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December 21, 2010

Staff change brings new opportunities

Following is a guest post from Debra S. Ben Avram, CAE, CEO of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition in Silver Spring, Maryland, and a member of ASAE's 2010-2011 Executive Management Section Council.

It seems there's always something happening with staff. Once one issue is solved, three more pop up. The same seems to go for staff changes. It's not uncommon for staff change to happen; in fact, it's something you can put money on and expect to win. How we deal with that change—whether we create the change or it happens to us—is the real challenge.

In this month's Executive IdeaLink, the article "Managing Staff Change: Panic or Possibility" looks at some ways to embrace staff change as an opportunity to examine your organization and how its structure aligns with your strategy. Rather than finding someone right away to fill an empty slot, consider taking time to analyze how the organization's needs have changed and modify the position or your staff structure to better address those needs.

How have you done this in the past? Have you met any resistance to hitting the pause button before moving forward to hire someone new? What new areas of your strategy were you able to focus on by redesigning a position or your structure?

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December 17, 2010

Quick Clicks: Post-#tech10 Edition

Happy Friday, everyone! For this week's Quick Clicks, I'd like to start off with a roundup of blog posts responding to the Tech Conference in some way:

- At the Half Moon Consulting blog, Rene Shonerd shares a video with a few quick tips on facilitating the RFP process, in connection with a session she moderated at the conference.

- Shannon Otto posted a few snapshots from the conference at the Splash blog.

- Maggie McGary has some strong words of advice for anyone who might be thinking about hiring a social media manager after the conference.

- Lynn Morton blogged extensive notes from two sessions: one on mobile and one on growing online communities.

- Thad Lurie was inspired to compose Tech Conference haiku on the associationTECH blog.

- Also on the associationTECH blog, Maddie Grant is soliciting feedback and ideas for next year's Technology Conference. There's some interesting ideas and discussion in the comments (although I completely disagree with the person who suggested "more snow").

Here are a few other, non-Tech-related posts that caught my eye in the last week or two:

- Elizabeth Ortiz at the Money and Mission blog has a thought-provoking post ion her three biggest fears about how the recession could affect nonprofits.

- Cindy Butts overheard a fairly private conversation in a fairly public venue, which inspired her to talk about the conversations association professionals should not have in public.

- Shelly Alcorn urges associations to stop and think about whether they're practicing truth in advertising.

- Judith Lindenau looks at the reasons why a merger might not be a good idea for an association.

- I love this post by Holly Ross on four lessons she learned from social media in 2010.

- Jayne Cravens at the Coyote Communications blog writes about situations where volunteers acting on their own might hurt more than they help. Elsewhere, Aaron Wolowiec talks about the roundabout way associations sometimes communicate with volunteers and asks if it could be improved.


Birthday Greetings

Yesterday was my birthday. Of course I was looking forward to it. Hugs, kisses, presents and phone calls from my family. Fattening treats at the office along with cards from my co-workers. My staff presented me with a wonderful present after serenading me with the birthday song. And there were tons of "Happy Birthdays" from my Facebook friends (my birthday is hidden, so these people really know me). What a great day!

So here's what bugged me and I'm trying to figure out why.

  • I came home from work and on my answering machine is: "Hello, this is Roger from Toyota. I noticed it was your birthday and I wanted to be among the first to wish you a 'Happy Birthday.'" Among the first? Really?
  • Then I checked email and there was a birthday email from my dermatologist.
  • I checked the mailbox and there was a post card from my optometrist.

I remember getting each of these in prior years and not really thinking anything of it. But this year, it seemed weird. Maybe even a little creepy. I was glad I didn't get one from the doctor who did my colonoscopy.

I think it's because this kind of personalization from huge databases is now as impersonal as the "Dear Customer" letters we used to get. After all, anyone with a merge program can do it. It's not like Roger or my doctors even know it was my birthday - it was just some kind of automated computer workflow sending me warm greetings.

How many of us are doing this every day with our association members? Not just birthday greetings. Thank you letters, "personal" invitations to get involved and make a difference, requests for charitable contributions and renewals. What are we doing to maintain the "special" feeling we want members to feel when they get our communications?

Somehow, I'm still thankful when the local restaurant sends us coupons because we're in the birthday club. And I still think it's cool when I get postcards with a purl on it or a brochure or newsletter that has my name or interests imbedded somewhere in the content - not just in the greeting. But how long will it be until I'm creeped out by those? We'll see what happens next December.

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December 16, 2010

The IT Wheel of Fortune

Wheel of Fortune Tech Conference Style

I went to the Association Technology Wheel of Fortune session at ASAE's 2010 Technology Conference and Expo. Yes, right off the bat I was a little disappointed there was no Vanna.

The session itself was essentially a complete Q&A--the audience simply asked questions of a panel of four experts. The Wheel of Fortune part was a crafty little gimmick to enliven the session; it was the last session of the day ending after 5 p.m. after all. I liked the gimmick (Vanna or no Vanna), and I liked the session, particularly because it surprised me. I thought perhaps the session would be about configuring a network in the cloud or converting to IP telephony or smartly moving from cables to wireless. It wasn't. This group of IT leaders were asking questions that had to do with organizational culture, productivity, interpersonal relationships, and prioritization. They weren't asking how to convert their Flash-based media workflows into HTML-5 output.

They wanted to know how to change the attitude of a coworker. The themes I picked up were power, influence, persuasion, decision making, culture, etc. So I was surprised in the session, but I shouldn't have been. These are the hard things about our jobs, right? When I was leading Associations Now, these were the sorts of article topics that I thought could make the biggest difference. Skills? Knowledge? These are easily learned. But the messy interpersonal/organizational culture stuff--that's what's hard.

So to all who attended the Technology Conference (and anyone else who works as part of an organization), I offer these decidedly non-techie articles to help you answer the hardest questions about your job.

Innovation Personified by Tom Kelley, Associations Now, February 2006: As a manager, you get the best out of your team by helping them find the types of roles they are most suited for and helping them fulfill those roles.

Change of Heart by Dan S. Cohen, Associations Now, January 2006: People rarely change their mind for analytical reasons, you have to reach them emotionally.

Ask the Persuasion Expert by Jay Heinrichs, Associations Now, August 2008: Format for this article is, uh, different, but tips on how to be persuasive are right on.

What's Your Agenda by Lynda McDaniel, Associations Now, July 2008: Understand that personal agendas are inevitable...and not necessarily bad.

Idea Champions by G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa, Associations Now, February 2008: Another persuasion piece, this one on how to sell an idea.

A Turn for the Better by Sharon Raden, Associations Now, October 2009: Getting personnel and job roles back into alignment.

Tangled in Your Head Wires, Interview of Charles Jacobs by Joe Rominiecki, Associations Now, September 2009: Management goes all neuroscience.

Wake Up! by Kristin Clarke, CAE, Associations Now, February 2009: Help with prioritization.

Sticking to It by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Associations Now, February 2007: Learning prioritization and persistence.


Making Thank-you's Meaningful

'Tis the season of "thank you," the time of year when our organizations not only receive the greatest number of donations but also express our gratitude for members' support and money. We read a lot about the importance of thanking people in ways that are meaningful to them, and I'm hearing some positive stories from organizations that have been trying to experiment with ways to do that.

Meals on Wheels, for instance, just launched an online radio station whose inaugural program, "Wheels in Motion," featured President and CEO Enid Borden and one of her affiliate leaders talking specifically about what they were most grateful for as they continue their fight to end hunger among senior citizens. They know that many elderly people--both their clients and volunteers--still listen regularly to their radios for news and entertainment, while younger people listen online and will be comfortable setting up RSS feeds and downloading the ongoing program from iTunes.

Another organization called my house the other night to thank me and celebrate my "five-year anniversary as a donor." The donation is a no brainer for me--the group works hard to stretch my money and doesn't inundate us with excessive appeals. Still, it was nice to have someone call to let me know that they appreciated my loyalty as much as my money. I'll be aiming to celebrate 10 years with that organization, for sure.

And here's one of those great stories you wish would happen to every one of your favorite charities: A member had given a nonprofit a $1,000 donation recently. Although they don't usually call donors, a staffer gave a ring and thanked him personally, developing such a rapport (and not making another ask) that the man immediately sent a check for $10,000 more! If we could all be so fortunate....

And finally, this is my own chance to say thank you to the many ASAE members and other association/nonprofit and business professionals who willingly give up their time and wisdom to me so that I can share their experiences, advice, and ideas with others for the greater good. You are what make this blog, our magazine and other publications, our website, and our education sessions and events relevant and helpful to thousands of your peers and partners.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!


December 15, 2010

Go for the emotional connection with video

In the "Anatomy of a Video" session on Wednesday at the Technology Conference & Expo, Michael Hoffman of See3 Communications (@michael_hoffman) offered some excellent advice for associations about how they can use video. He came back to one message over and over again: emotional connection.

"Video is really good at creating a feeling that becomes the emotional foundation for making decisions," he said.

He said this helps in making the decisions about what messages should be conveyed with video and what messages are better conveyed with text or images. I think shiny-toy syndrome leads a lot of associations to skip over those decisions. Remembering the emotional connection part can help you focus.

He shared two examples of association videos that make an emotional connection and leave the long lists of details and background info elsewhere. The first one, with testimonials about a certification at the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, is embedded; the other, a personalized member-recruitment video from the American College of Physicians, isn't embeddable, so click it to check it out.



If you build it, will they come?

"We built a community/online presence/networking application - but our members don't use it."

I've heard it several times through the course of the 2010 Technology Conference, to that point that it sounds like it could be a systemic problem. So I went to a couple of leading suppliers in the online community platform space on the exhibit hall floor and asked them to tell me about the characteristics of their best implementations.

From Andy Steggles at Higher Logic, I learned:

Probably one of the most important things is to autosubscribe your members. You have to be smart about it and approach it in way that's not going to tick them off, but opt-out is going to be more successful than opt-in.

Another point is pretty ubiquitous for any project: establish your goals. You're going to set up a community differently if your goal is to raise awareness of something than if your goal is to provide member value.

He also talked about limiting and defining the groups. If you're an organization with 100 local chapters, does it make sense to set up a different discussion group for each geographic region when every discussion would be on similar topics?

A final notion is one of taking risks and being creative in the strategy you employ. He reported that the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics is one of Higher Logic's more successful implementations. A primary goal for them was adding value, which would generally mean building a wall for members to enjoy exclusive access to high-quality content. The approach they took, however, was the opposite. Open up the content so anyone can access it, but you needed to register to participate. It was a huge success for SCCE, increasing awareness, prestige, and generating significant membership growth.

From Elizabeth Baranik at NFi Studios, I learned:

You need to know your successful communication channels--what is it that your members respond to? Is it email marketing, newsletters/magazines (print or online), Facebook, LinkedIn or any of the other social media platforms? You need to know the channels that will lead to people joining your network.

You also need to be relentless. You don't need to spend tons of time, perhaps 5 hours a week, but you do need to be consistent. One of NFi's successful clients is the Florida Society of Association Executives, and the reason is continuing, fun, engaging messages for members to get involved in the community. In this regard, it helps to have a project owner, someone who is taking responsibility for developing a working a plan of consistently promoting the community to members.

Finally, she talked about being smart about the launch of the community. If you have an annual meeting where a large contingent of your members are present, create an experience at the meeting where people will wonder what is going on and will want to join the community.

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Communication as a critical element in R&D

It can be frustrating to be an advocate for change: You see the reasons for change so clearly, so why can't everyone around you see them too?

Mark Nelson, the National Association of College Stores' digital content strategist, gave a great presentation at the Tech Conference this morning on NACS' efforts to build a technology R&D organization for the college store industry. Communication was a major theme in his talk--what it takes for an association like NACS to convince its members and industry to commit to investing in innovation, research, and development.

"Industries all get wake-up calls, and you choose to wake up or stay slumbering," said Nelson.

And the wake-up process can involve a lot of hitting "snooze." Nelson says that it's an ongoing effort to reinforce with board leaders and members that Innovation is "a transition, not a change"--or, in other words, it's a long-term process, not an overnight fix. However, he adds, it's also important to demonstrate concrete progress along the way, to show everyone involved that the process is worth it.

That reinforcement becomes all the more important when failures happen, as they will in any innovation effort. Nelson said that NACS constantly reminds its key stakeholders of the reasons why innovation is important to their industry and the benefits of NACS' R&D efforts. "If you don't care about your own survival [as an industry], no one else will," he said.


Five thoughts from Gary Shapiro

Here's something you don't hear every day: "Recessions are good."

At least, that's what Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, told Tech Conference attendees this morning during his general session presentation.

While the phrasing was startling, Shapiro's real point was that tough choices are healthy. He argued that recessions force businesses to take a good, hard look at what they are doing in ways that they might not during better times. (Which does beg the question: Why don't we do a better job of making those tough choices when the economy is good? I

Four other points Shapiro made that stuck out at me:

- Speak and write in plain English. "I believe in brevity," he said. "Strunk and White is my bible." Shapiro says that when he writes for his board members, he makes his main point up front in a single sentence and tries to keep additional background and contextual information to a page or less. (Perhaps Twitter is good practice for us all!)

- Think three years ahead. "That's where trends and changes are," he said. "You need to be thinking about trends and jump on them." As a sidenote: When Shapiro was introduced, Reggie Henry mentioned that CES (Shapiro's association's well-known tradeshow) is less than a month out. But Shapiro pointed out that he's actually spent more time thinking about CES 2012 this week than about CES 2011.

- Mistakes are healthy. Shapiro said that mistakes are incredible learning opportunities--but the real mistake many people make is to try to sweep them under the rug rather than transparently admitting to and learning from them.

- Don't create an app just to create an app. In fact, don't do anything just because everyone is doing it--build an app or a website or a blog because it makes sense for your organization's goals and the audiences you're trying to reach. "Go slowly," he said, "but pay attention."


Tech Conference in Photos, Day 1

Thanks to everyone who braved the cold DC air to attend the Technology Conference yesterday--and for folks who are here in spirit, I hope you're enjoying the tweets, blog posts, and other information shared online. Here's a look at a few scenes from the conference yesterday:


December 14, 2010

The Air Force Blog Assessment flow chart

It's been used as an example in at least three sessions at the Technology Conference today. Here it is:



5 tech tools for nontech people

If you're into technology, the 2010 Association Technology Conference is the place to be. But even if you consider yourself technologically ... challenged, there's still some great info floating around that can help you do your job better. A good session example? This afternoon, David DeLorenzo, chief technology officer of National Association of College and University Business Officers, Chris Shue, vice president and director of information services of Reinsurance Association of America, Loretta M. DeLuca, CEO and founder of DelCor Technology Solutions, and Maggie McGary, online community and social media manager for American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, presented "Cool Tech Tips in 75 Minutes," and offered up dozens of websites and tech tools. Here are five of my favorites:

  1. Tweetwally. A "tweetwall' displays all the tweets available from Twitter by hashtag, username, or keywords. This tool makes aggregating tweets around a particular event a breeze and can generate a URL of your tweetwall that virtual attendees can use to follow your event.
  2. Portable Apps. Portable Apps is a collection of applications that you can download to a thumb drive and carry with you everywhere. Keep your information to yourself but have access to your favorite computer applications while you're at a conference computer or a hotel business center with this nifty, and free, tech tool.
  3. FiveSecondTest. Working on some website upgrades? Though nothing can replace rigorous user testing, FiveSecondTest gives you a quick way to test out your latest website upgrades. It's simple: Create an image or screenshot of your website with a question such as, "Can you find the 'Contact Us' link?" and users get five seconds to view your image and respond to your query. Get the data from their responses. Make your website better and your users happy.
  4. Twapper Keeper. Yes, this one makes me nostalgic for the satisfying rip of Velcro on my old Trapper Keeper, and it's sort of like one because it can hold your most important information. In Twapper Keeper's case, this information is the archive of tweets from an event or about your organization. Since Twitter doesn't keep an archive of tweets forever, Twapper Keeper can archive what's important for your association to keep and organizes tweets by hashtag, keyword, or user. Take that data and make it into a spreadsheet or another nifty report.  
  5. XOBNI. This Outlook plugin allows you to see a sender's full communication with you, including past emails, attachments, and contact info. This is great for those of us who receive a lot of email but find that the Outlook search function doesn't always find what we're looking for. The basic version is free, but an upgrade might make your email life easier than ever.
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The Technology Hype Cycle

Reggie Henry at Tech10

I asked Reggie Henry, CAE, CIO of ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, to share an important theme from yesterday's Technology Conference Town Hall Meeting. He said that an important concept referred back to what Gartner Research calls the Technology Hype Cycle.

"It's really clear that although everybody thinks digital is crazy important, that social media is critically important from a strategic point of view," Henry says, "the expected benefits did not match how important they said it was."

To begin to understand why, you need to follow the link to see Gartner's Technology Hype Cycle, or at least picture this: a graph with an initial peak labeled "peak of inflated expectations," which drops to a trough labeled the "trough of disillusionment," which rises again, less steeply, through a "slope of enlightenment" to the "plateau of production."

"I've seen every technology go through that process," says Henry. "Some take longer than others to get to that plateau. They stay in that trough until people decide what they want to get out of the technology, and then they develop a strategy around it and they develop metrics to see if that strategy is successful. Where we are with digital and social media pieces is that we've decided they're important, they're really important, but we don't know what we want from them yet."


Maybe #tech10 isn't really about technology

Charlene Li - Technology Conference 2010

During Charlene Li's opening general session at the 2010 Association Technology Conference & Expo Tuesday, you might have forgotten for a few minutes that you were at a conference about technology.

Li used words like "relationships," "dialog," "support," "culture," and "discipline" in her keynote. These aren't new, high-tech words. They're words we've always known in association management. But she urged association leaders to understand and embrace the ways social technologies are changing have already changed how we interact with our respective communities and industries.

While on the other side of the curtain in the expo hall lay dozens of technology tools for associations to invest in, Li offered advice on how to use them, regardless of which you might choose. She listed a four-step cycle for building relationships with members and customers online (or off): Learn, Dialog, Support, Innovate.

Then she said an organization must build a culture of sharing, defining exactly what it is comfortable openly communicating about and what it isn't. Organizations need discipline, a set of rules and guidelines to empower staff so they know how to interact openly with members and customers, she said.

Li posed a question about relationships: when are you really ever in control? An honest answer would be that, most often, you're not. Leading in a world operating on social technologies means getting comfortable not being in control.

If you've heard Li speak before or read any of her books or articles (in Associations Now in 2009 and 2010, for example), you've heard her message, but it was worth repeating at the start of the Technology Conference, and it set the right foundation for the following two days of learning. "It isn't the technologies themselves. It's the relationships that they change," she said.

Maybe the technology conference isn't about technology at all.

Photo by Scott Briscoe, CAE.

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Have you ever complained about free drinks?

When I picked up my mail a few months back, a familiar envelope greeted me from Southwest Airlines. A nice letter with a reward notification through their loyalty program, with the standard four free drink ticket coupons that accompany each milestone. For the first time ever, I turned to my wife and started to complain about FREE DRINKS:

  • Why hasn't Southwest moved to paperless drink tickets? They've implemented a "cashless cabin" already on all flights, but still print paper tickets for their loyal customers to hopefully redeem once in a while?
  • What happens if I misplace this letter and tickets? Do they print and mail replacements out?
  • Couldn't they find a way to link my rewards account to a credit system, by which I accrue and redeem drinks electronically?
  • Couldn't they provide me an email with a QR code to scan, or some other simple way to identify my account and "tab." Saves Southwest printing/postage, and creates the possibility for a carbon-neutral program. It would also provide them with valuable data on who redeems these coupons, how frequently, etc. Not to mention a much more cost effective option than the current model.
  • Southwest recently launched an awesome "check-in for charity" program embracing geolocation as a fundraising partnership with the Make-A-Wish foundation. For those that don't drink, or want to donate their drinks or a cash equivalent to charity, couldn't Southwest use the same framework to make donations in the amount of a drink value to a charity, flight credits for military service men and women, etc.?

My wife, as only she can do, put it all in perspective for me with one observation after my quick rant. "Wow, those are great ideas - why haven't you given them to Southwest yet?" So I sent them a quick email.

Her comment and simple reminder made me think about the parallels with association work. On a daily basis, organizations struggle to respond to rapidly evolving member expectations, and need to operate in a continuous stage of innovation in order to succeed. Associations that are effective in this process usually see higher expectations from the members, and hopefully a corresponding increase in the amount of engagement and feedback received.

I often wonder why so many organizations are afraid of feedback. I worry much more when members are NOT calling, emailing, commenting, or communicating on what we could be doing better. ASAE seems to be a good example of an organization embracing feedback, and welcoming the constructive criticisms in order to continually enhance their programs and services.

Most likely, Southwest is getting ready to roll out a program upgrade that far surpasses my suggestions in the near future, but will give my ego a polite stroke and thank me for my feedback and participation. And I'll continue to sing their praises as an innovative company and industry leader as a result.

Here's to free drink complaints, and the added expectations to help drive each of our organizations. Cheers!

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December 13, 2010

Bookblogging: Skeletons of Abandoned Ideas

"The easiest and most seductive escape from the project plateau is the most dangerous one: a new idea. New ideas offer a quick return to the high energy and commitment zone, but they also cause us to lose focus. As the new star rises, our execution efforts for the original idea start to fall off. The end result? A plateau filled with the skeleton of abandoned ideas."

Making Ideas Happen, p. 71.

Guilty. As. Charged.

It's certainly not unusual in associations to find a graveyard of ideas abandoned before their complete execution. As volunteers move into leadership positions, they often want to start fresh with their own ideas rather than finish implementing the ideas of their predecessors. As a result, resources are often wasted, staff morale sometimes suffers (here we go again), and potentially great ideas wither from lack of sufficient attention and cultivation.

We can try to manage this recurring phenomenon by:

  • Asking boards to make multi-year resource commitments for new initiatives and specify appropriate milestones and results for each year's efforts.
  • Ensuring part of leadership transition involves discussing works-in-progress and what attention they will require from the new team.
  • Ask new leaders how they plan on continuing the implementation of heir predecessor's good ideas.
  • Managing the initial high that comes during the creative process by exploring the commitments successful implementation of ideas will require.
  • Making it easier to move from ideas to action, accelerating the implementation stage by removing administrative barriers to getting things done.
  • Getting those in major leadership positions to facilitate focus and discipline during the implementation stages.
  • Creating parallel paths for individual contributions based on their strengths: (1) an incubator/think tank path for those who like to generate ideas, and an (2) implementer/executor path whose gifts align most with refining others' ideas and seeing them successfully operationalized.

Progress begets progress is an important mantra for making ideas happen. It's why we like to pass cars on the highway even if going so really doesn't get us to our destination much sooner.

If we don't want to produce more skeletons of abandoned ideas, we need to carefully revise our processes and procedures and make it easier for big ideas to have a presence beyond an individual's term of office; small wins to be achieved, celebrated, and experienced; and opportunities to contribute to the next series of action steps to happen.

How else would you suggest we do that?


December 9, 2010

Quick clicks: Communication challenges edition

This week's collection of association expertise from around the interwebs includes a variety of viewpoints on the challenges and practices of conveying information, whether to members, colleagues, decision makers, a seated audience, or your board. Enjoy.

Focused messaging. Cindy Butts, CAE, tells the story of 28 associations meeting with the Maine governor-elect, with each group allowed 90 seconds to convey its message. It's a format I wonder if an association could employ, and the story also makes you think about how well you'd do at condensing your association's mission or key initiative into 90 seconds.

What do members know? Eric Lanke, CAE, thinks your members are stupid. Well, not really. Not stupid in the common sense of the word; more in the economist's view of an uninformed consumer. Eric says most association members vastly underestimate the cost of association services, and he wonders if better information might allow associations to cut costs without making members upset.

Boring conference sessions: DOA. Jeff Hurt is finding increasingly creative ways to lament over poor conference education, this time with a mock obituary for a conference education session. At the end, he offers two important questions that, if answered, could save a session's life.

Trust. Jamie Notter recaps a presentation on trust that he gave last week at an association conference, calling trust among a board of directors a "secret weapon for dealing with complexity." In the comments, Jeff De Cagna and Jamie have an interesting exchange, as Jeff wonders whether too much trust can be detrimental.

Boards do the darnedest things. Dan Pallotta's blog at Harvard Business Review is one of my favorites, simply for his boldness; he makes no effort to mask his utter disdain for the ingrained practices of nonprofit organizations. This week, he marvels at the ineptitude of meddlesome nonprofit boards, calling for better training about a board's proper role. I think Dan and Roy Snell, whose guest column "Is Your Board Run Amok?" appears in this month's issue of Associations Now, should get together.

Shirkyisms. Elizabeth Engel, CAE, continues her periodic glimpses into Clay Shirky's modern classic Here Comes Everybody. She quotes Shirky's thoughts about Wikipedia and then pushes associations to consider how they can better accommodate varying levels of contribution among wide audiences.

New website. Joe Flowers at the National Association of Dental Plans offers a before-and-after look at NADP's new website, the latest update in a series of posts from Joe during the 18-month overhaul process.

Hiring. A lot of millennials applying for jobs at your association might come with a personal brand, because they're active bloggers, Twitterers, social movers, etc. So is that a plus or a minus in the hiring decision? Colleen Dilenschneider says it's a plus and offers three reasons why.

Learning. In honor of Employee Learning Week, Ellen Behrens suggests seven easy ways you can advance your own professional development. "You can't nourish your members educationally if your own head is empty!" she says.

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December 8, 2010

Career Imagineering

It's the Best of Times and the Worst of Times. As Oprah handed out Kindles and Dickens' works to her audience this week, I reflected on this timeless opening. I'm struck by a 'Tale of Two Futures' in juxtaposition. People seem at once energized by and anxious about the current state of things. Recently, a group of association leaders were asked to name topics they wished to discuss; they chose "how to lead through turbulent times," "how to retire gracefully and meaningfully," and "maximizing personal leadership qualities" all in a two-hour period.

Our immediate predecessors lived through the "Golden Handcuff Age" in associations, where trade and professional societies held the keys to information and could truly represent to members that their dues unlocked doors fairly impenetrable to non-members. We knew the handcuffs were coming off, but I'm not sure we were prepared for the gloves to go with them.

It was amidst the tech boom of the late '90s that Tom Peters' asserted that each of us had better develop "Brand YOU" -personalized job definitions and professional pathways in an ever-changing economy. Today, a growing number of people are required to take greater control of their own futures. We are facing facts that a sizeable number of lost jobs are not coming back, even when the economy improves. The association world is hardly exempt. Colleagues out of work are facing long term unemployment periods and accepting pay cuts. Personally, I am also seeing some signs for optimism.

No longer assured of job tenure and many already displaced and unsure of how to get hired rather late in their careers, here come the "elderpreneurs." There is no gold watch in their future but they aren't giving an inch on potential gold at the end of a self-made rainbow. I see colleagues starting consortiums, serving as interim executives, offering their services as consultants, moving to for-profits, and even creating new associations. Many are self-publishing, blogging, and tweeting. Today Brand YOU is but a few clicks to a Brand URL. Younger leaders are seeing the handwriting on the wall and preparing early.

I decided to start re- imagining my own association career. In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink quotes Karim Rashid as recommending, "Know everything about the history of your profession, and then forget it all when you design something new." (This is harder than I thought.) I decided to ask a few entrepreneurs how they got started and found common themes: "What would make you excited to get up and go to work?" and "Where do you see a need that isn't being addressed?" I thought I'd start with my own association members to find examples of such needs. For several days, every time a member emailed me with a question, I attempted to call them by phone to reply. Once they got over the shock - a few of them assumed they must have done something REALLY bad to warrant a phone call - I asked them what in their professional or personal environment they wish someone would change and, if relevant, whether our association could have a positive effect on it. I have accumulated a great list of needs that quite possibly no one is addressing, if I want to think about a new venture. (I also have some great ideas for the association.) The only thing I'm certain of is that I'd better have a plan B,C, and D.

What's next is hardly knowable. The unmet needs that can be turned into a new venture are everywhere, and our community is full of people to take them on. (No, I am not sure there would be money in all of them.) These are rocky times, and we are all well-advised to be prepared to think about what's next - or, possibly, in the words of John Lennon, "starting over," followed quickly by "imagine."

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December 6, 2010

Bookblogging: Creativity or Stewardship?

"Having just the vision's no solution
Everything depends on execution
The art of making art
Is putting it together."

Stephen Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George

While we all can probably enhance our ability to generate great ideas and being more creative, innovation requires us to not only have the idea, but also to successfully implement it so that our members and stakeholders experience enhanced value.

And for some great insights on how to execute and implement creative possibilities, I'll be sharing ideas and commentary throughout December from the book, Making Ideas Happen, by Scott Belsky, founder and CEO of Behance. The Behance Network offers the Action Method set of resources for project planning, and I follow their Tweets and blog posts (published as The 99 Percent) for their valuable tips.

Insight #1: "The ideas that move industries forward are not the result of tremendous creative insight but rather of masterful stewardship."

Really? So often we seem to be looking for the breakthrough idea that will transform our organization or lamenting our seeming inability to be more innovative.

But stop for a second and think about you. Think about your organization. Are you really short on ideas? Is the association community really running on low on creative thinking, new insights, alternative approaches? Every day my RSS feed and Twitter screen is filled with dozens more ideas than I can possibly process. My bookshelves heave with environmental scans, research reports, and other publications from ASAE and a myriad of other organizations, each one containing more ideas for me to consider.

Yet, so often, the practices of association management don't seem to be changing. The questions we explore at conferences are often the same questions discussed a decade ago, and it often is evident that the answers identified then have yet to be implemented.

So while we may indeed need fresh answers for certain questions, perhaps what we need is more masterful stewardship of the ones we have ... just as Belsky suggests.

What do you think? Are we lacking ideas or falling short on execution? And why?

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December bookblogging (with a special guest)

As we continue our experiment with blogging more regularly about books on Acronym, I'm pleased to introduce a special guest: Jeffrey Cufaude of Idea Architects, who will be joining us for the month to write about Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky. Jeffrey is of course no stranger to Acronym--he's contributed guest posts in the past and is one of our most thoughtful and regular commenters. (He's also a blogger himself, at the Idea Architects blog, not to mention a facilitator, writer, consultant, and speaker.)

Please welcome Jeffrey to Acronym this month. I'm looking forward to his insights and thoughts around Making Ideas Happen.


December 2, 2010

A Morale Dilemma: Are We Creating Exempt Expectations for Non-Exempt Employees?

Almost a year ago, someone asked me this question seeking a young professional's perspective. It has literally been burned into my mind since, and I find myself passing it on to colleagues out of curiosity. To be honest, it's hard to articulate and frame this question succinctly for the association community.

Given the evolving workplace, changing employment models, and current pressure most organizations face, there are a few important factors to consider. The 2020 Workplace indicates this is the first time in history we've had 4-5 generations in the workplace simultaneously - so it shouldn't come as any surprise that we all bring personal expectations and assumptions for what we'd like our jobs to entail and provide. But what happens when organizations continue to face the harsh realities of shrinking budgets, in turn asking staff members to be more productive, more collaborative, and more everything, regardless of whether they are in an exempt or non-exempt position/capacity? Motivating and communicating with each individual about their unique role and responsibility is key, but is that enough to prevent possible expectations from arising? Isn't this a key area impacting overall employee morale?

To clarify, I don't mean any hierarchical implications by referencing exempt vs. non-exempt. Depending upon the nature and function of each individual position, the salary vs. hourly classification can be based upon a variety of factors and legal criteria. As part of Dan Pink's Drive philosophy, he notes that regardless of job function, we are motivated by three main factors: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. What we do, how we're able to do it, and why we do it. Countless case studies advocate for this philosophy, and how organizations that empower employees at all levels have reaped the benefits in areas of organizational morale, productivity, and staff retention.

Many associations have utilized this motivational model for years, and are great examples to illustrate the philosophy in action. Everyone is a vital contributor and source of knowledge. But does this lead to a new expectation from employees regarding their job classification and function?

  • Do you have non-exempt staff who contribute equally (or in some cases more) yet are frustrated without access to a more flexibile schedule or autonomy that an exempt position may afford? Frustrated with additional work without access to overtime compensation?
  • Do you have exempt staff continually frustrated or resentful towards non-exempt staff for the hourly/overtime paramaters they function within, while continually being asked to push the boundaries of work capacity because it's a required part of the job?
  • Do you find yourself identifying with one of these frustrations regularly?
  • Are these just inherent, unavoidable byproducts of any workplace that will factor into overall morale in the workplace?

Based on your experience, what do you think? Are we inadvertantly creating exempt expectations for non-exempt employees? If so, is it a result of generational implications, or just an inherent part of the workplace?

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Welcome Conor McNulty!

I'd like to extend a warm welcome to our newest guest blogger, Conor McNulty. Conor is joining us from the California Dental Association, where he serves as director of membership. In his work at CDA, he oversees statewide outreach and retention efforts, member engagement strategy, and dental school programs for the organization.

Conor graduated with the inaugural class of the ASAE Leadership Academy in August. He's been an active volunteer with ASAE as well, and currently serves on the Young Association Executives Committee.

Before his life as an association professional began, Conor was a professional soccer player and worked in publishing and corporate marketing. He is also the proud father of four-year-old quadruplets Russell, Ally, Molly, and Libby.

Please help Conor feel at home here at Acronym! We're very pleased to have him with us.

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