyone at the outset. What we gain is a capacity to learn together that should prove immeasurable in creating knowledge, overcoming challenges and innovating for the future.

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Welcome Marsha Rhea!

This month, we're pleased to have as a guest blogger Marsha Rhea of Signature i Consulting. Marsha specializes in strategic scanning and planning, development of signature initiatives, and innovation work, but she also has a passion for and lifelong interest in learning, both on the individual and organizational level. She also blogs at the Signature Insights blog.

As a writer with an avid interest in learning, Marsha contributed a feature story to the June issue of Associations Now on the power of collaborative learning. This month on Acronym, she'll be blogging some additional thoughts on collaborative learning and how it can work in an association context.

Please welcome Marsha to Acronym. We're excited to have her blogging with us!

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June 2, 2010

Warren Bennis Counts to Three

I've been working on a feature for Associations Now about how changing attitudes and regulations regarding transparency are affecting associations and nonprofits. Among the interviews was a terrific chat with Transparency author and revered leadership expert Warren Bennis of the University of Southern California.

He listed three starting points to move an organization toward greater transparency, and I'm sharing here to kick off some early discussion:

1. The CEO must "be directed by the board to come up with a set of guidelines for transparency."

2. The CEO "should take responsibility for this" and must "make sure these are understood and drilled down into every aspect of the organization given their dispersion. With globalization, you have offices all over the world, and the rules of transparency are going to be different country by country." Suggested reading: Global Edge: Using the Opacity Index to Manage the Risks of Cross-border Business Opacity by Joel Kurtzman.

3. The CEO must "come up with a way of enforcement," preferably one outlined in a transparency plan.

We talked briefly about that last item--a transparency plan. Organizations need them, Bennis emphasized, and run real risk without them in this current open-air environment. That said, he couldn't recall a good example of one and even asked me to send him one if I had better luck tracking one down. Does anyone out there already have some policies around transparency that they'd like to share? Or perhaps they have notes around discussions of such a document? I welcome a comment or e-mail.

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June 1, 2010

Anatomy of a Web Launch

Over the next few months, my association will venture into the great known. We will boldly go where millions have gone before, and we will stumble and perhaps fall. And in the end, we hope we will be a smidgen wiser and better off than we were before.

I speak of a new content and social networking website we have been hungrily planning, conniving, ghoulishly hoarding close to our breast, for over a year. And you will experience the final development and launch of this site with us, if you DARE!

Here is what I will attempt to do here at Acronym:

- Describe our web strategy and planning process without putting you to sleep.

- Update you on things that are a major pain in our you-know-what.

- Tell you about our partnership strategy, and how it cut our expenses in half.

- Show you all this cool diagram-thing I had our graphic designer create to illustrate our philosophy of Content, Communication, and Community, and explain why I quoted Spock.

- Our logo design process, which was maybe one of the more painful things I've experienced in a long time--I won't even tell you about choosing a URL, as I still have PTSD from it, I think.

- Talk to you about how we dealt with some normal defenses and challenges to the project from board/volunteers/ourselves.

Now, my association isn't the first or the last to go through this kind of experience. I'd like to hear from you. What cautionary tales do you have to share from past website launches? Building a new online community? What questions would you like to see me write about in this series of posts? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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