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May 31, 2012

Quick clicks: May 31, 2012

Quick clicks skipped its regularly scheduled edition last week to make way for coverage of ASAE's Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference. We're back this week, with plenty of great links to catch up on.

Boards.

Management.

  • Jason Lauritsen writes that, in trying to influence others, focusing on what they "should" do is a futile strategy. Instead, focus on whatever particular motivations will spur them to action.
  • Maddie Grant, CAE, highlights the need for good "middle-level thinking" in associations, where people can connect the high-level strategy with ground-level details.

Social media.

Strategic planning.

Market research. Mark Golden, FASAE, CAE, points out the difference between what people say and what they do. Bottom line: everybody lies.

Leadership. Eric Lanke, CAE, offers some very simple advice for association CEOs: "Don't Say It If You Don't Mean It."

Data management. Wes Trochlil asks why so many associations are using aging technology for data management when newer, better (and affordable) products are available.

Content marketing. Joe Pulizzi at Copyblogger explains the three components of a content marketing calendar.

Google Drive. TJ Rainsford writes at NTEN about how Google Drive improves upon its predecessor, Google Apps, and how nonprofits might put Google Drive to use.

Learning. Jeff Hurt shares a room setup called "horseshoe groups," which "promote analytical thinking, creativity, evaluation, assessment, and application of the information."

Fraud. Steve Drake shares five tips for preventing embezzlement at your association.

Millennials. Mental Floss magazine offers an 11-question quiz, "Tip for Managing Millennials or Advice for Puppy Owners?" I got 10 of 11 right, though I had to guess on several of them. (Hat tip to Sue Pelletier for pointing this out.)

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Upgrading Diplomacy Skills the Albright Way

Want to refine your diplomacy skills?

Flash back to the enduring advice given by Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to association leaders in this "classic" (June 2002) article, "Education of a Diplomat," which I pulled from ASAE's Knowledge Center archives of Executive Update magazine pieces published by the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives (pre-merger with ASAE).

I thought I'd bring the article up for a re-airing when I saw that Albright and 12 other leaders received the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, this week from President Barack Obama "for changing the world for the better."

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Associations as Networked "Ecosystems"

In an interesting interview article appearing in the May 29 Inc. magazine, business guru Jim Collins references new thinking on leadership that he developed after working with ASAE and the associations that participated in research for the book Seven Measures of Success.

In a discussion of how the Internet revolution has changed business today, Collins says, "The Internet is all about networks and connectivity across networks, so one possibility is that there's a shift to a new fundamental building of society, namely, the network. We may be moving to a world of networks well led, as opposed to organizations well managed. You can't really manage a network, but you can help lead within a network."

Calling such networks "building blocks," Collins points to associations that "are, by their nature, networks. They're fluid. But an association has to have some sort of unity and cohesion.

"So how do you create a great association when it's inherently not self-contained? [ASAE's] researchers analyzed some really high-performing associations, in which you can see this network effect and the importance of being able to lead without direct power. I began thinking that associations may actually be on the leading edge of what more people are going to have to learn how to do. Instead of managing a company, you're managing an ecosystem that is networked and connected over the world."

You can read the full article, "Jim Collins: Be Great Now," here and please feel free to comment below.

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May 24, 2012

Takeaways From Day Two of #mmccon12

The learning continued today at ASAE's Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference in Washington, DC, and so did the sharing of that knowledge on Twitter via the #MMCCon12 hashtag. Here are some highlights:

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Listen to Members. Now Listen to Them More.

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Chris Brogan, the General Session speaker on the second day of ASAE's Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference, is a social media expert who cracks a lot of jokes at social media's expense. QR codes are like a "very frustrating crossword." He knows you tend to keep your smartphone by your bedside "as if you were a brain surgeon or a superhero." Pinterest enthusiasts are, as a general rule, interested in "Ryan Gosling's abs, recipes, and updos."

This is the part where I'd usually step back and point out that it wasn't all comedy during Brogan's session. He knows his stuff, and he had useful messages to deliver about online member engagement. For instance: Keep messages short, he said; make them mobile-ready. But you already know all that. I think it's more correct to say that the comedy wasn't a sideshow to his message but the message itself, because the place where associations tend to struggle when it comes to member engagement involves cultivating emotional bonds. And if more associations concentrated on strengthening those bonds, they'd spend less time wondering why their "Please RT!" strategy isn't taking off so well.

"Create interesting, organic information that people are going to share with other people," Brogan told the audience. The word "organic" is the essential word in that sentence---associations that work to craft messages intended to excite members don't always speak naturally, in a way that members want to hear. Fixing that problem is simple---listen to members and find out what they care about. But Brogan argues that many organizations skip that step. They focus on the CMS or social media tactics before deciding who will be listening to members, how, and how what gets learned gets shared. That, Brogan said, is like buying a car but not bothering to have a windshield installed.

"Talk more about your members than you ever have," Brogan said. "Bring your attention to them." That's good advice, on two fronts. First, it puts the spotlight on members and makes them feel wanted---and feeling wanted, Brogan pointed out, is humankind's biggest need. The second reason it works is that when you talk about members, they talk back, freeing up a dialogue that can give you a clearer picture of what they'll need in a future.


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Guarding Your Message


I was listening to a communications specialist who was at ASAE's Membership, Marketing, and Communications Conference yesterday, and she was confiding a message-gone-wrong story at her association.

In her case, members had given immediate and highly vocal feedback that they believed a certain call for an advocacy action by the organization and its membership had strayed from or even "betrayed" its core mission, thus alienating and confusing important donors and leaders.

It reminded me of the Komen Foundation controversy regarding pulled funds for Planned Parenthood programs, as well as comments by political strategist James Carville, whom I had interviewed recently about the art of smart messaging. (Carville will be a General Session speaker with Republican strategist Karl Rove in August at ASAE's Annual Meeting & Expo, so look for interviews with him and Rove in an upcoming Associations Now spread.)

"That debacle was an enormous and, as far as I can tell, unanticipated glitch," Carville said as we wondered why organizations still make serious communication mistakes, even with high-priced PR firms advising them. "Their overall messaging and the pink ribbon were brilliant. That became so identifiable that they were about women's health, and ... they had a real positive outfit. But then they came across as if they were some kind of political advocacy group, and that was particularly damaging. That was a glitch where they did something that was inconsistent with their overall messaging."

Carville talked about the need to vehemently "protect your message with everything you do."

"That's why I always add the dynamic of culture," he said, adding that the key elements of your primary message must be deeply embedded across your organization and lived by everyone on staff 24/7. "Where Komen, as a good example, went off track was that women's health wasn't put first; politics or ideology was put first," or at least appeared that way. That clearly had donors and supporters feeling profoundly betrayed, and I personally wonder how long it might take for Komen to recover, if indeed it can rebuild the lost trust through believable messaging and actions.

I'm interested in whether other associations or nonprofits have opinions of why and when associations mess up their messaging and are forced to execute crisis communication interventions. Feel free to share here and to sanitize players as needed for the sake of discussion.

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May 23, 2012

Takeaways From Day One of #mmccon12

Popularity has its occasional downside: The original hashtag for ASAE's Membership, Marketing & Communications conference attracted the attention of spammers, but attendees quickly moved their online conversations to #mmccon12. Below are just some of the insights and provocative questions they shared today on Twitter.

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A source of must-have solutions

Sarah Sladek

Day 1 of ASAE's 2012 Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference in Washington, DC, started off with a look at how the membership value proposition is changing (or has already) for associations. In her opening general session, Sarah Sladek, author of The End of Membership As We Know It, told attendees that associations must create a "must-have" membership. "Nice to have is not enough," she said.

Sladek (pictured above) points to the generational shift from a belief in conformity (among baby boomers) to a belief in individuality (among genrations X and Y) as one of the driving forces behind the declining success of traditional membership tactics. Today, new generations of members will only join when they see how an association can solve a problem for them, and they won't renew if they aren't finding solutions.

Connecting members with those solutions came up as a key challenge during the first round of Learning Labs. In "Conversation that Matters: VPs of Marketing," I listened as a group of association marketing professionals discussed how to better connect members (and potential members) with the knowledge from the association and the community that is the most valuable and relevant to them.

In the course of conversation, the eternal question of what knowledge should be open to the public and what should be members-only came up, and it was suggested that an association's marketing department ought to have a keen enough understanding of the association's members and audience to know what knowledge resources are valuable enough to be members-only and what resources are better suited as free, open attention getters.

That role stands out to me as one of the most important roles an association's marketing department can serve today, especially in light of Sladek's emphasis on membership value lying in the ability to solve problems. At one point Sladek asked attendees, "What would happen if your association disappeared tomorrow? Would anyone care?" Obviously, if no one would care, that's a problem for you. But if your association disappeared and suddenly your members had specific problems they could no longer solve on their own, that will point to the value of membership. So, in determining which knowledge resources fall on which side of the membership wall, the question "Does this knowledge solve a problem for our members?" can be a valuable guide. Is it "must-have" knowledge, or is it just nice to have?

Stay tuned here on Acronym for more from MMCC, and follow the conversation on Twitter via the #MMCCon12 hashtag. And for more from Sarah Sladek, see:

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May 18, 2012

ROI and concerns for association content curators

Diving into content curation for associations one more time. This is post number three on this topic in as many weeks, so I promise this will be the last for a while. Just a few other aspects of it worth examining.

ROI. The biggest return on investment for an association doing content curation may be intangible: bolstering your association's reputation as the best place (or at least one of the best places) to find high-quality knowledge and useful news in your specific field or industry. (This should sound familiar if you already publish a magazine, journal, newsletter, blog, etc.) Done well, this can lead to better recruitment, more engagement, and upticks in all the related products and services you offer that have real revenue attached (meetings, education, certifications, etc).

David Gammel summed it up well in a tweet yesterday (at right). If you're familiar with David's Engagement Acceleration Curve, you could plot content curation at the far left, near other content marketing and attention-driving strategies.

And like your traditional content, content curation could help boost revenue via advertising, but again this ought to be additive to the content you're already producing, not a replacement for it. If you find yourself going link crazy just to drive page views, take a look at newspapers to see how that's working out for them. And there are some other concerns with advertising next to other people's content, but more on that later.

These next few items are where content curation at an association gets more complicated than at an independent media outlet or as a solo practitioner on the web.

Diversity. Any good content curator will search a wide, diverse pool of perspectives and sources of knowledge (within a subject area, at least) and will also strive for diversity in the content he or she curates for the audience. That's just good sense for the community's general body of knowledge. But other diversity and inclusion considerations will factor in as well, such as highlighting new and underrepresented voices in the industry. This is a worthy goal for any association (and often an expressly stated one), but it might not always align perfectly with other measurements of content, so it's important for the association content curator to keep both goals in mind.

Influence. If your association is well positioned, your curation of others' content will be valuable exposure for those sources. Exposure that must not be doled out unevenly or haphazardly. An association curator's sources will often be paying members—and, specifically, paying supplier members who want to see their membership dues result in better exposure to the market. Ultimately, your responsibility lies in curating the best, most useful content for your audience, so it will help to have a clear definition of "best" and "useful" in case you hear from people who think you ought to be including their content in your curation.

Fair use. When you're dealing heavily in relaying other people's content, you run the risk of copyright infringement if you use it in inappropriate ways and without proper attribution. The rules of intellectual property law are sometimes fuzzy, but the simple mantras of "don't steal" and "give credit where credit is due" will generally steer you in the right direction. But these are doubly important for an association curator since so many sources are paying members. Even if you don't run afoul of copyright laws, could you upset members if they feel your association is taking advantage of their contributions? Possibly. Consider tools like Scoop.It, Pinterest, and Tumblr. Great tools for curating and sharing content easily. But what if you slapped some advertising on your Scoop.It page, next to all those handy links and teasers to other people's content? Some sources might not be as agreeable anymore.

If your association is curating content for your audience, I'd be interested to hear how your members are responding and how you're handling some of these issues. And if you missed the earlier posts on curation, here they are, plus one from last year:

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May 14, 2012

A little curation on curation for associations

Two weeks ago I shared a few thoughts on how the concept of curation might work (or is working) in the retail industry, and I promised to dig a little deeper into curation in the association context. That post drew some interesting comments, so first I recommend going back and reading them.

That discussion got me thinking a lot about the topic, and so I spent some time reading what others have written about content curation already (which is quite a lot). In the interest of practicing what I preach (and in not restating what others have already said much better than I could), I decided to gather and share a handful of the most useful resources I've found on content curation:

Where to start if you're new to "curation":

On the actual job of curation:

On associations' role as content curators:

More curated info about curation:

After all that reading, I came to a couple conclusions that I think can also help you approach curation at your association:

Curation is a philosophy, not a tactic. If you take some time to read some or all of these articles, you'll find that "curation" takes on a lot of different meanings and forms, depending on who you talk to. You might find that frustrating, particularly if you're looking for how-do-I-do-it-today advice, but I think curation is best viewed as a philosophy rather than a tactic. I like Rohit Bhargava's definintion, because it encompasses any range of methods that accomplish the same goal: "finding, grouping, organizing, or sharing the best and most relevant content on a specific issue."

You can apply that goal to just about any form of content that your association might produce, ranging from blogs and magazines to research and education. But make note of the wording: "the best and most relevant content," not "your best and most relevant content." That's the shift that associations have to make, from being the source of expertise to being the conveyer of expertise, regardless of the source. Viewed this way, curation is more of a new filter or lens through which to look at the things associations already do, rather than an entirely new source of value.

Real time vs. long tail. Of all the various forms that content curation can take, I see them mostly falling into one of two buckets, which I haven't seen clearly identified elsewhere:

  • Real-time curation. This is the ongoing, day-to-day form of curation. It's how you keep your members up to date. The subject area can be wide (as wide as your association's profession, perhaps), and the criteria for selection expand from "best" and "relevant" to also include "new." This form can appeal to a big audience, but it has a short shelf life, as it needs constant attention. Think "today's top news."
  • Long-tail curation. This is the long-term, highly specific form of curation. It's how you help your members dig deep into a topic. The subject area in each case is narrow, and the criteria for selection might be best described as "the absolute best" and "the most relevant." And the timeframe for selected content can go back for years, as long as the content stays relevant. This form appeals to a specific audience in each case, but it has a long shelf life. It could be maintained with only periodic updating. Think "Wikipedia."

Both of these forms can be valuable for associations to provide to their audiences, because they address two different user scenarios: the user who engages often to stay in touch, and the user who only comes to you when they have a specific problem to solve. (Of course, these aren't exclusive; a single person can engage with your association in both ways at different times.) But in either case, if your association is the place to easily find the best information and knowledge from throughout your profession, you'll keep those users (members or non) coming back.

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May 11, 2012

How Much Influence Does a CEO Have?

Forbes writer Eric Jackson galvanized the business web's attention late last month with a troubling headline: "Here's Why Google and Facebook Might Completely Disappear in the Next Five Years." (I figured an association online community manager somewhere audibly sighed after reading that, then began adding new images to a Pinterest board, "Images of Despair About an Unstable Universe.") But embedded in Jackson's provocative argument is an even more troubling claim: Leaders are more or less meaningless.

Jackson's specific point is that however much they try to innovate, web-based companies like Yahoo and Facebook remain products of the times in which they were founded, subject to all the prejudices and blinkered thinking of that moment. Yahoo, for instance, was the world leader in web-portal expertise a decade ago, but that isn't particularly meaningful in a mobile-ized world, and the company is struggling. More broadly, though, Jackson is making a case for "organizational ecology," which argues that:

organizational outcomes have much more to do with industry effects than who the CEO is and the choices he or she makes. [Organizational ecologists] study birth and death rates of populations of organizations, as well as the effects of age, competition and resources in the surrounding environment on an organization's birth and death rate.

Put another way: Leaders are lousy at predicting the future. They stick with what worked when they started, and don't effectively move their organizations forward. So ultimately the future moves the organization for them---or puts them out of business.

It's true that leaders tend to be bad at predicting the future. We all are: every so often I see somebody post a link showing a story from decades ago about what life will be like in the 21st century, and we all have a good laugh about it. But I think association leaders do have more influence than Jackson suggests, and aren't simply passive respondents to market forces.

The main reason I think that is because associations are, practically by definition, active respondents to market forces. An association's role is to listen to members in the aggregate, gathering information about where the growth opportunities and threats are. Not every association does a great job of gathering that information, or presenting it back to members so they can act on it, but the antennae for detecting what's coming next is built into association DNA. Corporations run under the mantra, "Evolve or die." Associations monitor the evolution patterns.

Well, in a perfect world, they do---and enough of them continue to do it well enough to keep the doors open. But reading Jackson's article make me think that the next big challenge for associations---just as much as membership, internationalization, nondues revenue, and mobile---is improving their monitoring skills. If it's true that "the next 5 - 8 years could be incredibly dynamic," as Jackson writes, members will have a growing need for help from their associations for tools to address those changes.

So what does the effective CEO do on that front? Give members more opportunities to meet in person? Double down on online communications tools? More data mining?

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May 10, 2012

Quick clicks: May 10, 2012

Volunteerism. Greg Baldwin offers a glimpse into some new science on altruism that focuses on "cooperative groups and the biological advantage they have over less cooperative groups."

Risk management. What's the difference between a policy and a procedure? Leslie White clears it up for us and says that most associations are doing it wrong.

Virtual events. Celisa Steele looks at some recent data on associations and virtual events and writes that most virtual events still need to be tied to an in-person event to gain traction.

Leadership. Eric Lanke, CAE, shares a story from a colleague who learned that "leadership is not about getting your way."

Attitude. Deirdre Reid, CAE, asks if your association has the right attitude for future success, and shares five attitudes identified by digital strategist Jasper Visser.

Government relations. Stefanie Reeves, CAE, discusses how the principles from the book Humanize apply to association lobbying departments.

International growth. Peter Turner shares lessons, slides, and video interviews about opportunities for associations in India and China, from two of his colleagues at MCI who spoke at ASAE's International Conference last week.

Curation.

Change management.

Online community.

Innovation.

Meetings.

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May 8, 2012

Neglecting a Big Slice of Potential Membership

Today we're pleased to welcome Acronym guest poster Sarah Sladek, CEO of XYZ University and author of The End of Membership as We Know It (ASAE Press). Sladek will be the Opening General Session speaker at the ASAE Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference, held May 23-24 in Washington, DC. In this post, Sladek discusses the urgent need to attract members of generations X and Y to associations.

Membership associations are a lot like pizza parlors.

I read somewhere that three-fourths of Americans like pizza. Likewise, most Americans belong to a membership association. (However, if you're among the one-fourth of Americans who don't like pizza, bear with me. I do have a point to make here.)

For a really long time, associations have been serving pizza. In other words, associations have mastered how to deliver products, services, and events that really appeal to one audience in particular.

The baby boomers love the pizza that associations serve up, and in most cases they are the ones frequenting the pizza parlors and eating all the pizza, as well as managing the pizza-making process and restaurant operations, and possibly even making the pizza themselves!

Now you have people coming into your restaurant asking what else is available. Maybe they don't like pizza. Maybe they're hoping your association will offer something else in addition to pizza.

These new consumers tend to be younger. Their unique interests, needs, wants, and expectations have left some boomers thinking these consumers are self-centered, demanding, and foolish for wanting something other than the fantastic pizza they've made.

Suddenly, as the owner of the pizza parlor, your association has a mess on its hands. Your new customers are storming off in frustration while management complains that new customers are needed but they certainly aren't serving anything other than pizza.

So what does your association do? Do you stop serving pizza altogether? Or do you continue to serve only pizza?

Neither.

Your pizza parlor should continue producing its great pizza and recruit these new consumers to come in and help your association master making some new foods, too.

If your association expects to grow membership, it can't abandon its traditions. But it also can't ignore the opportunity to introduce new members to new members benefits and marketing strategies.

The U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics both predict that by 2015 baby boomers will cede the majority of the workforce to generation Y. It will be the largest shift in human capital in history.

Yet most membership associations remain almost entirely governed and supported by the baby boom generation. If we take an honest look at membership we can see that most associations are still struggling to engage generation X (currently ages 30-46), much less generation Y (ages 16-29)!

Can you fathom the world being dominated by people in their 20s and early 30s? The baby boom generation has been in power for so long, it's difficult to imagine our corporations, government, schools, nonprofits, and just about every industry out there being influenced by other generations.

And if gen Ys aren't already highly engaged in your association, do you have a plan for engaging them within the next four years? You can't keep your pizza parlor intact and expect to miraculously build a membership monopoly that engages younger generations. It won't happen.

So take off your apron, roll up your sleeves, and let's get started on building a highly successful, multigenerational membership monopoly.

Step 1: Understand Generational Differences

Many association executives make the mistake of thinking that younger generations just aren't joining their association because they haven't grown into it yet. "Just give it time," they say. "Soon they'll have more interest in their community/more money/more responsibility/more something and they will want to join."

And to these associations I say, "Don't hold your breath."

Think about it. We're all a little more footloose and fancy-free in our twenties. As we age, we gain more wisdom and responsibility, get tired more easily, and approach life very differently. The behavioral differences between a 20-year-old and 60-year-old are age differences.

However, the decision to join an association (or not to join) isn't an age difference. It's a generational difference.

Just take a look at generation X---its oldest members are 46 and associations are still struggling to engage them. This generation is nearing middle-age and they still aren't "joiners"!

The decision to join an association isn't something you grow into alongside mortgage payments and diaper changing. The decision to join isn't the result of wisdom or maturity; it's rooted in our most basic needs and wants.

If younger generations aren't joining your association, there's a reason. It has absolutely nothing to do with their immaturity and everything to do with your association's inability to deliver value to them.

As I mentioned above in the pizza parlor example, your association is likely managed, supported, and frequented by baby boomers. That would mean baby boomers are your association's target market.

This is all fine and good, but if you want your association to grow and sustain, your target market needs to shift to generations X and Y---and these generations want their memberships to provide them with ample opportunities to learn, lead, and make a difference.

Step 2: Create a Place to Belong

Even more basic than that, all members, regardless of age, needs to feel like they belong. Your association doesn't see much turnover within the boomer membership because you are satisfying their need to belong.

But what about the other generations? Do they feel like they belong in your association?

Belonging by definition means two things. It means that you have a secure relationship and it also means that you have ownership in something.

For generations X and Y to feel like they belong, they are looking to your association to listen---and act upon---their points of view, generate new ideas and create alternatives , provide a positive and motivating membership experience, and include them in leadership and decision-making processes.

Generations X and Y need to feel a secure relationship and a sense of ownership in your association before they join. In contrast, most baby boomers will join an association because they feel it's the right thing to do and they work at the belonging piece of it after the fact.

However, your association will struggle to recruit and retain younger members if they don't feel like they belong in your association. As soon as you understand the significance of that need, your association can begin to make progress towards meeting it.

Menu Diversification

I've made a strong case here in favor of recruiting and retaining younger generations. It's not because I think you should fold up your prosperous pizza-making business and start up a spaghetti factory.

What I do want you to do is to start thinking of your association like a buffet.

It's 2012 and your most loyal customer base has started to shrink. You may not even notice anything happening yet, but it will. With each passing year, it will get a little smaller and 20 years from now, it won't even exist.

The question is: Will your association still exist?

Younger generations have different needs and wants. Their appetite is different. Ignore them, and they will find somewhere else to eat.

And I'm not talking about feeding a little goldfish here. At 120 million people, generations X and Y are the equivalent of a herd of elephants! They have the power to make or break your association.

Start thinking about all the needs within your membership and cater to them all.
It's the only way to keep your pizza parlor from going bankrupt.

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May 3, 2012

Innovating in compartments

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Association professionals who missed Peter Sheahan's general session presentation at last year's ASAE Annual Meeting had a chance to catch him today at ASAE's Springtime Expo. After speaking broadly about innovation last August, Sheahan narrowed in on innovation within association meetings Thursday, appropriate for the crowd of meeting planners and meetings industry professionals.

Sheahan, author of several books on innovation, including Making It Happen: Turning Good Ideas Into Great Results, acknowledged that innovation within meetings can be difficult, particularly when, for many associations, conferences and events are cash cows. While industry data shows meetings are recovering following the recession, the time to innovate is when life is good, he said. "Will it be easier to innovate now, or in five years?" he asked.

So, how to innovate within meetings without harming something that already works? Sheahan recommended "compartmentalization" of innovation. That's a big word, but it's about innovation on a small scale: Don't change every element of your meeting; instead, just pick one small part to try something new. By keeping change to one "compartment," you also keep risk confined to that one area. If it bombs, the rest of the meeting is still safe.

This concept sounds a bit like "incremental change," but it differs in an important way. While incremental change involves small changes across the board, compartmentalization focuses change in a specific aspect of a meeting. Within that aspect, though, the change can be as small or big as you want, and it allows you to put enough energy into that change to make it great. When you try to change everything at once instead, you end up with everything being "kind of good, but nothing great," Sheahan said.

Lest you think innovation isn't already happening in association meetings, Sheahan cited three examples from articles Associations Now:

As he concluded and sent meeting professionals off to the Expo, Sheahan reiterated his message on compartmentalization with a simple thought: "If you were to pick one element of your annual meeting to innovate, what would that element be?"

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May 2, 2012

Taking a Vacation on the Association's Dime, Eh?

In two morning sessions on the second day of ASAE's International Conference, at least one clear theme emerged: However much research an association does to find new markets around the world, there's likely going to be a skeptical/panicky/xenophobic board member who's ready to throw cold water on the effort.

Tony Keane, president and CEO of IFMA--International Facility Management Association, recalled an experience at a previous association where the board had signed on for an internationalization plan that would take three to five years to show ROI. Even so, one board member suffered a case of sticker shock at a meeting: "Why are you spending so money on travel expenses?" The board member was expressing the common and not-so-subtle suspicion was that staff wasn't really establishing important roots overseas, but gallivanting at the association's expense.

"You're going to get pushback," Keane says. "You have to be prepared for that."

But what to do? Here are three suggestions that emerged during the morning sessions.

1. Make it the board's initiative, not the CEOs. As with any new initiative that threatens to divide board members, support is better gained through board-member-to-board-member conversations. Champions of a new global plan on the board should consider it their role to persuade fellow board members who are on the fence or opposed to it. "We let [the board members] bring in the naysayers, instead of me going from one person to another," Keane says.

2. Make a clear, direct statement of your global focus, and have the board acknowledge it. At IFMA, Keane helped craft an international strategy with members of the board, former board members, staff, and an international development committee. Once it was created, it was distilled into a strategy statement---just a handful of lines that established the association's commitment to expand it's efforts internationally. The board approved the strategy statement---acknowledging its belief in the association's international mission, not just a particular initiative.

3. Build a board that shows how global you are. Rosa Aronson, CAE, executive director of TESOL International, pointed out that four members of the association's 12-person board are from outside the United States, in keeping with the 27 percent of members who are from outside the United States. "You want to be sure that your board is representative of your membership," she says. "It has some cost and cultural implications, but if you are a truly global association, it has to show up in your governance structure." Aronson added that you should make sure to check your bylaws during the process. Many associations were founded in an era when globalization was unacknowledged (or even actively resisted), so there may be residual language that effectively limits board participation to U.S. members.

How about you? What works when it comes to getting board buy-in for your globalization efforts?

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May 1, 2012

Ignore, Destroy, Engage?

At the Opening General Session of ASAE's International Conference, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author, and investment banker Sheryl WuDunn shared a story that symbolizes the kind of anxiety that China represents to many Americans. (And likely to the association and business leaders who are looking to find a foothold there.)

When she and her husband, New York Times correspondent Nicholas Kristof, moved into an apartment in China, they were informed that the apartment was bugged. Poking around, they soon discovered an "electronic sound device" behind a grate. The couple stepped into the bathroom, turned on the shower to cover up their voices, and had a quick huddle. As WuDunn recalled, they had three options.

1. Ignore it---why cause trouble when you don't know how things will go?

2. Destroy it---this was totally inappropriate!

3. Engage with it---acknowledge the bug's existence, but feed it inaccurate information.

As it turned out, the anxiety-inducing device turned out to be an innocuous part of a doorbell mechanism. But as WuDunn laid out China's astounding economic growth, as well as its by-no-means-modest challenges, the questions still linger. Here's a new experience you're unsure about---how do you respond?

As WuDunn pointed out, China can't be ignored: It now claims the second largest global economy, is the second largest importer of energy, and is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses. More creepily, the nation is also a hub of cyberwarfare activity, as China-based hackers gather information about and gain access to U.S. infrastructure grids.

But economic power, WuDunn pointed out, does not alone make a superpower. That happens through a mix of "hard" power (economics, military) and "soft" power---the kind of cultural production and general social values that are hard to quantify but which matter when it comes to asserting dominance. To that end, the fact that China is hungry for American films but not vice versa isn't a small thing, WuDunn said---it suggests that the United States has resources beyond economic ones.

There's a downside to this, I think: Keeping ahead on the soft power front perpetuates a lack of understanding that complicates international relationships.The lack of a compulsion to understand the culture you're working with---and just assume your culture dominates---can be divisive. "We don't know China very well, which creates uncertainty," WuDunn says. "And uncertainty creates fear." And though she didn't say it, fear historically leads to option number two above.

For a lot of associations looking to make their first steps internationally, be it in China or anywhere else, facing up to such cultural biases may be the most important thing to do. That doesn't mean being Pollyannaish, but aggression (option two) and deceit (option three) are dead ends in the long run. The "ignore" option may be best---that is, speak freely and honestly, but know that your new partners are paying more attention to what you're saying than you might expect.


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