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October 29, 2010

Transformation Providers

On two separate occasions I recently encountered the phrase "transformation not information." The first time I heard it. I remembered a seminar where associations were positioned as information providers. I can picture my notes in the margin of the handouts - that this was our role - to provide a one-stop resource of the best information our professionals needed to do their jobs better. Of course this was in the pre-Google-you-can-find-out-anything-on-Wikipedia days.

As I was wondering how associations can become transformation providers instead of information providers, I found myself thinking about Kafka and put together a few thoughts about member metamorphosis.

- Transformation is personal. It happens because someone sees a quality in themselves they want to change or are unsatisfied with and probably one in someone else they want to obtain. We can't tell our members, "Here's what it means to be a leader. Now go be one." Members need to be inspired by superior qualities in their peers, feel a connection to their cause and commit to making a change.

- Transformation requires support. Did you ever watch Iron Chef? The chef transforms a slab of wild boar into Carpaccio with Grilled Watermelon and a Sweet Potato Polenta. The camera seldom pans to the chef's team that is frantically chopping, steaming, sautéing and making sure it's plated beautifully on time. How often do we provide our members with our secret ingredient "tool kit," send them on their merry way and expect greatness?

- Transformation is active. It happens through experiences - by going and doing, not by reading an article or watching slides at your desk. It's meant to happen and not just be talked about. I don't want to hear another member testimonial that says, "My membership developed me both personally and professionally." I want to hear the before and after story.

- Transformation takes time. We've had some newer members step up and say they were interested in serving on our Board in the next few years. Since our Board is generally comprised of members with certain volunteer experience and knowledge of the association, we're reaching out to those members and offering suggestions on how to build their membership resume. We know it will take time, so we'll check back with those members regularly to see how they're progressing. We'll need to resist the temptation to put them in a position before they are ready just because we can't find anyone else.

In the end, transformation needs information. Information leads transformation, but doesn't guarantee it. You can learn stuff and know it forever and never be changed. Or we can help our members build on a foundation of information, apply it to their strengths, weaknesses, goals and passions and watch them transform into association activists.

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October 28, 2010

Quick clicks: Don't procrastinate. Read these now.

Usually I gather links over the course of a week, but I've been a procrastinator this week when it comes to reading, so I caught up on everything this morning. Happily, I found a lot of great ideas out there to link to, including one, in fact, about procrastination. Go figure.

Innovation. Jeffrey Cufaude takes on Jedi master Yoda: "Yoda had it wrong. When it comes to innovation there is only try. Try often. Listen. Revise. Try again."

Planning for exceptions. Wes Trochlil argues that, when it comes to exceptions, it's better to just manage them as they come rather than trying to build a system to prevent them. He writes about this in the context of data management, but I'd argue the same principle applies to all aspects of organizational management.

Speaker selection. The prolific Jeff Hurt offers a primer on the jargon you'll run into when hiring a professional speaker for your association's conference. Two parts: A-M and N-Z.

Social media hiring. On the SocialFish blog, Maggie McGary recommends associations look for both "talkers" and "listeners" when hiring for social media.

Content strategy. Valeria Maltoni explains how curating information as a content strategy can work for your association, particularly if you don't have the resources to produce high volumes of content yourself.

Website improvement. David Gammel has a suggestion for making simple improvements to your website where it counts, with a minimal time commitment.

Collaboration. It came up several times this week:

Online customer relations. Slate's Farhad Manjoo writes about how organizations should respond to bad reviews on the web. His advice is one of the most clear-headed explanations of how a business should navigate social media that I've ever read. His context is that of hotel managers and TripAdvisor, but the principles can apply anywhere (and it actually relates a lot to Wes's post, too).

Procrastination. The You Are Not So Smart blog gives an in-depth explanation of why humans tend to procrastinate and why some people are better at beating it than others. If you're a procrastinator like me, it will make you feel guilty, but it also will give you some ideas on how to be more productive.

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October 26, 2010

Collaboration for collaboration's sake

A few weeks ago, Scott linked via Quick Clicks to a blog post by Marsha Rhea titled "Calling Time-Out on the Culture of Over-Collaboration and Over-Commitment." She argues that association executives are overcommitted to collaboration, leading to some bad side effects:

"[H]ow can anyone do quality work racing from one staff meeting to the next conference call with a volunteer committee … ? More association and nonprofit executives need to call time out and recognize the high cost of this behavior. Sure they do an amazing amount of good work in any given day. I admire their stamina and flexibility. Yet I am confident they need more wide open expanses of unscheduled time to do truly great work and lead breakthrough changes in their organizations."

I'd like to echo Marsha's concern about over-collaboration, but I'm not worried about the side effects. I worry about the direct effect. Is all that collaboration really worthwhile?

Associations are, in essence, groups of people with a common purpose, so our first inclination is to answer "yes" to that question. I've never quite understood this degree of faith in the collaborative process, though. It assumes that, because a solution was found via a group, it must be the best one. I just don't buy that that's always the case. (I come from a writer's background, though, where solitary work is the norm. Maybe I'm just biased.)

I can't discount collaboration entirely, of course, because I've certainly worked in some highly productive group experiences. But another reason I find the belief in collaboration puzzling is that we've all seen how it can go wrong: Show me an association executive who says she has never at least once seen something watered down by a committee, and I'll show you a liar.

To put it simply, assuming collaboration is always positive puts a greater value on process than it does on results. It ought to be the other way around. Surely collaboration is great in the right situations, but not all the time.

So perhaps the question isn't "Is collaboration worthwhile?" but rather "How much of it is?" How do you pick the right times and situations in which to collaborate, and how do you make sure you're doing it right?

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October 20, 2010

Why you say "Thank you" to volunteers

Yes, you do it because it's polite and appropriate and we live in a world--ideally at least--where human decency matters. But that's not entirely it, either. You also do it because you want the door to be open for that person to volunteer again. We know the two are connected--showing appreciation to someone and getting them to help again--but how?

One of my favorite blogs, Psyblog, sheds a little light. The post, "Why Thank You Is More Than Just Good Manners," is based on the research of Francesca Gino and others. I point this out because it was a Gino study that led me to write what I think is one of the better articles I've written, "A Piece of Good Advice." Also because I think it's possible I have a bit of a social psychology crush on her (don't tell my wife).

This is how Psyblog author Jeremy Dean summarized the results:

"In fact the experimenters found that people weren't providing more help because they felt better or it boosted their self-esteem, but because they appreciated being needed and felt more socially valued when they'd been thanked.

"This feeling of social worth helps people get over factors that stop us helping. We are often unsure our help is really wanted and we know that accepting help from others can feel like a failure. The act of saying thank you reassures the helper that their help is valued and motivates them to provide more."

Why is this important? When you think about how to appreciate your volunteers, think about how you can express it in ways that show the social value of their contribution rather than ways designed to make them feel good or boost their self-esteem.

(PS - The same thing works for your staff, too.)

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Sam Pettway on how governance will be different

To expand on the Sept./Oct. Associations Now cover story on 5 Questions for the Next 5 Years in which we asked association executives to answer one of five questions, we're asking an outside expert for an answer here on Acronym.

In this installment, we have Sam Pettway, the founding director of BoardWalk Consulting, an Atlanta-based executive search and governance advisory firm dedicated to building strong foundations for nonprofits. Here is his answer to how governance is changing and what associations need to be thinking about and doing in the next five years:

Five trends that will shake up nonprofit and association boardrooms in the years to come:

Until recently, few people paid much attention to nonprofit board governance, and many organizations saw their boards as regulatory necessities rather than strategic assets.

Today, the news is full of debacles and disappointments: A highly visible church going bankrupt with nearly $100 million in unpaid bills, board chairs and CEOs at name-brand nonprofits losing their jobs over the way pay issues were handled, an explosion of data and information matched by a decline in knowledge, and donors demanding time and reports from nonprofits that they would never expect of their corporate investments.

What can we expect over the next five years? From our talks with scores of board members of all stripes, many of them corporate citizens too, here is what we expect:

1. The recession will end, but our definition of normal has changed permanently. Many associations and nonprofits were caught flat-footed by the decline in support since 2008, and most of the triage has already taken place. Organizations stuck in yesterday's way of thinking will be equally flatfooted in dealing with the next uptick. Are you ready for success?

2. Time is your scarcest resource; waste it at your peril. Boards tend to focus on familiar hells (the current difficulties) rather than unfamiliar heavens (a new definition of success and an implementable plan to get there). A recent board survey of a struggling nonprofit was typical. Among the questions we asked:

Q: How much time does your board spend focused on the future of the enterprise:
A: (Aggregate response) 16%
Q: How much time should the board spend on the future?
A: 48%

The best board members want to engage in the toughest discussions, not a rehashing of the last meeting's minutes. Ask your board strategic questions, and wisest, most committed supporters will develop strategic answers you can use. If your board meetings are boring, it's your fault!

3. If you don't know where you are going, any path will get you there. Too few associations and nonprofits have a clear view of what constitutes success five years from now, and excuses for not doing so are rampant. Board protocols are changing. Yesterday, civility was the norm; today, accountability is, but both depend on a shared vision and a clear definition of success. Have we defined our own success with measurable goals? Have we organized the work of the board, its committees, and its members accordingly?

4. Size matters. If you're not driving conversations in the board room around collaborations, mergers, and other strategic partnerships, you're going to be driven by the conversations in somebody else's boardroom. Said differently, if you don't take charge of your future, someone else will be happy to do so.

5. Expectations matter. Initiatives rarely fail because of incompetence but often because of misplaced expectations. Do your board members agree on just what being a board member entails? In writing?

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October 19, 2010

Our 15 Minutes of Change

Our community's contributors to this blog regularly make important points on how our organizations need to change. How association leaders need to "up their game" in becoming the facilitators of ideas, communicators and relationship builders rather than technicians. I couldn't agree more.

Nearly a decade ago, a group convened a discussion on Future Models of Associations - it became two annual meeting sessions and a listerver group. Chris Mahaffey did a study on why associations should consider abandonment of the tax-exempt structure and become for-profit entities, excerpted into association publications. Bruce Butterfield, one of the key leaders of the conversation, cites possibilities. Did these discussions result in any new models? Changes in existing organizations?

As I look around the profession and the association sector, I see mostly century-old structures and traditions. Discussions of model changes were thoughtful and well-researched, so where are the test cases? I would suggest that the models in use are so ensconced in layers of enabling structures that making changes is like pulling on a loose thread - the whole garment can unravel. We don't want our organizations to unravel, but neither do we want to stand by while new start ups make them irrelevant. How do we turn the clarion call for innovation into real actions? Is there an intractable eco-system surrounding the existing models keeping us from needed innovation?

Having long been exasperated that my children attended schools whose model was based on the expectation that they were coming home to tend the crops and the chickens and needed the summers off for the growing season, I know our organizational models are subject to the same paradigm shifts and lack of structural models to meet new needs. (When I was growing up in rural Pennsylvania, my classmates actually did go home to work in the fields, so not all the paradigm shifts occurred all that long ago. By contrast, urban classrooms have been outdated for generations. ) When I talk with educators about why the system hasn't changed with the new economy and critical need for a different school schedule, I hear about all the other supportive systems that have grown up around the fundamental agrarian model - teachers going to summer school, a whole system of extracurricular activities filling in the unused hours, etc. So even if we recognized the change in assumption central to the equation, the entire education eco-system would need to be upended if we changed the school day/year for students.

So it may be with associations. The desire and need for innovation in the structural model is great, the opportunities afforded us with new technologies and media are overwhelming. Yet, the model has fundamentally stayed intact. In a post on finding the "15 Minute Competitive Advantage," Rosabeth Moss Kanter gives some interesting thoughts about the criteria a new model might need to meet to be received, tried, accepted, and tweaked. My questions to this community: what are you trying? What is sticking? Will we really transform our organizations? Where is the strategic leverage point for initiating structural innovation... Governance? Membership? Communications?

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Welcome Diane James!

I'd like to welcome a new guest blogger to Acronym today: Diane James, CAE, CEO of the Women's Transportation Seminar Foundation. Under her direction, the Foundation is expanding its scholarship and workforce development programs and working to measure the progress of women in transportation.

Diane has more than two decades of leadership experience in associations and nonprofits, including the Women's Transportation Seminar, ASAE, the Georgia Society of Association Executives, and other organizations focused on occupational health nursing, women's health, and women in cable telecommunications. She is an ASAE Fellow, a writer, and a speaker, as well as a member of the board of a DC-based youth development organization.

Please make Diane feel at home here on Acronym. She's got great ideas and important questions to ask, and I look forward to the discussions her posts will begin. Welcome, Diane!

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Quick Clicks: Last week's edition

Good morning! I'm a little late with my turn at Quick Clicks, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity to link to some of the great stuff that's been going on in the association blog world and elsewhere:

- Jeffrey Cufaude is a tad bit frustrated with the basic meeting-planning mistakes he's seen lately.

- Speaking of meeting planning, I'm intrigued by Michele Martin's idea for a "reflection session" to encourage meeting participants to think about what they've learned before they head home and jump right back into their daily work. (I know I'm often guilty of not taking enough time to think and process after a conference.) Elsewhere, Sue Pelletier wonders if we should kill the Q&A session.

- In a guest post on the Wild Apricot blog, Trish Hudson shares three questions that you can use to mobilize volunteers.

- I'm really enjoying the new governance-focused Against the Grain blog by Rick Moyers on the Chronicle of Philanthropy site. Here's the first paragraph of a recent post, just to give you a taste: "Several years ago, while conducting a workshop on nonprofit boards for a group of 15 or 20 executive directors, I asked them to close their eyes and raise their hands if they wished that they didn't have a board. More than half raised their hands."

- Jeff Cobb has a thought-provoking post on the many ways we have to not know things.

- Jeff Hurt suggests seven attitudes for association success in the 21st century, and followed up with seven principles for association stakeholder success as well.

- Another seven things post: Tony Rossell has seven tips to improve membership recruitment on the Marketing General blog.

- I know Scott's usually the one to link to Seth Godin posts, but I really loved this one: a list of ways to demonstrate strength.

- From the Harvard Business Review site, Lance Bettencourt suggests an interesting and practical way to evaluate and improve customers' experience with your organization by mapping their "consumption chain."

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October 18, 2010

If you could measure engagement, what would you do with it?

I was in a meeting last week where we were talking about the possibilities of measuring member engagement. I've written about this before. Here's (1 & 2) two posts on the idea written back in 2007 (never would have guessed that associations would still be doing more talking about it rather than fine-tuning it). Here's one from the 2009 Annual Meeting about Charlene Li's take on it (Li will be speaking again for us at this year's Technology Conference). And here's a couple more from this year: Joe Rominiecki on tying executive compensation to engagement and just last week Brian Solis touches on it.

What I want to talk about today is the next step: let's say you've got your engagement index sorted out, you know what kinds of engagement you can measure, you've assigned point values, and you've been collecting data for a while. What should you do with that information?

I'm going to spitball some ideas here. Some of them are mine, some of them bubbled up in the meeting yesterday, and honestly, I'm not sure I can tell which is which - so let's just call it a team effort, even though brainstorming on this wasn't the sole focus of the meeting.

1. You can publish everyone's engagement index score. Ideally, this will generate some good-natured competition to improve the score.

2. You could give a badge to or recognize in some other way the people in the top 10 percent. It would be a resume builder and status symbol for members.

3. You could have a special event for the top 10 percent. What kind of event? Ideas are boundless: a special invite-only reception; a 45-minute, exclusive Q&A with the speaker after an annual meeting general session; a special planning session on content development for the organization; a 45-minute dialog with the chair and CEO about the organization; and the list could go on.

4. You could, as data accumulates, see if overall scores are climbing or receding based on actions you've taken.

5. You could, if you are an individual membership society that may have multiple members from the same company, see which companies are most engaged.

6. You could, given the same circumstances as above, see what happens when a highly engaged person moves from a company of high engagement to one of lower engagement. (Does the person's engagement go down? Does the company's engagement rise?) You could make that person and that company a prime target, with personal visits from staff to try to jumpstart new engagement.

7. You could throw a pizza party at each of the top 5 engaged companies.

8. You could create triggers that monitor engagement - if someone's engagement has slipped by 25 percent, you could contact him or her to see if the organization has let him or her down. Or if it's increased by 25 percent, you could acknowledge it, let them know that it's appreciated.

9. You could measure how the different types of engagement affect each other or affect membership. For example, are those that are highly engaged in your listservers more or less likely to attend your annual meeting than someone highly engaged in writing for your newsletters? The assumption is that as members are engaged with you, they are finding value, and will want to continue their membership. But is that true for all the different types of engagement, or are some stronger indicators than others?

10. You could use demographic data to see what types of members are most likely to be engaged with you and what types are least likely.

A caveat to this post: I don't want it to be about ASAE. It was a way-preliminary meeting. We may or may not pursue such an index, and we may or may not use such a thing in the ways described here. Just sayin'... rather than talk about what ASAE could or should do, I'd love to hear from execs out there, or folks who work with other organizations, what kinds of things they think an organization could use an engagement index for.

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October 13, 2010

Important note: People are fallible, myopic, vindictive, emotional & biased

One of the main value propositions people get out of associations is meeting, networking with, learning from, and sharing experience with peers. So when I was recently at lunch with a colleague and we talked about an idea of getting a small group of members together in a facilitated discussion once a month, I was surprised when she had tried the idea, and it had failed miserably. The idea itself seemed to have little downside. ASAE has done this with success in the past, and there are several examples of other associations doing something similar (a few articles: 1, 2, 3). And then I ran across this in The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely (a book I'm currently reading):

"But when people design intangibles such as health insurance, savings plans, retirement plans, and even online dating sites, they somehow forget about people's built-in limitations. Perhaps these designers are just overly sanguine about our abilities; they seem to assume that we are like Star Trek's hyperrational Mr. Spock. Creators of intangible products and services assume that we know our own minds perfectly, can compute everything, compare all options, and always choose the best and most appropriate course of action.

"But what if--as behavioral economics has shown in general...--we are limited in the way we use and understand information? What if we are more like the fallible, myopic, vindictive, emotional, biased Homer Simpson than like Mr. Spock? This notion may seem depressing, but if we understand our limitations and take them into account, we can design a better world, starting with improved information-based products and services..."

What I take from this is that we need to design products, programs, and services for emotional response, not logical action. I don't know exactly what that means for the idea described above. I know that logically, the idea made a whole lot of sense to me. Trying to think about the emotional response to it is much, much harder. The emotional response, as I gathered from my colleague, is that the group would be one more thing on a to-do list.

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October 7, 2010

Quick clicks: non-vacation reading

I'm off on a vacation beginning Thursday, and--no offense to the bloggers below--what I plan to read while I'm gone will have nothing to do with associations. For those of you working hard, however, the links below are all great non-vacation, learn-how-to-do-your-job-better reads. Enjoy.

Blogger outreach. Maggie McGary points out the potential pitfalls of asking (or compensating) bloggers to write about your association or its cause, on her mizz information blog. She shares an interesting case study and asks some very tough questions. A "must read" if you're considering this kind of outreach.

Board packets. Jen Masaoka offers "Five Tips for Better Board Packets" at the Blue Avocado blog. Two interesting takeaways: "[B]oard members feel disrespected when board packets are late or sloppy and feel railroaded when background information isn't included for an upcoming decision."

Performance under pressure. Paul Sullivan, author of Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don't, offers five reasons why leaders fail under pressure, in a guest article at Forbes.com.

Small-staff social media. Maddie Grant points out potential advantages that small-staff associations have over their larger counterparts in adopting social-media, in a guest post at the Splash! blog.

Gen-X leadership. Eric Lanke, CAE, explains why generation X is the "IF" generation and how its style of option-seeking leadership differs from its predecessors, on The Hourglass Blog.

Gen-X pressures. In another gen-X-related post, Shelly Alcorn, CAE, urges us to consider the new and different types of pressure that generation X is experiencing and how those pressures will be a human-resources challenge for employers (and a serious one: her first point of evidence: gen-X's suicide rate).

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Brian Solis on association member engagement

This month's issue of Associations Now asks "5 Questions for the Next 5 Years," with answers from a bunch of smart people in the association industry. Here on Acronym, we've reached out to a few smart people outside the association industry to offer a short answer to some of the same questions.

Answering a question today about community and member engagement is new-media expert and futurist Brian Solis, author of Engage, a guide for businesses to build, measure, and cultivate success in the social web.

Acronym: Today, association members are easily able to engage and build community with their professional peers outside of associations. How should associations be rethinking their membership engagement and recruitment strategies?

Solis: "It's actually quite the opposite. Today association members are not easily able to engage and build communities with their professional peers outside of associations. The easy part is signing up for accounts on social networks and finding people with whom to connect. The hard part is creating a presence online that's not only worthy of connection, but also one that establishes the foundation for leadership and inspiration.

"More importantly, it's fundamentally required to understand that communities don't cultivate because of focusing on the growth of the three F's (friends, fans, followers). Communities are cultivated through investment: the continued introduction of value, meaningful responses, and the creation and curation of useful content. Essentially we earn our relationships and grow the size and shape of our communities as a result of our actions and our words. We earn what we deserve and are measured by intensity of our social graph."

Great food for thought. Please offer your thoughts on this question or Brian's response in the comments.

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October 6, 2010

Fill the decision vacuum in your meetings

Do your staff meetings stink? Are they black holes that destroy all the excitement and productivity of the poor saps who dare enter?

If so, you're probably not alone. Yesterday's daily stat from Harvard Business Review says "two-thirds of meetings end before participants can make important decisions." That's just depressing.

If this is the case at your association, then perhaps it's time to institute a rule that no meeting can end without a decision being made. Just by reducing the sheer amount of wasted time (two out of every three meetings!), enforcing such a rule could have a bigger single impact on your staff's and volunteers' productivity than anything else you do. Just a thought.

If you're wondering how to make your meetings more effective so you can follow such a rule, you're in luck: Forbes.com offers some tips on how to run a meeting in an article just posted today.

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October 5, 2010

Maybe the bus metaphor ain't so great

I'm going to have a little throw down with Joe Rominiecki who on Friday called Jim Collins getting the right people on the bus expression the best business metaphor of all time. Here are five reasons why the exact opposite is true, why getting the right people on the bus is a terrible metaphor for what you actually want out of your organizations.

1. Bus? Can you think of a worse mode of transportation to use for your comparison? How about a Tesla electric sports car? (Yes, I just read the new issue of Wired.) True, it's only a two-seater, but small business is the rage, or haven't you heard? Ok, how about getting the right people on your Gulfstream V. Yeah, now we're talkin. At least this much is true, a bus isn't going to be described as good, so at least you won't be the enemy of great.

2. So the chapter convincingly makes the argument that having the right people matter and that you have the right and the responsibility to hire and fire your way to greatness. So why don't you? Reason number 1: You don't see the flaws in your own judgment. I've seen really bright, competent people make some truly astoundingly boneheaded personnel decisions. Reason number 2: You're scared. What it boils down to is unless you just have an evil core, it is not easy to fire someone (some obvious exceptions apply)--especially when we're talking about good people in the wrong place.

3. A bus isn't a transformative object--it implies it's going places, but the metaphor of getting the right people on the bus sounds to me like incremental improvement. I suppose that is ok much of the time, but at some point, any organization that achieves greatness will need to undergo a colossal transformation to retain its greatness, but blowing up buses isn't the right metaphor at all.

4. When I think of the bus metaphor, people are neatly seated in their perfectly assigned seats. Where's the growth in that? Let's get the right people in the arcade instead. Play games, find where you're comfortable (and uncomfortable), learn from each other, grow, interact. Refuse to sit quietly on the bus.

5. Is a bus really where you want to be? It's cramped and smelly. Floors are dirty. And, eww gross, what's that gunk on the back of the seat in front of you? And down between the seat cushions? Clearly you're not the only one who has sat in this seat before. It might have looked good to begin with, but... oh man, what's that? Did someone on this bus have a bean burrito for lunch?

So my advice to you: If you ever find yourself in a bus-like organization where someone is trying to get the right people in the right seats, jump through an emergency exit, kick out a window, pull the stop chord...do whatever you can to get off as quickly as you can. If you're lucky, you'll get on to a Gulfstream V organization with air hockey and foosball that's on its way to exotic location after exotic location (with an impeccable cleaning crew waiting at each stop).

(PS - You I know I love you Joe, and loved your post. Now can I have my copy of Good to Great back?)

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October 4, 2010

The Drinking Dilemma

Okay, I've had this post in mind for a long time. I want to preface it by saying that in no way am I a prude or square--but I feel like there is an undeniable truth about many meetings that nonprofit associations propagate: the dilemma of drinking.

We are walking a fine balance, and it scares me sometimes that we never talk about it. Most of our associations promote professionalism, ethics, and in general good and smart behavior. Then, we attend meetings in which a great deal of excessive alcohol consumption takes place, and often we are party to it. In my travels at various trade shows, I've seen or heard of people:

  • Jumping in a polluted downtown city river and being taken to an emergency room (to get cleaned off)
  • Walking alone and getting mugged in a downtown area, losing money and wallet and getting scared to death
  • People who are married or in long-term relationships making regrettable decisions
  • Exhibiting poor or downright embarrassing behavior
  • Missing educational sessions, networking events, etc.
  • Being much less effective on the trade show floor in promoting their goods, services, etc.

Many of these stories come from outside the association management industry, but I'd be willing to bet there are some within our own industry, too.

Again, I am by no means innocent. Especially when I first began traveling as a professional, I had my moments, and I still enjoy a drink at a show with friends. But I am curious to find out how others feel about this.

Here are some related questions:

  • Does excessive drinking add to our association mythology in positive or negative ways?
  • How are associations managing this with staff and event attendees?
  • What is the impact on our health and the health of our event attendees?
  • We focus on helping vegetarians eat veggie at events; do we tailor to non-drinkers too?
  • Does a drinking culture add, or detract, from building strong relationships? Is it an excuse not to get to know someone at a deeper level, or a tool to do so?
  • If you declared your event a "dry event," would people still show up?
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October 1, 2010

Collins' bus metaphor: greatest of all time?

As Lisa mentioned this week in her post about personnel decisions, several responses to this month's CEO to CEO question in Associations Now focused on personnel decisions. In the same issue, similar comments came up twice in the "Where Are They Now?" feature that I compiled. One interviewee mentioned the value of having a staffer eager to learn new media skills, and another mentioned the value of having board members who are comfortable with taking risks. In both cases, Jim Collins' "Get the right people on the bus" metaphor from Good to Great was used (though, I admit, one of them was my own writing in a transition sentence).

This got the bus metaphor on my mind, and I realized I see it referenced quite often. This month's magazine is no fluke. A quick search yielded all of these other instances of "right people on the bus" appearing in ASAE publications: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. In almost all of them, Collins is cited as the source, and in the two cases when Scott Briscoe mentioned it here on Acronym, he said it had "become a cliché" in one and apologized for bringing it up in another. (Again, this is just ASAE; Google "collins 'right people on the bus'" and you get 385,000 hits.)

Good to Great happens to be the first business leadership book I ever read, when a college instructor assigned it to me in an independent study. Even then, the bus metaphor struck me as the most clear and unmistakable message in the book. In my early years of working in the real world, I've heard it come up time and time again, as illustrated above, and it's certainly held true in my own work experience.

So, I've decided to make a proclamation, even though I have no authority whatsoever other than that I'm a blogger and, you know, this is what bloggers do:

I nominate Jim Collins' "Get the right people on the bus" metaphor as the greatest organizational-management maxim of all time.

And here's why:

  • It's easy to understand. There's no fancy diagram of a bus in Chapter 3 of Good to Great, because it isn't necessary. The concept of a bus with seats is universal. A kindergartner gets it.
  • Everyone works with people, so everyone can relate. With the exception of people who run one-person businesses, everyone means everyone. Whatever level you're at in an organization, you know what it's like to work with great people and what's like to work with duds.
  • For us in associations, the above point is two-fold. Not only do we work with people, but people are a product we sell when we praise the value of community, networking, and collaboration. We have to get the right people on our staffs, on our boards, at our meetings, and in our memberships.

I don't have much experience with of a lot of other classic business-leadership thought leaders like Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, or Gary Hamel, so feel free to tell me I'm wrong. I'm interested to hear your choices for best business maxim, or at least your personal favorites.

(And with all of that said, you should also go back and offer your opinion on Lisa's post, too. She poses a great question: Are bad personnel decisions really the worst business decisions you can make, or do they just feel that way?)

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