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September 30, 2010

Quick Clicks: The Straight Dope edition

Welcome to this week's edition of Quick Clicks. Nothing clever, nothing pithy, just straight to the links:

So often, I read things that are so simple, so practical, it's a crime that they even have to be written. Call the police, then, because I'd wager a lot of associations need to heed the common sense of Jeffrey Cufaude's note on association renewal efforts. (And thanks, Jeffrey, for putting THAT song in my head!).

I love it when a blogger does something bold, so here's to you Elizabeth Weaver Engel, who brings out a personal experience to talk about just how hard transparency is when confronted by the politics of associations.

Jeff Hurt challenges us to flip our conference education models.

She's talking about a real estate organization-specific topic, but I still can't help but think that Judith Lindenau's talk about boards and new technology has much broader applications.

I have to link to Deidre Reid's recommendation of Scott Stratten, touring now in promotion of his new Unmarketing book. Stratten has become a hero ever since I saw him speak.

And one last association related post: Vinay... are you really climbing Mt. Everest? Cool. And good luck.

Just to do a quick look into a couple nonsector blogs, I seem to be on a social media kick this seek, as I really liked Brian Solis's look at influence in his post "The Social Network: Ecosystems vs. Egosystems."

Another one that shouldn't be missed: Amber Naslund talks about "4 Reasons The Social Media Industry Has a Credibility Problem." Introspective stuff.

And it's not a Scott Briscoe Quick Clicks without my favorite Seth Godin post from the last few days. I must be on a basics kick this week, too, because like Cufaude's post, making a strong "About Us" page on your website should be a no-brainer. Take Seth's five points though and measure how well a few randomly selected association pages do (it will likely be unpretty).

And last and least -- now, if you thought the title was a reference to the first line of this post where I said we'd get straight to the links, you're wrong. I think that could be translated as me calling my readers dopes, which would be unwise for a blogger who wants to be read (much less one who's intelligence compares so unfavorably to his readers). No, I was referring to one of my favorite newspaper columnists, the self-proclaimed smartest human, Cecil Adams. His website, The Straight Dope, recently posted one of his classic Q&As on how they got Mr. Ed to talk... and stop talking.

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September 29, 2010

When I grow up, I want to write like Seth Godin

I write 802 words and craft a post on leading vs. serving that is fair to middling.

Godin takes 150 words to explain the concept a hundred times better. Ok, a thousand times.

The comments to my post focused mostly on the definitions of serve and lead. Godin changes the terms a little, in this case he differentiates between what someone needs (a product/program etc. that will help them be healthy) versus what they actually want (potato chips). Associations routinely provide the potato chip and never look for what the member/public actually needs. More than anything, that's the truth I was trying to find in my post.

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How important are personnel problems?

I always enjoy reading the CEO to CEO column in Associations Now, because I'm often surprised by the answers we receive. One of the questions in the latest column is a great example: "If you could take back one business decision you've made in the next five years, what would it be?"

The way this question is worded, I anticipated answers that focused on the revenue or expense side of things--new products, pricing, or discontinuing a less-than-profitable event. But instead, three out of the four CEOs quoted felt that a personnel decision was the one business decision they'd most like to take back.

It goes back to that Good to Great credo, "get the right people on the bus," doesn't it? I love Good to Great, and I've always believed that the most important thing you can do as a manager is hire the right people and create conditions where they can thrive. But I wonder: Are bad personnel decisions really the worst business decisions you can make, or do they just feel that way?

Consider:

Personnel issues are in your face. If you have a festering personnel problem, you're hearing about it or seeing the evidence daily. There's a good chance you're either preparing to confront the issue or actively delaying confronting it on a regular basis. You likely find yourself having numerous conversations with other employees affected by the issue in a direct or indirect way.

Personnel problems are stressful. If you're considering dropping a poor-performing product, that product isn't a human being. You don't have to worry about whether it will have financial difficulties as a result of your decision. Not to mention that, for most of us, conversations about performance issues are stressful. Some managers handle them better than others, but I've never heard anyone say, "Wow, I'm really looking forward to sitting down and talking to Bob about his performance issues today."

Personnel problems are almost never clear-cut. People are rarely terrible performers with no upside whatsoever. So you second-guess yourself: Well, she's having problems in this area, but she's so good at other things. Maybe more training or more feedback could improve things. Maybe a little more time will help. But that second-guessing rarely leads to the issue actually being resolved--just to the problem (and the stress) continuing on.

What do you think? Is it possible we managers find ourselves spending more time worrying about personnel issues because of their nature, when we should be putting more emphasis on other business issues instead?

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September 28, 2010

Delivering Happiness: Never Settle for Good Enough

"We believe in operational excellence, and realize that there is always room for improvement in everything we do ... We must never lose our sense of urgency in making improvements. We must never settle for 'good enough.'"

Tony Hsieh writes this in a section of Delivering Happiness based on Zappos' core value "Do More With Less." I think it's a great place to end our discussion of the book, because it's a challenge every association, and every individual, can take to heart. The biggest association can always improve its operations--and so can the smallest. The most junior staff person can improve his or her work--and so can the most senior.

At the end of this section, Hsieh writes: "Ask yourself: How can you do what you're doing more efficiently? How can your department become more efficient? How can the company as a whole become more efficient? How can you personally help the company become more efficient?"

I'd say: Don't stop with efficiency. Can you make what you're doing (or what your department or association is doing) simpler? More impactful? Less resource-intensive? More engaging? More in line with our association's values? More valuable? If you look at one thing you do every day with fresh eyes, I bet you'll find room for improvement in many unexpected places.

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Thank you for reading along with Delivering Happiness! In October, we'll be discussing The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting With Social Media to Drive Change, by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. I'm looking forward to taking a look at what Kanter and Fine have to say about making our organizations simpler, reshaping governance, and learning through social media.

After October we have a few more books planned for you:

November: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande (blogger: Lisa Junker)

December: Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality, by Scott Belsky (blogger: Jeffrey Cufaude)

January: Surviving and Thriving in Uncertainty: Creating the Risk Intelligent Enterprise, by Frederick Funston and Stephen Wagner (blogger: Melanie Herman)

If you're reading a book other members of the association community might enjoy, and you'd be interested in blogging about it, contact me at any time at ljunker@asaecenter.org.

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September 27, 2010

Getting tired?

Last week, I caught an interesting but brief dialogue on Twitter between two association people, David Gammel and Kevin Holland, whom some of you may know.

David: Blogging is dead except for those who write well with a strong point of view. Same goes for tweeting, books, and stone tablets.
Kevin: @davidgammel But even blogs from good writers with strong POV tend to get really boring -- cuz it's that POV over & over & over & over.
David: @associationinc Sure, although if you carry a diverse set of views upon which to make points, you can limit that fatigue.
David: @associationinc Speaking of which, when are you bringing your blog back? I hadn't gotten bored with you yet! :)
Kevin: @davidgammel Thanks ... But *I* had gotten bored with it...

I'm with David in missing Kevin's perspectives on association managment on his blog, but I point to this conversation to highlight a challenge that can face any association professional, not just communications people or bloggers: message fatigue.

It's easy to get tired of doing or saying the same thing over and over again. Explaining your member benefits. Stating your advocacy position. Training new volunteers and board members. Sharing tips for doing X, Y, or Z. The repetition can be daunting.

I have another story, however, that might offer some motivation for fighting that fatigue. At ASAE's Annual Meeting, I went to Bob Rosen's Thought Leader session, which I enjoyed. It wasn't until the final few minutes of his session that I realized he was the same person that Scott had blogged about in July. Later, I blogged about Rosen's "just enough anxiety" advice, shortly after which I learned Rosen had written a book about it in 2008. Then, last week, I discovered that he wrote a feature article for Associations Now in August 2008. I work for the magazine and had no recollection of it! Does that make me a bad editor? Perhaps, but it also makes me human. For whatever reason, the instances in which my colleagues had previously conveyed Rosen's ideas hadn't impacted me. When I heard him in person, they finally did.

And so I'm an example of the old marketing adage that it takes repeated messages (from 3 to 20, depending on whom you ask) to effectively reach a consumer. It can apply well beyond advertising, though, to education, publications, or even plain old instructional information. So hang this motto on your wall, if you have to, to constantly remind yourself: "Just because I'm tired of it doesn't mean my members are."

I found a couple resources with some ideas for fighting message fatigue, but it was surprisingly difficult to find info that was more specific than general job burnout, so I'm curious if you have any other ideas from your experience. How do you stay motivated, and how do you deliver messages multiple times without just being repetitive? Please share in the comments.

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September 24, 2010

Quick Clicks: Healthy debate edition

Welcome to a late-Friday edition of Quick Clicks. Happy weekend to you!

- Welcome new association blogger Kathi Edwards at the Learning Evangelist blog!

- Shelly Alcorn sees a seismic shift coming in the nature of association leadership. In response, Jamie Notter envisions a new environment of "social leadership." Cecilia Sepp isn't sure Shelly and Jamie's ideas will work and explains why.

- Jeff De Cagna challenges the association community to commit to transforming itself.

- Could everything you know about writing and editing for the web be wrong? Brett at NTEN argues that it might.

- An outside perspective for us: 37Signals explains why they don't offer special pricing for nonprofit clients. Aside from the nonprofit aspects, it's an interesting look at the thinking behind one company's product pricing decisions.

- David Patt wonders if the nature of association boards might be leading some CEOs to play it too safe. Elsewhere, at Harvard Business Review's blogs, Roger Martin wonders why too few boards challenge the organizations they lead--especially when those organizations need to be challenged the most.

- Martha Rhea calls for association execs to take a good, hard look at their tendency to overcommit themselves.

- The MemberClicks blog is celebrating Small Staff Association Month in October and is recruiting guest bloggers to help celebrate.

- The Heath brothers (authors of Made to Stick and Switch) have a three-question interview with the authors of Brains on Fire about how organizations can ignite passion around their products and services. I love question 2: "Are there some products or services that are passion-proof?"

- Carol-Anne Moutinho has started a series of posts on the ARC blog based on interviews with Canadian association execs about what's keeping them up at night. Her first post focuses on issues related to membership; the second, media.

- Speaking of social media, Stefanie Reeves argues that Congress is kicking associations' butts when it comes to using social media for advocacy.

- Joe at the unhatched blog describes the experience of a total communications breakdown (believe me, I've been there!) and asks how you would handle one.

- Chris Durso at PCMA Convene dares to speak out in defense of PowerPoint (complete with a slide summarizing his post)!

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Delivering Happiness: Culture When the Going Gets Tough

In my last post on Delivering Happiness, I looked at some of the reasons why Tony Hsieh and his team have made culture the cornerstone of Zappos' business. Several other points Hsieh makes about culture stood out for me as well:

Culture is about the tough decisions.
Zappos was originally founded to be a drop-ship business: Zappos would take the orders, but shoe companies would actually fulfill them.

Over time, even as Zappos began to carry inventory and fulfilled more and more sales through its own warehouse, the drop-ship part of their business was still important; it was 25 percent of their overall sales, and, as Hsieh writes, it was "easy money." But as Hsieh and his team realized that the Zappos brand was going to be focused on the very best customer service, they also realized that drop-shipping put the customer service experience partially in another company's hands--with sometimes negative results.

So, in March 2003, Zappos eliminated the drop-ship part of their business. With the literal flip of a switch, they cut 25 percent of their sales--at a time when they were tight on cash and having trouble making payroll week to week. Imagine a culture strong enough to propel that leap of faith.

Culture isn't just about staff. One of the ways Zappos reinforces its culture is through its Culture Book, a collection of unedited answers to the question "What does Zappos culture mean to you?" (The Culture Book is available to anyone interested in the company, by the way.)

At first, the Culture Book answers came from employees only. But over time, Zappos began asking vendors, partners, and customers to be part of the book, too.

Imagine asking your members, volunteers, vendor partners, and customers to write down their take on your culture. How would it contrast with staff perspectives? What could you learn?

Culture means turning some people off. As much as I love Delivering Happiness and the ideas Tony Hsieh presents, I don't think I could ever work at Zappos. Several times in the book, Hsieh writes about the importance Zappos places on hiring employees who want to spend lots of time with their coworkers outside the office; he writes that the company's best ideas often come during social events and happy hours.

I can see his perspective, but I also know that I wouldn't fit in in that culture. As much as I enjoy my coworkers, at the end of the day, I have two children who have to come ahead of social time with anyone else. That doesn't make Zappos wrong; it just makes me wrong for Zappos. And I admire a culture that's well-defined enough that it's easy to identify who fits and who doesn't (and confident enough to act on that information).

Next week, we'll wrap up Delivering Happiness. For a look at the books we'll be blogging about in future months, click the cut tag below.

Upcoming books:

October: The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting With Social Media to Drive Change, by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine (blogger: Lisa Junker)

November: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande (blogger: Lisa Junker)

December:
Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality, by Scott Belsky (blogger: Jeffrey Cufaude)

January: Surviving and Thriving in Uncertainty: Creating the Risk Intelligent Enterprise, by Frederick Funston and Stephen Wagner (blogger: Melanie Herman)

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September 21, 2010

Connect Through Trust

Emmanuel Gobillot, author of The Connected Leader and LeaderShift, was the keynote speaker at a conference I attended this summer. I have two and half pages of notes with little stars next to the ideas that resonated most with me.

One of the stars came under the bullet "Connect Through Trust." It started out just as one of those "common sense" platitudes you hear from high profile speakers when you begin to wonder "how much did they pay this guy?" Then suddenly you find yourself writing furiously as plans to implement this common sense notion pop into your mind with every word that comes from the podium. You're ready to buy his books, become his fan on Twitter and hug each member of the conference planning committee that secured him.

Gobillot said that the question to ask after every interaction with our members, committees, leaders, customers, etc. is "Have I made them feel stronger and more capable?" This is why no one ever forgets a great teacher, Gobillot said.

Mrs. Taylor was my great teacher. I had her for high school English both freshman and sophomore years. She was the first teacher whose passion for her subject came through in every lesson. I can't think of any particular example; but, I remember how I felt in her class. Excited to read literature and identify the theme. Intrigued by actually understanding poetry. Inspired to write papers and be creative. Energized to show her that I understood what she had taught me. Indeed, I felt stronger and more capable. I trusted her to bring me someplace new everyday. And I worked at her direction - at first for her approval (and, yeah, it was school), then for my own pleasure.

And this is just what Gobillot said would happen. "Make them feel stronger and more capable. Then they'll trust you. If they trust you, it means you've connected with their energy. And they'll start working for you."

How can we make members feel stronger and more capable with every interaction? And not just face-to-face interactions. What about web browsing, online forms, emails, phone calls, registrations, renewals and publications? How do we measure how much they trust us and when we've connected with their energy? Are any associations asking these questions in their membership surveys?

I imagine that Mrs. Taylor knew because I was working harder in class, asking more questions, sharing my opinions, completing assignments early, occasionally talking to her outside of class about Siddartha and The Pearl, and later talking to her about my own writing goals for the future.

What did you do today to make a member feel stronger and more capable? Today I'm thanking some of our younger members who wrote book reviews for our young professionals newsletter. I'm sending them their article in a frame and sending a note to their supervisor (with the member's permission) to let them know their employee supports the profession and is developing other skills. Then I'll ask those young members to do something else - write another article, share an opinion, review our website - because I think their opinion is valuable. And I'll track their activity in our system so we can reach out to them for other positions, maybe leadership roles. They'll be working for us regularly in no time.

Well, I guess that Gobillot really knows what he's talking about. I wonder if he knew Mrs. Taylor?

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September 16, 2010

Quick clicks: Questioning conventional wisdom edition

This week's heap of hyperlinks features several perspectives that might lead you to reconsider the status quo. Enjoy!

Advocacy and social media. New association blogger Stephanie Reeves, CAE, calls associations out for failing to use social media to their advantage in advocacy and lobbying. Congress is doing it, so we should too, she says.

Decision making. This headline from MIT Sloan Management Review is not a typo, and you are not having dyslexia: "Is Decision-Based Evidence Making Necessarily Bad?" The authors argue that some situations exist in which it's OK to make a decision first and gather evidence later. The key, of course, is to know when that model applies and when it doesn't. An interesting take, especially if you've ever read Chapter 4 of 7 Measures of Success, which covers "data-driven strategies."

Nonprofits acting like businesses. And vice versa. It's something of a mantra that nonprofits should act more like for-profit companies. However, Colleen Dilenschneider suggests some ways in which sector blur might be a bad thing for those in need. Her focus is mainly on charitable nonprofits, but the underlying conflicts of crossing social goals with business competition are good principles for any association or nonprofit leader to understand.

Content marketing. In the Web 2.0 age, the lines between marketing, public relations, communications, and editorial publication have all been blurred. Valeria Maltoni at Conversation Agent offers some focus in "Debunking 5 Myths About Content Marketing."

Print publications. As a former student journalist and on the heels of Dave Lutz's argument to kill conference daily newspapers, this headline caught my eye: "Students Prefer Printed College Newspapers over Online." The relevant quote:

"My experience is that if something is free and it's convenient to get and whatever is in it is relevant to them, they have no qualms about printed versus non-printed," said Kevin Schwartz, general manager of The Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The sense of community a college engenders in its students (aka "members") is the envy of any association, so it's worth considering the parallels (and differences) between student newspapers and association publications.

Truth in leadership. Jamie Notter continues his series of blog posts on truth, this time explaining why association CEOs need to spend less time crafting messages and more time just talking openly and honestly.

Managing collaborative work. How do you get people to use a wiki? My initial thoughts: bribes, threats, or possibly both. However, Jonathan Rick at the K Street Café blog offers some much more sensible ideas.

Keynote speakers. What makes a good one? Maddie Grant puts this question forth on the SocialFish blog, and the discussion in the comments is great food for thought for any association conference planner.

Other conference sessions. I'd be hard-pressed to come up with an idea for a conference breakout session that could work at any and every association conference, but Suzanne Carawan offers five on the etouches blog. Color me impressed. So there you go, whatever your association, five free ideas for sessions at your next conference.

Tradeshow booth sales. If your association hosts a tradeshow, no doubt it's a revenue stream you'd like to maximize. Dave Lutz at the Midcourse Corrections blog recommends onsite sales for the following year's show and a points program to reward loyal exhibitors. He even suggests giving your booth-selection process some NFL-Draft-style hype.

Funny. You know social media is here to stay when even Dilbert's employer hires a social media manager. The link goes to Monday's strip; the rest of the week has been about social media, too, so be sure to click through.

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September 14, 2010

Delivering Happiness: What Culture Really Is

To continue our month-long look at Tony Hsieh's book Delivering Happiness, let's talk about culture.

Zappos is perhaps as well known for its culture as it is for its shoes. Every article I've read about the company (including one we ran in Associations Now) finds space to cite at least a story or two about the culture of the organization and the lengths its employees will go to because of that culture. But Zappos didn't wake up one morning to discover that they had a strong company culture. They committed to it and put in the sweat required to build it.

"Over time, as we focused more and more on our culture, we ultimately came to the realization that a company's culture and a company's brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand is just a lagging indicator of the company's culture," writes Hsieh in Delivering Happiness. (boldface mine, because I love that quote)

Hsieh's point here goes back to a lot of what's been written over the years about authenticity. The argument isn't that you should be authentic just because it's better to be authentic; the argument is that you should be authentic because over time it's impossible to hide who you really are. Eventually, you'll get tired, you'll speak without thinking, and your real self will be visible, no matter how hard you work to craft an alternate image of yourself.

The same is true of organizations. Hsieh puts it this way: "The fundamental problem is that you can't anticipate every possible touch point that could influence the perception of your company's brand." You can script your customer service reps' responses to frequently asked questions; you can have approved language and messaging for a wide variety of situations. But who knows? Maybe a member will run into one of your staff on the street or sit near them in a restaurant. (On my flight back from LA a few weeks ago, I looked across the aisle and realized the gentleman sitting across from me was reading Associations Now. Admittedly, the fact that I was returning from the Annual Meeting raised the odds of that happening, but my point is that you never know where members will be.)

If you've hired the right people and they've completely committed to your culture, it won't matter where or when your staff encounter a member or customer. Your members will experience the same brand, always, no matter what.

"At the end of the day," Hsieh writes, "just remember that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff--including building a great brand--will fall into place on its own."

Next week, I'll take a look at a few more a-has about culture that I got from Delivering Happiness. (And click the link below for a look at our upcoming bookblogging schedule for October through December.)

Upcoming books:

October: The Networked Nonprofit, by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine (blogger: Lisa Junker)

November: The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande (blogger: Lisa Junker)

December: Making Ideas Happen, by Scott Belsky (blogger: Jeffrey Cufaude)

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September 13, 2010

Proactive accountability

I don't have any specific recent examples in mind about accountability, but it's a topic I've had in mind for a while and have wanted to get into a blog post, so here goes.

Most of the time when accountability comes up, it does so in roughly this context:

"We need to hold people accountable for their actions."

People say this about politicians a lot. It often gets tossed around regarding CEOs and boards. It comes up in relation to staff and volunteer performance, as well. In general, if you're "held accountable" for something, it's bad news. It means you're the one to blame.

This perspective seems backwards to me. It's reactive. If you're in a fuss about holding people accountable for their actions, it means you likely weren't paying any attention before and during those actions. And that's a problem for an association executive, particularly if you want your staff and volunteers to do actual work.

Instead, accountability should be built into your work from step one. Here are two examples from my experience:

  • In high school, I was a lifeguard at the neighborhood pool for three summers. Every day, the pool was packed with screaming kids and inattentive parents. But in three years, I never had to jump in the pool to save someone. Why? Because my fellow lifeguards and I blew our whistles. We blew our whistles a lot. No running. No diving in the shallow end. Et cetera. In other words, when you're proactive, you reduce the need to ever have to go into emergency mode.
  • On the Associations Now staff, we keep a running Excel file of what articles are scheduled for upcoming issues, deadlines, and who is writing or editing what. We have a weekly staff meeting in which we all have a hard copy of the lineups for the coming few months and we discuss status updates. When my name is beside an article, everyone in the department knows that article is my responsibility, and if I let the article fall through, I know that all of my fellow editors will be fully aware of that. And on the flipside, if I get something in early, everyone else knows that, too. It's all out in the open. (This system was in place before I arrived, so I can't take credit for it. Though if I ever worked on a publication without such a process, I'd install it in a second.)

Neither of these is complicated. They're just simple matters of order, organization, and transparency. They're not revolutionary systems or advanced management practices. They just have to be practiced and maintained every day, not just when things go wrong. (As a sidenote, seeking proactive accountability through transparency offers a bonus positive result: breaking down silos.)

For associations, a significant challenge is ensuring that boards and volunteers follow through on commitments. I'm curious about what proactive methods you use at your associations to build accountability into your work with volunteers or, for that matter, with staff or even with CEOs from the board's perspective. Please share in the comments.

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September 10, 2010

Quick Clicks: Dartboard edition

Probably no bullseyes here. This is the "put-a-blindfold-on, spin-around-three-times-and wing-a-dart-in-the-general-vicinity-of-where-you-think-the-dartboard-is" edition of Quick Clicks. If we're lucky, no one will lose an eye.

So let's start with the Dean of Association Bloggers, Jeff De Cagna, though we're not going to his excellent Principled Innovation blog, rather, his post on SmartBlog Insights where he wants to change the E in CAE from Executive to Entrepreneur. I like it Jeff, but I have to wonder, what's the situation where an entrepreneur needs to make a loud noise and leave the room?

Garry Polmateer's post Watch out for "The Blob!" on associationTECH also caught my eye. Reminds me of a book I read a while back by Cass Sunstein in which he warns of the the evils of the social web where rumor, falsehoods, innuendo, and everything else bad is magnified faster and larger than truth and reason. (The book, by the way: On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done.) I remember thinking while I was reading it: "Aren't we all getting smarter and more skeptical about these things?" Maybe, maybe not.

Also, diversity was the word of the week, featured in #assnchat (pronounce that however you want). I'm linking to Maddie Grant's post over on SocialFish (can I do a Quick Clicks without linking to Maddie?) because she captures the conversation.

Jumping out of the association-focused sector for a second, I wanted to point out Social Media Scientist Dan Zarella's incredible idea: A New Kind of Tweet-up: Social Media Battles. There's no need for the idea to be limited to social media.

On Tom Peters' blog there is a guest post from Steve Yastrow that I like a lot. It talks about how information collection used for personalization can make you look slimy if you're not careful.

Presentation Zen shows us what Star Wars might have looked like in the death-by-PowerPoint age. It's an older post, but I ran across it after ASAE's Annual Meeting when I was wandering around the interwebs thinking about how to make presentations better.

And speaking of the annual meeting, the posts in the blogging community just keep on coming. The meeting ended 17 days ago at this point, so I'm just going to do this in rapid fire:

Thoughts from a thought leader.
Better presentation thoughts.
Mmmmm beer.
Mmmmm beer II.
Making a booth prop meaningful.
Photo post
Attend a conference with a plan.
Focus.
Wow, an Escape Club reference.
Creating a different kind of experience.
There's a new way to conference.

And finally in the just because I want to link to it category, here's a look at a Venn Diagram of Muppets/Sesame Street names. Who knew Rowlf the Dog was at the nexus of it all?

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Is your next volunteer a 'me' guppy?

ASAE's Executive Management Listserv took a slight turn to the bizarre this week when a discussion about board member recruitment turned on a fly fishing metaphor thanks to Bob Collins of APICS and the always insightful Vinay Kumar.

With apologies to any association board members who read this--honest your staffs do not actually think of you as guppies or steelhead or any other type of cold-blooded animal--here is how Kumar broke down, in general, the types of prospective association board members (I slightly edited his work for style):

ME Guppy--it's all about him, what's in it for him. It's constantly about receiving, about taking, what can you do for me, how will this add to my resume, my ego stroking, how I will look good, and so on. In my judgment, of course.

YOU Guppy--it's about continuous giving. But this guppy can run out of energy at some point because she can overcommit, out of goodness to serve. So initially it's a great start with lots of energy, but they can run out of nourishment at some point.

WE Guppy--she is about both giving and receiving. She knows that when those she is serving are successful, so is she. And when she is successful, she has more to give. She sees her success and the success of those she serves as intertwined and interrelated. The more she gives, the more she receives and vice versa.

What struck me is what is often the case with generalizations: the ideas and descriptions resonate, but then most of the time they break down at an individual application level. I can't imagine something that would be much harder than divining someone's motivation at desiring to join a board of directors. When I volunteer my time and energy on something, the complexity behind my motivations is hard for me to work out and accept myself, and would almost always include components of all three of these categorizations. Which one is slightly (or maybe even significantly) ahead of the others is most likely determined by the specific job as much as anything else.

We've all seen the ME volunteer, right? I imagine a lot of us have seen a ME volunteer transform into a WE volunteer. Now we might pat ourselves on the back for being able to train someone to be a good and productive volunteer. But it just might be that a slightly different volunteer assignment--and when you're on a board, you're going to be talking about many different issues, each could be considered a different assignment--is the difference.

In any event, it's an interesting discussion point, I think. The ideas of what metaphoric hook and metaphoric bait to use to land a metaphoric guppy in the desired category was also part of the conversation. (I told you it got a little bizarre. Good, but bizarre.)

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September 9, 2010

Does 9/11 Still Resonate as a Community Service Draw for Members?

Yes, based on the number of press releases and website announcements popping up this week. The 9/11 National Day of Service appears to still rally members at a wide range of associations and nonprofits that have been strengthening their volunteer programs in general, not just during observance of the anniversary of those terrible attacks.

Among the most visible are AARP, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civil Leadership Council, United Way and DoSomething.org, the largest teen volunteer organization--all partners with MyGoodDeed Inc. The latter is the official organizer of 9/11 memorial activities along with the Corporation for National and Community Service.

AARP, for instance, announced today that its Create The Good arm is launching a new campaign "aimed at raising awareness about social responsibility and community service." The campaign focuses on sharing stories about members' volunteer experiences in hope of inspiring others to offer their own talents and time to the less fortunate. Members can share these stories via an easy online form at AARP's Create the Good website and tap into tools to help them find other places and ways they might volunteer.

I think that finding ways to publicly share and promote the positive experiences of member volunteers is a great idea. It's a shame that so many volunteer match-up programs or association-sponsored give-back events don't allow people to talk afterwards about what the experience meant to them or the impact they saw their efforts have on others.

And using such a painful day in our history to create positive change does more than just generate warm fuzzies about your association as coordinator of such efforts. It also boosts engagement with your organization, connects people to others with similar values, and helps meet the changing expectations of members (especially young members) about the need for business to be doing something bigger than just focusing on their own industry or profession.

I hope you'll consider joining the 9/11 tribute efforts, many of which have already started and continue through early next week. Please consider posting in the comment area on this blog, if you'd like to share your own experience. We'd love to hear about it!


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September 8, 2010

Serve vs. lead

This is seemingly one of those age-old association debates isn't it? I know it's one I've had at every association I've worked, so I wanted to see how Acronym readers would talk about the issue... if you're willing to share your thoughts: Should an association be serving the members of its industry or profession, or should it be leading them?

I'll start with how I would define serving and leading, and then provide some brief thoughts I have.

Serve - this is helping members do their job right now. There is an apparent or an expressed need, and the association offers products, services, or solutions to meet it.

Lead - the two aspects of leading a profession or industry are (1) anticipating future events and needs and ensuring members are prepared for it--and by its nature, your anticipations and the work you do will be wrong or inadequate a bunch of the time; (2) pushing members into uncomfortable positions to accept realities that may be hard to accept or even to create realities that are less-than-ideal for their companies but achieve a greater good--for the profession or industry, or for society as a whole.

I think based on these definitions, most association executives would say that serving is relatively safe and leading is relatively risky. I, and many others, could easily argue the opposite though. Perhaps more consensus would emerge in talking about risk/reward. Serving is relatively low risk and low reward--low risk because it's relatively easy to figure out how to serve a member's needs well. It's low reward also because it's relatively easy. Leading would be high risk, high reward. High risk because you're going to be wrong some and only incompletely right a lot. Plus, getting people to pay you for making them uncomfortable is really hard. It's high reward because when you're right, you will be providing highly valuable products/information/etc. Also, because what emerges from those uncomfortable positions is usually a new and better way to approach things.

The fact is, associations do a mix of serving and leading. Here's where I like to do the money test--talk to the powerful in the organization and give them a figurative $100 and tell them they need to spend X amount serving and X amount on leading. Where should that money fall?

I'd have to say a $50 split is a terrible answer. You'll probably be ok at both of them--but what kind of organization strives to be ok? Better to have a focus and leave some people behind.

Even worse than $50/$50 is a $60/$40 or even $70/$30 split. With these splits, you're going to be good at one and ok or marginally ok at the other. Why is this worse? To answer that requires a quick aside.

I used to be an unabashed Jim Collins Good to Great supporter. I'm less so now, but only because it's the presentation I have issues with, specifically presenting the ideas as if they were the results of ironclad research. If I mattered to him, this is the part that would anger him: I think the research methods are much closer to anecdotal and qualitative than the objective, quantitative descriptions he gives them in the book. But I don't care, because I do think the points and conclusions he makes are important fodder for leaders to consider and act on. His most simplistic and elegant point: good is the enemy of great.

So why is $50/$50 better? At least at the $50/$50 level you're only ok--maybe slightly better or slightly worse--you have an easier path to great than an organization whose work is good. When things are good, there's an inertia at work against change, and that inertia stifles creativity and innovation.

So in my opinion, we're talking about the need to at least be $80/$20, but which side should get the $80? If you've read this far, you can probably guess where I'd put my $80, and I think it's where most associations should be, too. But every association is different, and it's not a slam dunk that it should be on leading. I think there absolutely are viable organization models that would spend $80 or more on serving. The key is knowing that and developing a staff and volunteer structure that will lead to products and services that solve members' work problems today. Maybe that looks like nothing but a team of consultants. Maybe it looks like nothing but research. But I think it is something that can have real value to people.

A final thought. Based on where I've worked and the conversations I've had the past 9 years, I'd guess that 98% of associations fall somewhere between the $50/$50 and $70/$30 splits--and that represents one heck of a wasted opportunity.

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Under Construction

We all love to complain about road construction, especially when it all seems to happen at once. During this week's encounter with road construction here in New Jersey, I realized the DOT gets a lot right in serving its consumers in the midst of change.

1. For big projects they give plenty of notice: "On or about October 15, construction will begin." And it's only August.

2. The work is done when traffic is light: "Lane closures 9pm-5am."

3. They tell you what to expect: "Uneven Pavement," "Men in Roadway," "Expect Delays."

4. They alert you about emergencies: "Water Main Break," "Lower Level GWB Closed."

5. They offer alternative options: "Detour," "Plan Alternate Route."

6. They hit you on an emotional level--in just 6 scribbly words: "Slow Down. My Mommy (or Daddy) Works Here."

Hey, I'm no fan of traffic. And NJ tolls? Don't get me started. But, the DOT knows how to get my attention, seems to be concerned about me getting to where I'm going on time and that I'm prepared for unusual driving experiences. That puts me at ease, makes me think they're doing this for me, and reassures me that in the end it will all be okay and probably better than before.

What I wish they did better was share the big picture. Six months in to the year-long construction project, you're still wondering "What is it they are doing?" or "How can this possibly make it any better?" And how about a celebration for motorists upon completion? Maybe just one more sign that says,

We're Done. Welcome to Your New Road. Please Drive Carefully.

I'd love to hear how your organization is getting it right, especially during times of change.

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September 7, 2010

Delivering Happiness: Watch Out for Inertia

Welcome to Acronym's new experiment in bookblogging! As I announced a few weeks ago, we're going to be blogging about a different book each month--books with lessons and ideas that the association community can be inspired and challenged by. This month, I'll be writing about Delivering Happiness, by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh. (Click on the link at the bottom of this post for the schedule of upcoming books and bookbloggers.)

If you haven't read Delivering Happiness--which I highly recommend--here's some quick background: Tony Hsieh co-founded LinkExchange shortly after he graduated from college. After Microsoft bought LinkExchange for $265 million, Hsieh became a venture capitalist, played poker, and developed a business incubator--none of which fully captured his imagination and passion. But one of the companies his venture-capital firm had invested in did: Zappos.com. Hsieh joined Zappos full time in 2000.

After some rough years in the beginning, Zappos became a company strong enough to do more than $1 billion in annual gross sales and built a culture strong enough to generate a whole host of "Did you hear about the time that Zappos ..." stories. Tony Hsieh would surely tell you that the second part of that sentence is responsible for the first.

One thing really stands out about Hsieh, right from the first few pages of his book, is his entrepreneurial drive. As a child, he started a worm-farming business (which didn't work out) and button-making business (which did); that same drive led to his involvement in LinkExchange, Zappos, and a host of other business opportunities. So I was surprised to see him, of all people, write about the power of inertia.

Hsieh's insight about inertia came to him when he was learning to play poker, first in California and then in Las Vegas. "My big 'ah-ha!' moment came when I finally learned that the game started before I even sat down," writes Hsieh.

Hsieh had learned that the most important decision in a game of poker was your choice of table. An experienced player, he writes, can win significantly more at a table with inexperienced or tired players than at a table with good players who are focused on the game. But even more important, Hsieh realized that sitting down at a table didn't mean he had to stay there. If the game wasn't going well, he always had the option to get up and move.

That may sound obvious, but in real life, it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget that we have the option to do things differently--essentially, to switch tables. As Hsieh writes in his discussion of the business lessons poker taught him, "Without conscious and deliberate effort, inertia always wins." The infamous phrase "we have always done it that way" is just a longer way of saying "Inertia 1, Me 0."

And I love Hsieh's phrase "conscious and deliberate effort." Conscious and deliberate effort trumps waiting and hoping every time.

Next week, I'll be blogging about the heart of Delivering Happiness: culture, and some of the tough decisions Hsieh and his team made to preserve the culture at Zappos.

Upcoming books:

October: The Networked Nonprofit, by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine (blogger: Lisa Junker)

November: The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande (blogger: Lisa Junker)

December: Making Ideas Happen, by Scott Belsky (blogger: Jeffrey Cufaude)

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September 3, 2010

Who's responsible for innovation at a tradeshow? 3 (times two) views

At Annual in LA, I had the chance to attend the "industry power session"--a rapidfire discussion about the future of tradeshows facilitated by John Parke and building in part on the results of several focus groups of meeting planners and CEOs held before the conference.

The session was structured around a series of questions. The reactions and comments to each were fascinating to me (I've got a good dozen pages of notes to think about), but one question that particularly stood out was "Who is responsible for bringing innovation to a tradeshow?"

In the discussion that followed, a number of interesting points came up (all of the following are paraphrased):

- Innovative tradeshows need to recruit exhibitors who are on the cutting edge of their industries. Prospective exhibitors look at the list of companies that will be at a show and decide whether to attend based on whether they see other "like" companies.

- How can I expect exhibitors to bring innovation to a tradeshow when my exhibitors won't even read the materials I send them? (from a meeting planner)

- The ultimate responsibility for innovation lies with the ownership of a show, because they are the leaders of the event.

- Meeting planners must be the catalysts for innovation--they need to attend other shows, see what's going on in the industry, educate exhibitors, and sell new ideas to their CEOs. They need to ensure that their own shows are two years ahead of where attendees are.

- Associations would see more innovative ideas from exhibitors if they saw them as more than salespeople looking to do business. Associations need to educate their exhibitors on the needs of members/their market first.

- It's not an association's responsibility to educate exhibitors about their members--it's the exhibitor's responsibility to be engaged with their customer base and know the market they;'re trying to sell too. But associations shouldn't look at exhibitors as ATMs, either. We all need to break free from the direct sales mindset.

Watching this conversation pingpong around the room, there was clearly a passionate interest in the future of tradeshows and events, and consensus that innovation was critical to that future--but significantly less consensus over who needs to take the lead.

I don't know that there is a right answer--each industry and show is different. But I think the ultimate answer is "somebody needs to--and if you're asking the question, it might as well be you." Whether you're an exhibitor or planner or CEO, why not step forward and find others who share your interest in innovation to collaborate with?

What do you think? Is there a particular person or group with ultimate responsibility for innovation in a tradeshow? Would you have advice for someone who wants to help a particular tradeshow find its innovative mojo?

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September 2, 2010

3 Observations for Session Speakers

Rene Shonerd, MEd, CAE, a consultant and a member of ASAE &The Center's Technology Section Council, kindly sent us the following blog post with good advice based on the sessions she attended at Annual:

Because I'm currently planning for an upcoming presentation myself, I found myself jotting down notes about presentation delivery while attending the learning labs at this year's ASAE10 Annual Meeting. After reviewing my notes on the long flight home, I found 3 themes:

When it comes to slides - less is more. We can all learn from the great examples at the Ted Talks. Audiences are no longer in awe of out of the box templates with bulleted lists. Instead repurpose those lists as talking points in your speaker's notes and develop slides that are true visual aids. The best slides contain a key takeaway phrase, a simple chart or a professional image that supports the key point. Garr Reynolds's book and blog also contain useful tips to get you started or spruce up your old slide decks.

Internet Connection - don't count on it. I watched several speakers scramble when the internet connection in the convention center wasn't working or wasn't strong enough to run the multimedia features of their presentations. Keep the multimedia segments, but develop a backup plan ahead of time. Download any video presentations (find tools here) to your laptop and save cached version of web pages you plan to show.

Embrace (or at least acknowledge) the backchannel. Tweets aren't just for the tech types anymore. Even if you don't use Twitter yourself, take time to learn how to acknowledge and incorporate feedback from those who do. Simple things like announcing the session hashtag created by conference organizers and including your twitter id on the title slide are great first steps. Check out How to present with Twitter (and other backchannels) by Olivia Mitchell to learn more.

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Quick Clicks: Not yet our regularly scheduled program

Happy Thursday! I had expected this edition of Quick Clicks to be primarily non-Annual-Meeting related, but people are still posting so much good commentary on the conference that I'm going to focus on Annual after all:

- Mark Bledsoe at AssociationOkie recapped his Annual Meeting experience, and also started a fun game: What are some cities that would be great for Annual Meeting in 2018?

- Brian O'Leary at Magellan Media Partners' blog teases out the major themes he sees in the post-conference discussion about Annual, and shares some of what he experienced there as well.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel posted her reflections from Annual Meeting. She also started a discussion on the YAP discussion board for suggestions for Annual Meeting 2011 in St. Louis.

- Jeff De Cagna proposed three key questions he hopes to see discussed by the time of next year's conference. (Don't miss the comments on his post--other great questions are proposed in there.)

- Dave Nershi (association executive by day, wine blogger by night) shares his take on the Food & Wine Classic.

- At the Common Thread blog, Jamie Notter worries that lessons learned during Annual might be forgotten in the press of day-to-day work once we're all back in the office.

- Jeff Cobb sees the post-conference discussions as a great learning opportunity (and gives a very kind shout-out to Acronym in the process. Thanks, Jeff!).

- Several posts offer follow-ups and additional information about topics discussed at Annual: Leslie White breaks down antitrust issues and how they relate to social media, and Paul Schneider shares some information on mobile.

- KiKi L'Italien has some suggestions for future presenters based on some AV issues she observed during conference.

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