July 25, 2012

The 40-Year Lesson: Insights from a Retiring Association CEO

Caught in a deadline jam for Associations Now after a snafu that meant pulling several short articles, I was lucky enough to earn the sympathy and help of one of the great leadership icons of our community: CEO & President J. Clarke Price of the Ohio Society of CPAs.

Price is actually leaving us all after 40 years of service. He gave notice two years ago and will head out of the office in December to hopefully tee off on the golf courses of Hawaii and elsewhere, then delve into favorite cause-related activities. I had to cut a bunch of Clarke's comments because of space limitations in the magazine, so I want instead to share them here as advice and insights from one of our most admired colleagues.

1. Association CEOs must stop complaining about time pressures and embrace the huge responsibility they bear for the success of their association's social media strategy. "Social media is one of the differentiators today," says Clarke, who has been called a "Technology Superstar" by one of his industry's trade publications. "Too many CEOs--and occasionally myself included--dismiss social media by rationalizing 'I don't have time for that' when we really do need to be spending time in the social media universe. Whether it's blogging, Facebook, Twitter, or any of the social platforms, the CEO needs to be vocal as one of the loudest and clearest voices of the association and the profession or industry. I'm critical of myself, because I don't spend enough time being part of the social atmosphere."

2. Being an early adopter of technology tools and applications is essential, too. "It's been fun moving from a two-way pager in the early days to the earliest Blackberry to the Palm Treo to the next gizmo iteration and then to the iPhone and iPad that I use today," Clarke says. "And I still carry an old Motorola Razor that I use just because I'm just more comfortable with that sort of phone, and the battery life is great."

3. In the big, long scheme of things, people mean the most. "As a career accomplishment, being featured in ASAE's 7 Measures [of Success] book was a pretty big deal for the organization and me. But I'm proudest when I think about the people I've hired, some who are still here and some who've moved on to bigger roles in other associations and industries or professions," he says.

4. You never forget some of your earliest CEO mistakes--and what you learned from them. It's apparently a long story, but Clarke says one of his most memorable mistakes involved a simple proofreading gaff. "Proofread carefully," he warns. "... I was almost fired in 1975 because of a very sloppy proofreading job on a bylaws ballot sent to every member!"

5. Have leadership role models--a lot of them. "I don't have just one," Clarke says. "I've learned a lot from colleagues in other organizations (particularly the Ohio State Bar Association, Ohio State Medical Association, and Maryland Institute of CPAs)....[and] just observing and working with John Graham the year I was ASAE chair."

And finally--because who doesn't always want to know this when they talk one of the association world's wise elders--what's Clarke's favorite board management tip after 40 years in the trenches?

"Plan! Think through the likely avenues of discussion and be prepared for the unexpected."

I hope retirement brings you expected and unscripted joys, Clarke. Thanks again for sharing not only your thoughts with me but with so many of us over the years in the association community. I'd love to hear what others have to say about Clarke's tips and observations.

You also can wish him well and hear about the books and information sources that have influenced his past and current thinking as a leader if you join us for the education session "Conversations That Matter: What We Learn From What We Read" Tuesday morning, Aug. 14 in Dallas at our Annual Meeting & Expo. I'll be joining Clarke and another longtime industry leader, Gary LaBranche, to lead a rowdy, fun, and very practical (if last year's version is any indication) discussion of the books, blogs, Twitterstreams, and whatever other info sources (okay, the emphasis is often on books) that have jazzed your thinking in the past year. Leave room in your totebag for at least one free book from our giveaway table!


July 24, 2012

Walls and Fences Can Lock In Associations Unnecessarily

In reading Robert Frisch's new book, Who's In the Room, about effective use of senior management teams, I was especially interested in the author's section on so-called walls versus fences within organizations.

"The idea is there is a set of things we understand that form boundaries of what our options are around what we can do to grow, for example," Frisch said in an interview with me for Associations Now. "They define the borderlines of what we do.... What happens is that when people get into positions of responsibility in associations, [they] get an understanding of the way 'things are done around here.' There's even more of a reluctance to challenge conventional wisdom, because [they may be ] serving an elected term for two years" or not be at the top of the staff totem pole.

Associations are not alone in mistakenly thinking that staff members, leaders, and others usually understand the difference between a fact (a wall such as an understanding that "you cannot do X because of X") and an assumption (a fence such as "you could not do X at that time but things changed, so now it's okay").
"If those walls and fences aren't placed accurately, then you're going to have people making bad decisions," Frisch told me. "It's really a question of, 'What are the very fundamentals of our business model?' It's a critical conversation that most organizations never have."

In fact, I don't recall have too many of those myself. Bits and pieces maybe, but not an overall look at solid versus picket fence stuff.

Frisch says these things are no secret. "People who are asked generally can tell you their organization's walls and fences," he said. "It's the job of the senior management team to go up to those walls and give them a good shake, asking, 'Is this a valid limit to who we are and what we can do, or is this a fence that can be moved? If we move it, can we open up new opportunities for growth and expansion?'"

He recommended questions like 'What business are we in? Who is our customer? What products can we offer? How do we go about conducting our business?'
And it's not just the staff who may build or break down these walls and fences. Most of us probably can think of a time when board members--or perhaps the minutes of their meeting--established a wall when a fence was the intention. Frisch warns that board directives and statements often are not re-evaluated enough, and that trickles to staff both new and seasoned who are heavily influenced by board comments.

"We have to be careful that they won't over-interpret what's being said, and that's why the walls and fences exercises are useful," he explains. "Let's make it very clear--this is what we do, this is what we don't do, this is who we serve, this is who we don't serve, these are the programs we fund, these are the programs we don't fund. How often do a board and senior management team actually walk the boundaries of the organization and explicitly talk about what we do and don't do? That's a very important but rare conversation."

Look for the full interview with Frisch in an upcoming Associations Now.

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June 22, 2012

Executive Volunteering: A Conversation That Matters

I like the new Fast Company interview with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited CEO Barry Salzberg, who was recently named chair of the board for United Way Worldwide. I wish that more association CEOs would talk about their volunteering and what it brings to their professional and personal development so publicly and passionately.

While Fast Company briefly mentions the interesting business model "flip" at UWW in terms of moving the powerful nonprofit's "international agency" from affiliate status to the organization's primary structure, it focuses instead on Salzberg's journey from simple philanthropist to active nonprofit volunteer and recruiter.

"Before volunteering, I thought that all I could do was give and raise money," he says in the piece. "That's important, and I'm happy to do that. But then that morphs into intellectual capacity and idea generation, and then pro bono service, and that becomes very meaningful. It's become a way of life."

He credits his journey with his greater understanding of how executive volunteering and social responsibility strategies can drive charities and associations toward greater success.

"Business strategy and social impact are a powerful combination, especially when companies fully align and integrate the two," says Salzberg in the interview.

Drawing from the volunteering skills and tremendous satisfaction he developed at a series of other nonprofits, Salzberg now is helping United Way Worldwide strengthen its brand internationally to scale up CSR programs. Already, almost 120 companies are engaged in UWW's Global Corporate Leadership program, and leaders are eying ways to further grow its 600 international community-based organizations, as well as the 1,200 in America. Yesterday, they all were activated for UWW's Day of Action which sent more than 50,000 volunteers out to serve their communities.

While Salzberg urges young professionals to get involved in volunteering because it is such a learning experience, he emphasizes that seasoned executives will find they are taking ideas and practices from their pro bono work back to their "day jobs."

When I speak with CEOs at ASAE events, they sometimes tell me about their volunteer work, but it always comes up accidently. Please take a moment today to proactively discuss with someone, anyone, what volunteering has meant to you. That action alone might be all it takes to bring one more smart person into the larger efforts to address world problems.


June 8, 2012

Is Polling Still Worth It?

I feel like I've been buried in poll numbers even more than usual, from Wisconsin governor recall results to public confidence in the economy to American Idol. But are polls really trustworthy anymore, when you have one-third of the public living cell-phone-only and most of the rest using caller ID on land-lines to help them avoid any surveys, even when they support the cause or campaign (guilty as charged!)?

Because so many associations poll members and potential members on everything from dues raises to advocacy positions, I turned to the man who knows more than almost anyone about the veracity and challenges of accurate polling: Bill McInturff, co-founder & partner, Public Opinion Strategies.

Bill, who is speaking today as part of the "Decision 2012" General Session at the ASAE Financial and Business Operations Conference, leads--along with partner Peter D. Hart--the largest polling company in the country, Public Opinion Strategies. The firm handles polling for NBC News/Wall Street Journal and works closely on polling challenges with the two primary industry associations, the Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASR) and American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).

"You can believe poll results but still have dwindling confidence," he told me. "There's no question that with the glut of polling, credibility is a little lower, because people are hearing wider, more diverse results of what different polls are saying. And there's no question that the basic confidence they have in polling is very different than it was 20 to 40 years ago. They're certainly asking more questions about methodology.

Despite those troubles, "if it's done correctly, it's still broadly accurate," Bill says. "It's still the best way to collect customer and other information about public opinion, and people don't tire of needing that information."
It will cost them more, though, to get it. According to Bill, the price of polling has risen for three reasons: (1) "federal laws and mandates dictate that you cannot use auto-dialers for cell phone numbers--you have to call cell phones by hand; (2) cooperation rates are much lower, so you have to call more people to get a completed survey; and (3) you have to collect the data ... using increased labor costs."

To better ensure poll veracity, Bill--who was the lead pollster for John McCain during the latter's 2008 presidential bid--advises associations to "be good consumers and make sure you go through a discussion with the pollster about methodology," asking about compensation rates for cell-phone-only or other respondents, how the "convenience factor" of women answering the phone more than men is handled, and how the data have been weighted and by how much.

I'll be writing a second blog post shortly that shares Bill's responses on whether associations can trust that the viewpoints of respondents reflect those of non-respondents as well, the potential for social media to offer new surveying opportunities, and more. I invite comments about your own association's successes or challenges when polling. And maybe you can snag Bill after the session to get more of his input, too. Thanks, Bill, for sharing your insights so generously at this busy time!


May 31, 2012

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."


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.


May 24, 2012

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.


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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April 18, 2012

Earth Day Offers Visibility, Fun, Engagement

It's Earth Day this Sunday and National Volunteer Month for a few weeks more, so loads of associations and their member companies and professionals are organizing, educating, celebrating, volunteering, and just plain participating in this worldwide effort to bolster environmental conservation.

Here's a snapshot of what some are doing or already have done--and it's not too late to join in yourself!

Start by downloading the free Earth Day 2012 Toolkit , where you can also learn about and be inspired by "A Billion Acts of Green," the world's largest environmental service campaign. And if you're in DC, you may want to check out the massive party scene happening at the National Mall rally and concerts either in person or online (live-streaming at

Sounds like some more partying will go on over at the 2012 Mighty Kindness Earth Day Hootenanny on April 22 organized by the Kentucky Chiropractic Association. The fun is combined with a more serious purpose: promoting a new state license "Go Green with Chiropractic" plate that aims "to elevate the chiropractic industry and its environmentally friendly nature in Kentucky" and raise some money as well.

The Eco-Dentistry Association will host its first tweetchat for dental industry professionals and consumers worldwide "to discuss the essentials of a high-tech, wellness based, and successful green dental practice."

The American Bar Association's Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER) in sponsoring the One Million Trees Project-Right Tree for the Right Place at the Right Time nationwide public service project. Started in March 2009, the project "calls on ABA members to contribute to the goal of planting one million trees across the United States by 2014 - both by planting trees themselves and by contributing to the partnering tree organizations." It also is promoting nominations for the 2012 ABA Award for Excellence in Environmental, Energy, and Resources Stewardship.

Entertainment Cruises is partnering with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) has partnered with Entertainment Cruises to offer an Earth Day brunch cruise to enjoy Washington, DC, views while learning from the NAAEE about green energy, environmental initiatives and its upcoming conference.

More than 1,000 volunteers of the Student Conservation Association (SCA) are engaging in 10 signature Earth Day projects from prairie re-vegetation to exotic plant species removal on public lands across the U.S. on April 14 and 21. These events have some powerful sponsors, including American Eagle Outfitters, ARAMARK, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Exelon Foundation, Johnson Controls, Sony, and Southwest Airlines.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has released the First Annual Report of the eCycling Leadership Initiative, which details how the consumer electronics industry has dramatically increased its recycling in 2011 and advanced the goals set by the eCycling Leadership Initiative (also called the Billion Pound Challenge). For instance, participants of the initiative arranged for the responsible recycling of 460 million pounds of consumer electronics, a 53% increase over the 300 million pounds recycled in 2010. The number of recycling drop-off locations for consumers also was bolstered from to nearly 7,500 from just over 5,000 a year ago. And CEA launched to educate consumers about eCycling and energy consumption. By entering a ZIP code, anyone can locate the closest responsible recycling opportunity sponsored by the CE industry and/or third-party certified recycler. The initiative aims to increase electronics recycling to one billion pounds annually by 2016 and providing transparent metrics on eCycling efforts. A billion pounds of unrecycled waste electronics would fill a 71,000-seat NFL stadium.

The American Medical Student Association and Medical Alumni Association at Temple University are planting seeds and preparing a "Medicinal and Edible Learning Garden" and education event to discuss natural medicinal remedies.

The National Parks and Recreation Association is urging people to take advantage of waived entrance fees at U.S. national parks from April 21 to April 29 during National Park Week. Download your free Owner's Guide to America's National Parks. I know a few associations that are planning staff picnics and hikes at local parks and Great Falls National Park in sync with this promotional event.

The New York City Association of Hotel Concierges (NYCAHC) and its affiliate members will celebrate MillionTreesNYC at a "Dig In for Earth Day" tree-planting event May 5 in partnership with Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Parks and New York Restoration Project. Since the program's inception in 2007, thousands of New Yorkers have helped plant over 400,000 trees, with NYCAHC planting more than 2,000 of them.

American Forests' easy online calculator and offsetting options make it easy to offset your home or car pollution (I offset my minivan's emissions for about $17 last year through AF). Earth Day Network also offers an eco-calculator.

Whatever you do, just consider doing something green this weekend and join your colleagues in making the planet a bit healthier for us all!

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February 8, 2012

Cracking the Role of Luck in Business Success

It's not often that you run into a business topic that hasn't already been micro-examined, so when leadership guru Jim Collins and his Great by Choice coauthor Morten Hansen decided to tackle the blurry subject of whether luck—both good and bad—is key to long-term organizational success, I paid extra attention.

Their dilemma was how to study it, Collins told me during an interview, much of which appears in three articles in this month's Associations Now and on the ASAE website:

Great by Choice is the final lap in a 10-year marathon study of what makes companies great. In this fourth and last book in the "Great" series, the focus is on achieving excellence amidst a chaotic global environment. Would luck play a greater role during such turbulence, and could it be leveraged effectively?

In response, Collins and Morten pioneered a methodology that defines "luck events" to evaluate whether the "great" companies in its matched-pair study had better, worse, or the same luck as its counterparts. They explored a luck event by asking whether luck was rare or common, whether any evidence existed that the most successful organizations were luckier, and whether they did anything differently about luck.

The duo discovered that good and bad luck abounds, and that of the 230 identified luck events in their studied companies, the great companies were not luckier comparably and that the timing or size of the luck event did not quantitatively affect their success levels much of the time.

What the duo decided was that a "return on luck"—the ability of an organization to leverage good luck opportunities or ride out bad luck events—was a differentiator in the long run. "What the 10xers [great organizations] do is ask, 'Is this a piece of luck that should cause us to disrupt our plans, and, if so, what should we do to get a high return on that luck?'" Collins said. "It doesn't matter if it's good luck or bad luck. The same question applies. We found that our 10xers were really good at recognizing a luck event, and when it came, they executed supremely well to get a high return on that luck event."

They also found that "Good luck cannot cause a great organization. … However, … if you get bad enough luck, it can end the quest," said Collins, noting that a small organization could go under if it, say, runs out of cash or loses its primary leader because of some bad luck.

I'm betting that we all can think of times when we muttered about having bad luck (grant denied) or celebrated a sprig of good luck (an unexpected check) but did not necessarily look at this luck as an opportunity of much long-term value. Maybe Collins' research will turn our thinking in a different direction if we become more proficient at identifying substantive luck events and pausing to ponder these twists more strategically.

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October 5, 2011

Which comes first: policy or culture?

We all know the old "chicken or the egg" question. I'd like to adapt it to the case of managing change in an organization, in which policy is the chicken, and culture is the egg. Or maybe it's the other way around. You see where this is going.

The August and September/October issues of Associations Now have each shared a story about the Society of Critical Care Medicine:

(Two-pronged side note: I've mentioned this case here before, and while two articles and now two blog posts on the same story approaches "milking it for all it's worth" territory, I think the story and lessons to be drawn are worth a lot. So there. Also, I learned of SCCM's story when I sat down next to David at breakfast at the 2011 Digital Now conference. Dumb luck, but that kind of serendipity is what face-to-face meetings are all about, right?)

As David explains this month, getting his staff on board with housing all member data in one database and making all specialized IT systems integrate with that database was no easy task. He had to build buy in. The staff needed new tools to keep the rule from becoming burdensome. Some staff who couldn't get on board were let go. And throughout, the change was based on a formal policy that was endorsed and enforced at the top of the organization.

Now SCCM is seeing the benefits of the rule, so in this case an organizational policy led to a culture that believed in its value. But I'm not sure it always works that way. There's a famous management motto that says "culture eats strategy for breakfast." I'd guess it eats policy for lunch. Without a driving force for change, policy often falls flat when it collides with an organization's culture. And while an organization might have a number of written policies, they're likely outnumbered by unwritten policies, the "we've always done it that way" rules instilled by company culture.

SCCM could have pursued better data management without a policy, rather by building support for it among staff from the ground up. But would it have worked as well? I don't know (though I'd guess David would say no). But not every desired change or practice can be summed up nicely in a short policy to add to the handbook, either.

I'm curious for your thoughts, particularly those of you who have put some kind of new idea or practice into action across your organization. Which came first? Did you enact a policy and then get people on board, or did you work on shifting the culture until you could establish an organizational policy that you knew could work?

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September 7, 2011

An Anniversary No One Will Forget: Associations Vary in 9/11 Treatment

So many associations are gearing up to share tributes, assess their industry's progress, and conduct community service projects in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that it's impractical to list them all. That said, I do want to share some of the tools, communication efforts, and creative projects in case some organizations are still pondering what their staff or members might want to do:

Created a microsite of resources. The American Psychological Association (APA) has set up a microsite with resources to "help people cope and build resistance" during the emotional days around 9/11.

Partnered for a TV special/podcast/on-demand show. APA also partnered with "Nick News With Linda Ellerbee" to co-develop a TV report called "What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001," which ran September 1 and is available on iTunes as a free podcast and in Nickelodeon's video-on-demand offerings throughout the month. A related discussion guide helps parents and teachers talk to kids about the tragedy and tough emotions.

Developed a so-called "impact kit" for reporters--a compilation of stats, resources, and trained commentators who can discuss an event from the perspective of its impact on an industry, profession, or locality. The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) has organized materials around terrorism and insurance to aid reporters covering the 10th anniversary, including prepping its board president for media interviews and promoting I.I.I.'s white paper on "terrorism risk and insurance." A strong quote in its press release will likely get good response from media: "The 9/11 attack was the largest payout in the history of insurance until Hurricane Katrina in 2005," says President Robert Hartwig said. "Insurers became the nation's economic 'first responders,' and as construction progresses on the site of the former World Trade Center, insurance claims dollars continue to play an essential and highly visible role in rebuilding lower Manhattan while also mitigating the overall economic impact of the 9/11 attack."

Conducted a 9/11-related study. A good example was released this week by CoreNet Global, an association of corporate real estate and workplace professionals. The study concludes that 9/11 "had a permanent effect on the workplace," in part by accelerating the trend toward "distributed work" conducted by workers in multiple locations. "The focus on risk management as an intrinsic strategic planning and management function also grew stronger," according to the association. "Business disruption planning became a common element for many corporate workplace and asset managers as a result of 9/11," says spokesperson Richard Kadzis. "Elements of this planning include mobile work plans for employees, facility collocation policies, redundant facilities, energy back up, business continuity plans, and off-site data storage."

Combined old-time traditional communication tools with social media tools to promote public service. The Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) has launched a billboard and Internet campaign called "Remember Through Service" to mark the day by highlighting the service of Michigan Muslims to the nation and to "provide an accurate depiction of how Muslims contribute to the broader society." Individuals highlighted include a doctor who was a first responder to Ground Zero, a Detroit police officer, an assistant prosecuting attorney, an assistant principal in an Ohio public school, a Vietnam veteran, and a volunteer doctor at a free medical clinic. You can see the billboards here[LINK TO] and related YouTube videos[LINK TO].

Volunteered like crazy. The goal is more than 50 million--that's the magic number for how many volunteers the government, community partners, and others hope to engage in community service projects such as park cleanups, mentoring, and food drives. Any organization still interested in community service projects can go to for a list of opportunities.


August 19, 2011

What We Learn from What We Read

Good news--people are still reading. And some are reading a lot (20% of adults read more than 21 books per year, according to a 2010 Harris Poll).

That was clear from the crowd that raised their hands to the question during the session "What We Learn from What We Read" at the ASAE Annual Meeting in St. Louis recently.

The best news--they want to read "smart," meaning they want to be mindful of what reading is influencing the thinking and actions of their colleagues in other organizations while also finding inspiration, ideas, and knowledge in less-common sources such as literature, non-business books, mobile phone applications, new-book aggregation or executive summary websites, and more.

Panelists Jeffrey Cufaude (moderator), consultant Joan Eisenstodt, CEO Mark Anderson, and I shared not only what we were learning by reading beyond the "obvious business sources" (Harvard Business Review, New York Times, etc), but also the resulting ways we've applied that learning to our work and personal insights on everything from community building to leadership to technology.

Since we all admitted our book addictions and the difficulty of narrowing the choices we'd share at the session, our panel posted additional suggested reading and sources around the room, and attendees could jot down on cards anything of interest. For folks at the session or overall meeting, don't forget to download the session materials that list even more resources or to order the CD to listen to the session.

One of my favorite parts was when we asked the audience to share what books and sources they thought others should know about--you can hear their suggestions in the session tape, and I urge you to share your own favorites in the comments section of this post.

In doing my research for the session, I ran into a quote by Steven Piersanti, president of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, that we used to move people into thinking beyond their own learning and toward that of their members and colleagues: "...[P]eople are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one's communities."

If true, doesn't that leave a huge opportunity for associations to aggressively curate the overwhelming amount of content for their community?

Most organizations already are trying. For instance, on the plane, I sat next to an Avectra professional who told me that the entire company is reading Race for Relevance and then will gather to talk about it.

Another attendee said that her CEO picks two books a year for the board to read, and it's the first item on the agenda because discussing ideas and new information "gets people's mental juices going" right away.

Our panel added more suggestions such as running regular book reviews online and in publications, offering virtual book/information clubs for members, creating reading-learning-applying online communities for open conversations around new books or sources, mobile apps that aggregate top news of interest, and what-I-learned-from-what-I-read education sessions.

We all have had such a tremendous response to the session that we may pitch it again for Great Ideas or next Annual Meeting in Dallas, and we're discussing the potential of an open sharing community to continue the momentum of the session.

We hope you'll join us in our virtual book nook to share your favorite reads and learning, too.

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July 14, 2011

Train more or expect less?

Two weeks ago, C. David Gammel, CAE, discussed the pros and cons of the annual cycle that most associations follow. A primary element of that cycle is the yearly turnover of volunteers and board members. Whether you view that as a positive or negative likely depends on your own experience.

Around the same time, The Chronicle of Philanthropy blogger Rick Moyers posed a question: "Do We Expect Too Much From Boards?" This was based on data from the "Daring to Lead 2011" report, which showed that just 20 percent of nonprofit executive directors said they were "very satisfied" with the performance of their boards of directors.

That's a pretty sad number, so Moyers' question is an appropriate one. Given a structure in which a nonprofit organization must be led by a group of volunteers with widely varying interests, motivations, and levels of skill or comfort in organizational leadership, perhaps it is indeed foolish to expect much.

So, as the association executive in that situation, you have two options:

  • Accept the ineffectiveness of the board, and lower your expectations accordingly.
  • Train the board with the skills needed in order for it to meet your expectations.

Judith Lindenau shared a story on her Off Stage blog recently about a grantmaking foundation that requires its beneficiary organizations to display skill in leadership and execution—or go through training to develop it—before receiving a dollar. The foundation wants to see its grants spent well, of course, but, as Judith notes, it is also a reflection of the its belief that effective leadership comes first.

"The interesting part of this solution … is that the foundation's process begins with a trained leadership and staff—not with the money or the strategic plan," she writes.

In other words, if you don't have your proverbial ducks in a row, don't bother with anything else.

I think that applies to this question of board expectations. If you don't make board training (and perhaps structure) your first priority, then of course your high expectations won't be met.

I'm no executive though, so I'm sure I'm oversimplifying. What's the nuance here? Why else is the mismatch between expecations and reality for association board performance so persistent?

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June 28, 2011

Challenges for a first-time CEO

Next up in our series of questions on lessons to be shared at the 2011 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo is one for Rosa Aronson, Ph.D., CAE, executive director of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Aronson will lead an Annual Meeting Learning Lab titled "Navigate a Successful Transition from Staff to CEO."

Of all the new responsibilities you had to learn and take on as a first-time association CEO, what was the most challenging, and why?

Aronson: Perhaps the most challenging responsibility for me as a first time CEO was the responsibility of making sound business decisions that I knew would affect personnel, such as determining salary increases, terminating certain benefits, or redeploying staff. It is fairly easy to balance a budget if you just look at numbers. But doing so while providing a positive work environment and preserving the well being of your staff (your most precious resource, after all) can keep you awake at night.

Thanks, Rosa. Readers, please share your thoughts: If you're an association CEO, what was most difficult for you when you first started at that level? Or, if you're an aspiring executive, what seems most intimidating?


May 17, 2011

Which "hat" makes the best association CEO?

We association people like to say we "wear many hats," meaning association management often requires broad expertise in several different roles. The hat I generally wear is the editor's hat (which I guess would look like this if we were talking about literal hats), and while editing an article for the June issue of Associations Now today, I came across a quote that got me thinking about these various hats:

"Become an expert in your functional area before becoming a generalist in association management. Exhibiting a strong skill set in your area of responsibility (communications, education, meeting planning, and so forth) builds credibility and a solid foundation for your career. Also, producing results for the organization in your area of expertise will get you noticed."—Gabriel Eckert, CAE, executive director of Building Owners and Managers of Atlanta

Seems like pretty good advice, but it got me thinking: What functional area makes for the best initial education in association leadership? Or, from another point of view, what specific background is most important to look for in a candidate if you're hiring an association CEO?

I'll offer a few suggestions:

  • Volunteer relations, for the skills learned in supporting, guiding, and facilitating member committees and groups, which translates directly to working with a board of directors.
  • Communications, for the skills learned in crafting and delivering strong and consistent messages and building buy-in to those visions.
  • Membership, for the insight gained into exactly what makes members tick.
  • Advocacy, for the skills learned in coordinating collective, sustained action toward large-scale goals.

[These last two might have a built-in advantage that other functions don't offer; scoring major growth in membership or a victory on Capitol Hill is resume gold.]

Of course, association professionals work in a wide variety of functions (just see the list of ASAE professional-interest sections or CAE domains), and I'm sure a case could be made for any functional area. But, I'm curious if you have a strong opinion one way or another. Is there a part of your association background that has proven most valuable to you as a leader? Do great association leaders come from volunteer relations, from membership, or from somewhere else? Or is Gabriel's advice really just about driving toward success in whatever area you might start in? Let us know what you think.

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April 27, 2011

Rosabeth Moss Kanter Urges CEOs to Learn from the Royal Wedding

I'm a longtime fan of Harvard University's Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and she pulls through for me again with her latest HBR blog post titled "Why CEOs Should Watch the Royal Wedding."

I had wondered how I could put a business spin on England's bigger-than-the-2012-Olympics event tomorrow, but I've also been thinking more about yesterday's sessions at the MM&C conference. Now Kanter has shown me the way.

In case you're unclear, we're talking about the ballyhooed nuptials of England's Prince William to Kate Middleton, which may manage to pull our ally out of its economic slump by the sheer scale of the event's marketplace of commemorative plates, mugs, apparel, towels, and everything else imaginable.

Kanter calls the global uproar--an estimated 2 billion people are expected to watch--"one more example of the coming of the experience economy, in which people pay for the chance to participate at particular times (Farmville, anyone?), and expenditures on goods and services come in bundles tied to particular events."

Specifically, she identifies three "strategic insights" more relevant to CEOs than the color of the Queen's hat, and here I paraphrase and urge you to read her full explanations:

First, the selling of so-called "soft stuff"--happiness, unity, shared experience, ritual, meaning, and tradition--can touch customers and members in a way that brings them running with their wallets open. "The joy factor ... is a better business theme to emphasize than the fear factor," Kanter notes.

Second, take the experience and share it on many levels, using many media methods and tying it to causes that matter to your customers. In other words, excel at brand management. While most news outlets have joined in the ruckus and are broadcasting the event live worldwide, Kanter points out that even the usually reserved royal PR propers are working Web 2.0 tools with vigor.

You'll be able to catch livestreaming on the Royal Wedding website, tweeting at the Clarence House royal wedding Twitter feed, and blogging by St. James Palace.

Panicked that you forgot to send the couple a "prezzie?" No worries. These "modern royals" are into cause as much as many other we've-already-got-what-we-need-thanks couples today--they're urging well-wishers to donate to a charity in their honor in lieu of gifts.

Third, be aware that not all attention to your events is necessarily good. Here, Kanter warns that big do's "focus attention not only on the message but on the cost of getting out the message, which can undercut the message."

I can see that's true. With an unverifiable but widely estimated pricetag of around $30 million, the Kate-and-William wedding did prompt my British in-laws to make a passing remark about the number of poor people who could be fed and clothed for that amount. And who among associations hasn't heard the occasional complaint that a nonprofit event shouldn't be so showy or expensive (as defined in their terms, anyway)?

As we've examined the latest trends and skills needed to rock the marketing and communications worlds this week during the MM&C conference, we've seen loads of good and bad examples from the association community and the corporate world.

And to me, the lesson that still reigns supreme--whether promoting a worldwide event or evoking genuine emotions and actions through good storytelling--is that content remains king.

Kanter doesn't say that straight out, but "soft" or "hard," stripped to bullet points or gussied up for a global showcase, tailor-made content is the core value to our customers and members.

I'll try to remember that while eating scones and sipping tea from the commemorative cup sent by my mother-in-law while I watch a 5 a.m. pre-wedding show likely focused on Kate's possible dress designer and the royal glass carriage.


April 22, 2011

Earth Day: A Chance at Relevancy

Earth Day can be a fraud, a feast, or a fizzle.

It can be a great rallying date around which to publicly re-enunciate your organization's commitment to sustainability and showcase actions you've taken that back it up, or it either can be dissed as a greenwashing exercise or simply ignore it.

But are the latter two options very smart business choices with all of the studies showing the growing influence of eco-conscious consumers, the heightened watchfulness of media and citizen journalists, and the myriad hard data that have emerged about the positive ROI of a well-planned social responsibility strategy that syncs with organizational mission and core competencies?

If that kind of strategy sounds time-intensive to chart, it can be. However, it takes effort to plan any strategy, so I don't think that concern should be seen as much more than an excuse, especially when this approach jives so well with most our community's common goals of operating efficiently, attracting and retaining talent, holding tight to our budgets, bolstering innovation, engaging members, and building brand value.

It's heartening to see the many press releases from nonprofits and associations today as they urge members and consumers to switch to paper-free bill paying, plant a tree, volunteer, recycle, insulate, and more.

Less heartening is that so many associations are silent today. I promise you that no matter what industry or profession your group represents, your members--maybe not all of them, but certainly a growing percentage--are indeed moving toward greater sustainability. This is a chance for your association to be relevant. This is a chance to show value in a new way. There are serious opportunities here for any organization of any size in any location (you'll find some examples at to help members strengthen their businesses and professions.

So celebrate Earth Day today. Acknowledge it with authenticity. Tell staff, members, and others what you already are doing to help lighten your environmental footprint (that kind of self-audit is the first step anyway), and ask them what else you could be doing.

You may find the sustainability journey to be an enlightening road to greater relevancy.


March 25, 2011

Associations Pledging to Participate in Tomorrow's Earth Hour

If your organization and staff are interested in an easy, fun, and free way to show support for protecting the planet and urging action on the problem of climate change, consider participating in World Wildlie Fund's global Earth Hour 2011 tomorrow night at 8:30 p.m. for one hour.

A phenomenal success, in part because of its simplicity, visibility, and measured impacts, Earth Hour has inspired pledges to participate from government and business leaders in a record 131 countries, along with hundreds of major companies such as Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Coca-Cola, and IKEA, and even more NGOs and individuals. Association participants include Building Owners and Managers Association International chapters, sports associations, astronomy organizations, and hospitality groups. For a partial list of participants this year, go here.

I've also been seeing hotels, restaurants and local shops use Earth Hour this year to plan and promote festive events to engage guests and customers, including dining-by-candlelight dinners, s-more making in hotel lobby fireplaces for kids, glow necklace distributions at clubs, lantern walks in art galleries and shops, and glow-in-the-dark crafts and family-night gaming. You'll also find that hundreds of major international sites such as the Empire State Building, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge are participating, too.

I remember when this all started in 2007. I had heard that several associations were going to participate, and one was planning some tie-in events at its local conference since the events would overlap. Organizers were having a great time finding ways to integrate both fun and information into the single dark hour, and they apparently got rave reviews from attendees, especially about the candlelit pathway up to an outdoor stargazing event that had been put together with the local planetarium and a nonprofit chapter of astronomers.

That first year, Earth Hour drew 2.2 million individual participants and more than 2,000 businesses, according to World Wildlife Fund. Tomorrow, only four years later, those numbers have grown into the hundreds of millions of registered participants, and organizers have expanded the event by calling on each of them to go "beyond the hour" by committing to convert a single hour of darkness into a single commitment to do one regular thing that helps the environment address climate change. Suggestions include easy actions such as commuting to work or the subway station by bike one day a week, switching to CFL or LED lights, or holding "meatless Monday" dinners.

You can learn more about what people and organizations are pledging to do at


March 8, 2011

International Women's Day: Celebrating Progress and Potential

In acknowledgement of International Women's Day today, quite a few associations are reporting about the progress or lack thereof of women in the industry or profession the organization represents. The news has been mixed, frankly.

The Society of Professional Journalists, for instance, bemoans the low number of women in leadership roles in the newsroom. The rapidly growing field of organic farming and product development, however, is celebrating the fact that women now top four leading associations in that arena--a first.

There also has been growth in "best places for women to work"-type articles and rankings among business publications, women- or workforce-oriented websites, and even some associations. These include , which focuses on companies with "progressive and diverse work practices and environments), National Association of Female Executives and partner Working Mother magazine, and Fortune's Top 100: Women.

It's unfortunate that these lists are as popular as they are. It tells me that the business world still can be sliced and diced into "gets it" versus "doesn't get it." Are there really still such prevalent ambivalence about the ability of women to lead well?

But that's not all of the story. It can be too easy to point fingers at "the man," e.g., the established organization. In truth, too many women still harm their own chances at success, in part by refusing to accept some harsh workplace realities such as believing that hard work alone, rather than connections, will lead to success.

A new Harvard Business Review Research Report talks about the "Sponsor Effect," the fact that many high-performing women "don't have political allies to propel, inspire, and protect them through the perilous straits of upper management." This includes issues such as adjusting their work and personal styles, clothing, and "executive presence."

Sometimes the sponsorship problem is blamed on an age difference. Sixty-four percent of senior men acknowledge that they avoid sponsoring junior women because they fear gossip of a possible affair. That's just plain sad--and frustrating.

How can a young woman address that directly? Or is it the responsibility of the organization to establish formal mentoring systems that ensure senior-junior mixed-gender mentoring is just part of the professional development program overall, and indeed, male leaders would be held accountable in their reviews if they did not mentor younger professionals of either gender?

The latter seems to be a manageable approach, but that assumes the association actually has a formal mentoring system in place, which is a pretty big assumption!

And finally, in the totally-not-surprising part of the study, the report also found that men "cultivate more sponsors than women because they're less constrained by family and domestic responsibilities." The vast majority of working women studied are responsible for up to 75% of the housecleaning/maintenance and almost 60% of the childcare.

That said, women have come a long way, baby, and they can go further if they--and the associations they work in--desire. But it will take work on both sides. Meanwhile, celebrate the progress and the potential by skimming through the more than 1,000 events scheduled worldwide to celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements of women at

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February 23, 2011

Managing Court-ordered Volunteers

There's a fascinating article in this month's about how and whether nonprofits should agree to use "volunteers" that are court-ordered to do a certain number of community service hours as their punishment. These folks are often first-time offenders for things like driving under the influence or petty theft.

I've never read an article about this before, so leave it to the always-terrific Susan Ellis, president of the volunteer management consulting and training firm Energize, to take on this thorny issue.

Especially helpful is the way she frames the conversation needed by any nonprofit considering a court-ordered volunteer policy. Ellis lists questions such as whether "mandatory volunteers" should be assigned the same type of service as traditional volunteers, how volunteer management systems may need adapting for this particular population (for instance, nonprofits generally must complete a weekly report about the volunteer), and the attitudes of staff about working with court-ordered volunteers.

She also is clear about potential biases and benefits, such as data showing that many of these volunteers end up serving their organizations far longer than legally required because they enjoy the work and/or believe in the mission. And who doesn't need passionate volunteers?

For leaders unfamiliar with the 11 types of alternative sentences, Ellis suggests skimming a free online resource that defines them and identifies which ones might apply to nonprofits.

I'd be interested to hear whether and how associations as well as charities are addressing this in our community. Please post your comments here.


February 4, 2011

Crafting Bold Conversations

For the third time in as many days I've heard of an organization holding a forum about "civil discourse" or "Communicating with Candor but Respect."

Obviously, the recent shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Giffords and fears that it resulted in part from enflamed political emotions and extreme partisanship have rippled across our association community as it has the political playing fields.

It only takes a nanosecond for most of us to recall an instance when heated talk created high drama and hurt or angry feelings at our board meetings, in education sessions, on our list servs, or in committee gatherings. Why else are the decisions about meeting facilitators or list serv monitors and guidelines so vital? Even those efforts are not always adequate at preventing open hostilities versus candid debate.

So what else can associations be doing to build an inclusive, open, and frank environment for the exchange of opinions, ideas, and knowledge? More training of board members, staff, and others? Stronger rules of engagement? Adoption of a tweaked version of Google's "Do no evil," e.g., "speak no evil?" An organizational Debate Team?

The issue is important as we evolve into an increasingly diverse workforce that can either divide us or boost us. Has your organization used this momentary political time-out to check the volume and "vitriol" level of the conversations around and within the membership and staff? I've read numerous appeal letters, for example, that would be worth a harder look in a calmer time. And we all know how quickly blog post comments can ratchet up emotions.

Yes, we want engagement, but do we want all-out war within the ranks or with our current "enemies"--the same ones who may well be future political allies.

I've suggested to several people that they read or re-read Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenney, and Al Switzler to generate some ideas about raising the quality, not the volume, of your organization's conversations. If you haven't read it already, here is the first chapter.

And keep a watch out for an article I'll be writing after I interview Saj-nicole Joni, co-author of The Right Fight: How Great Leaders Use Healthy Conflict to Drive Performance, Innovation, and Value. The book describes ways that leaders at all levels can create, nurture, and manage the "productive dissent essential for achieving peak performance." It seems especially timely now. Click here for a video on the book.

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January 14, 2011

Haiti: Where And What Are Associations Still Doing?

The first Haiti earthquake anniversary this week has prompted myriad progress reports from the many associations and nonprofits who responded with volunteers, professional guidance, money, and resources. With almost 500 projects and 80 major NGOs doing on-the-ground work in the devastated region, it's easy to get confused about who's doing what as our community continues to respond to the crisis.

Luckily, this week also marks the release of a helpful free tool that aims to foster partnerships among nonprofits and associations, "strengthen corporate and NGO relationships, and increase transparency and accountability." It's called the Haiti Aid Map, and it's a who's-doing-what-where map with snapshots of projects and their coordinating groups. Created by InterAction in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Business Civic Leadership Center, it was funded by FedEx, a master of organization and mapping.

I encourage you to refer to it, whether you have ongoing projects there or not, because so many of your peers are making a difference in that challenging zone, and you may find something that would inspire your organization to get involved as well.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of things that associations are doing right here in the U.S. that are improving life in Haiti. If you're mostly interested in philanthropic giving, perhaps some of their projects will prompt you to write a supportive check.

The American Library Association (ALA), for instance, has distributed $25,000 to clear and prepare land and complete designs for one of three libraries it plans to rebuild and equip through its Haiti Library Relief Fund . Its needs a lot more money, though--just one library will cost an estimated $325,000-$350,000 to rebuild and equip.

The Haiti-inspired partnership between the American Dental Association's Division of Global Affairs and Health Volunteers Overseas has focused on raising $300,000 through an innovative Adopt-a-Practice program to rebuild 30 dental practices, almost one-third of all dental health facilities in the region. ADA also has developed an International Disaster Assistance Volunteer Inventory based on a survey for members interested in volunteering in the aftermath of an international natural disaster.

The American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, in collaboration with the ABA Family Law Section and Section of Litigation, and the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, hosted a free webinar on "How Attorneys and State Court Judges Can Aid in Finalizing Adoptions for Haitian Children Now in the U.S" and is offering its materials for free downloads to anyone interested.

Also, for the record, as a result of such outreach work, many organizations also have found that they've galvanized members, boosted innovation, and added meaningful value to their brand and membership offerings. Please accept my personal congratulations for your efforts and commitment. I've heard astonishing stories of what your members and staffers are doing even a year after the earthquake.


Do association CEOs have what it takes to lead in the reset economy?

Let's face it: none of us have really been here before. Yes, we've all navigated tough times, but not like this. The foundations of our economy have fundamentally changed, and things may never be exactly as they were.

A while back, Paul Pomerantz, worldwide executive director of the Drug Information Association, shared with me a Business Week article titled "Is your CEO recession capable?" It suggested that many for-profit executives weren't equipped to lead in these times and that a rethink of competencies and behaviors is essential. While the U.S. economy is now growing, it's clear that things are very different—and difficult.

It struck me—and a number of my CEO colleagues—that we need to start a new conversation about what's really different and how we may need to grow and develop to ensure that we're able to help our organizations fulfill missions and goals and realize personal fulfillment.

After initiating the conversation with the ASAE Fellows group, Paul, Henry Chamberlain (president and CEO of BOMA International), Pamela Kaul (president and founder of Association Strategies) and I joined about 50 CEOs at the 2010 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo in Los Angeles for a conversation on what it takes to lead in these crazy times. It was a beginning. First, a couple of assumptions that framed our conversation:

  • This isn't like any other downturn we've ever seen, and reprising past practices won't be enough.
  • Nobody is perfectly equipped to lead now based purely on experience in tough times.
  • A new mix of competencies and behaviors will be necessary to lead effectively.
  • It's time for CEOs to grow.

Rather than list all the takeaway points from our conversation, I'd like to share three key themes that emerged. Your thoughts are welcomed.

  • We need to rethink our teams and how we function. We must become effective at getting more minds with diverse skill sets into the game and encourage them (and ourselves) to "challenge authority" in a constructive and effective way. The consensus was that we need to encourage and support our teams by promoting development and sharing authority and visibility.
  • We need to rethink how we develop ourselves and spend our time. According the Business Week article I referenced above, the optimal "recession CEO" time allocation may be 20 percent CEO, 40 percent COO, and 40 percent CFO. Given that many of our groups have enjoyed the fruits of long, continuous growth, I wonder if many of us have grown to become strategic thinkers and visionaries who are less connected to operational realities. Is it time to get back to basics and all the development or choices that come with it?
  • We need to exert even more future-focused leadership while not being perceived as controlling or overly directive. Now that boards are expecting more than ever before—while sometimes, paradoxically, being more risk averse—successful CEOs will need to deliver more creative and practical approaches to vexing problems than ever before. Many of us have done as much as possible on the expense side, and the expectation is that we will need to grow our way out. One participant suggested that, in order to succeed, we need to demonstrate "vulnerability to our boards and staff while at the same time exuding confidence." Like I said, we need to grow.

In a future post, I'd like to share some thoughts that emerged about the concept of "fail fast, fail small, learn, and adapt."

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January 4, 2011

Beyond Blather

I like listening to association CEOs talk to each other once they find a way to move beyond the weather, traffic, and the usual "Hey, how are you? I'm fine, yup, fine" openers. Trouble is, often they don't get beyond such superficial exchanges.

They're NOT all "fine;" they're challenged bigtime in many ways--it's just hard to feel right about blurting out, "Well, actually, I'm having trouble finding someone to fill a key position on my senior team," or "Pretty good, but I'd be better if I could just figure out how to tap into more federal funding. Have you had much luck with that?"

The latter statements actually start a real conversation, a potential peer-to-peer learning experience. And yet, some leaders seem more comfortable making bland and polite replies that go nowhere.

That's why I like watching the TV show of one of our community's most visible leaders--Jonathan Tisch, chair & CEO of Loews Hotels--who interviews leaders from a wide range of fields on his CNBC show, "Beyond the Boardroom."

Over the weekend, I watched him interview George Bodenheimer, president, ESPN & ABC Sports, about everything from brand management to entertainment technology advances to shareholder concerns related to ESPN's parent company, Disney. You could tell that Tisch was really listening, learning, considering.

Like a fly on the wall, it was a great viewer experience to watch those two get into some difficult topics.

Why not commit in 2011 to cutting your standard chitter chatter at receptions, coffee breaks, and even in the elevator to a minimum and instead perfect ways to delve deeper faster into the topics that matter. You will likely find an enthusiastic, even relieved conversation partner who doesn't care about interstate hang-ups or a bit of rain either.


November 17, 2010

Harry Potter on Leadership

"The end begins." That's the pithy tagline for the launch of the two-part blowout marking the end of the gazillion-dollar Harry Potter movie series, a wrenching reality for those of us who have embraced the boy wizard and his eclectic assortment of friends, mentors, and enemies for the past 11 years.

Tomorrow at 12:01 a.m., I'll be sitting with my son and other hardcore fans watching "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" as the scarred hero, now age 17, attempts to take his leadership skills to--putting it mildly-- the next level in a battle against evil Lord Voldemort that will determine the fate of the entire wizarding world. No pressure there, eh?

But frankly, many association CEOs can relate to the saga and to Harry in particular as he awkwardly fails and succeeds throughout his own leadership journey. Push yourself out of secure positions into unknown territories? Listen to friends and colleagues? Trust the advice of an older mentor? Have faith that your skills are enough to avoid disaster? Put your life (okay, job) on the line to choose "what's right over what's easy"? Been there.

While no Dark Lord threatens us with the Avada Kedavra killing curse, we certainly feel the fear caused by a weak economy, an anxious board, and an absence or overload of information on which to ground our next move. Real courage--the trait that J.K. Rowling states she values most in leaders--and resourcefulness are needed to scramble through all of that.

The Harry Potter series is so rich in its what-makes-a-good-leader theme that it has sparked thousands of articles, blog debates, books (try If Harry Potter Ran General Electric if you're interested), and even entire college courses and conferences.

Only recently did I talk with the young daughter of a close friend and longtime association fundraiser who had written an entire paper for her Cornell University literary class about women leaders in the Harry Potter series--their virtues, failings, opportunities, fears, insights, and talents. That type of leadership debate, even outside of the wizarding world context, continues to keep us in the association community--forgive me--spellbound.


August 19, 2010

What motivates employees?

A number of people now leaving for ASAE & The Center's Annual Conference & Expo in Los Angeles Aug 20-24 may be hoping to learn about ways to recruit, retain, and motivate staff. A new article in Knowledge@Whartoncontains the results of a fascinating series of studies about whether ranking workers (and, in particular, sharing that rank with the employee) would inspire good performers to greater heights and poor performers to buckle down.

Short answer: no. The worker rock star began slacking off, while the loser workers became discouraged but--although companies apparently hoped otherwise--generally didn't quit their jobs to move on.

After reading the article, I wondered how old the workers were. Would age affect this result?

I had recently listened to the September issue of Success magazine's CD, which shares interviews with 3-4 leaders of interest to entrepreneurs and small business owners. Featured was a terrific conversation with three inspiring and insightful Millennial leaders of the nonprofit Invisible Children.

Invisible Children aims to prevent child soldiering, the kidnapping of youngsters by rebel tribes in Northern Uganda for use as horrific "soldiers" in their battle against the government. The nonprofit, born out of a documentary filmed by student 20-somethings, has been remarkably successful at raising political attention to the problem and engaging supporters of all ages to their cause. (See here for a short video of its Schools to Schools program.).

One quote really stuck with me. The interviewer asked the trio what companies and organizations can do to attract, retain, and motivate Millennial workers. "Millennials value the impossible," one answered. They'll "work like crazy" and are "extremely passionate," but they want to have fun doing it, and they are attracted to projects, causes, and programs that are trying "to do things never done before." They also want their organizations to think beyond themselves and to take their role as a global citizen seriously, the leaders said.

I'm hoping that conference attendees will keep an open mind and the reality check provided by these three brave nonprofit founders as discussions begin again on worker "reward" systems in associations.

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July 27, 2010

A Passion for Business

Did anyone else happen to enjoy two articles in this week's Bloomberg Businessweek about associations? The first one is a three-page piece that uses the Romance Writers of America conference as entry into discussion of the rise of the entire "bodice rippers" book industry. I especially liked learning about how rapidly this section of the bookselling industry was being fractured into micro niches that change in a heartbeat to mimic social changes.

Uniting those splinters, though, is a larger theme noted by one of the profession's leading authors, Marie Bostwick: "There is a tremendous desire for community. Somehow in this world, where everyone is constantly communicating, people have lost real friendships."

Maybe that is why the Romance Writers of America and its conferences continue to grow as well--that desire to get together over endless cups of coffee and a common passion for, well, passion. How might the rest of us better identify and leverage the rising and falling (dare I write, heaving) of membership micro-niches that fulfill emotionally driven needs and interests of our members, rather than more reserved connections related to professional function or title?

The other Businessweek article looks not at an association so much as its leader, the new and increasingly influential association executive director, Rose Ann DeMoro. DeMoro rose to power from a supermarket cashier position in Missouri to lead the rapidly growing California Nurses Association (CNA) and--since December 2009--its evolution and merger into a 155,000-member nursing organization. This new player--called the National Nurses United--is composed of CAN CNA, United American Nurses, and the Massachusetts Nurses Association, and the dynamic DeMoro is fully in charge at the top.

Whether you agree or not with DeMoro's rather flamboyant style, you can't deny the heart of the article: passion. One woman's focused, determined battle to ensure that "nurses should win every battle."

That a publication dedicated to business coverage should devote six pages in its feature well to address (however indirectly) the influence of passion and community-building on the workplace was as refreshing as a dewy rose. No? Okay, strike that last phrase. I'll keep it simple: The articles are good reading for folks in every field in our sector.

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July 14, 2010

Nonprofits/Associations Helping Gulf Oil Spill Victims

While associations and nonprofits were regularly featured in the news for their efforts to help industries, professionals, and other victims after the Haiti earthquake in January, the same cannot be said for their efforts to assist those harmed by the BP (formerly British Petroleum) oil spill in the Gulf region. That doesn't mean groups aren't busy, though.

Here are a few examples of what your colleagues are doing:

Creating partnerships: The Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations hopes to "foster strategic collaboration," boost accountability, help volunteers, and "provide a unified voice for the nonprofit sector" by maintaining an online list of spill-related resources. Customers of Ratner Companies, which owns The Hair Cuttery chain, donated more than 6,000 pounds of shorn hair by Federal Express to its new partner, Matter of Trust, a nonprofit that prepares hair booms and mats to soak up oil in the Gulf region.

Providing expertise: The New Orleans Bar Association created a web page for disaster legal resources related to the Gulf Oil Spill (e.g., insurance claims, loans, health hazards, and emergency services). The American Lung Association, concerned about the respiratory impact of oil fumes and toxins on clean-up workers, sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis urging close monitoring of air pollution levels to assure that "workers near and at the spill site are properly trained, equipped with appropriate respirators and protected from dangerous air pollutants and toxics they may inhale." The American Association of Poison Control Centers developed a tipsheet for people exposed to oil, chemical dispersants, or other spill-related toxins to help protect their health. The American Veterinary Medical Association held a disaster preparedness webinar related to the Gulf for members in July.

Raising money through cause marketing: One of the most visible fundraising campaigns has been executed by Dawn dishwashing liquid, which is donating $1 up to $500,000 to the International Bird Rescue Research Center and the Marine Mammal Center from the sale of each marked bottle for wildlife cleanup. Sustainable flower company Organic Bouquet has developed a cause marketing campaign with The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation and Ocean Conservancy whereby $10 of each online purchase of flowers and gifts from a new Gulf Relief Collection goes to the charities for oil cleanup.

Offering emotional support: The American Psychological Association has released advice about how to "Manage Distress Caused by the Oil Disaster in the Gulf." Myriad groups have issued supportive press releases directed at their Gulf-area chapters and components, as well as the affected industries and professions within the region.


June 29, 2010

Why Staying Mum on CEO Succession Is Dumb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 2, 2010

Warren Bennis Counts to Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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March 5, 2010

CEOs flipping the proverbial burger

On Wednesday, Steve Tobak at BNET's The Corner Office blog offered another interesting perspective in response to the CBS TV show Undercover Boss. When I wrote here about it three weeks ago, it was about executive compensation tied to engagement. This week it's a more simple question: should a CEO be able to do the front-line jobs of his or her organization?

Tobak's answer to the question is "no," and I agree with him. At an association, for example, I wouldn't expect a CEO to be able to code a website, juggle meeting logistics, or synthesize research data. A smart CEO hires people who are more skilled at these roles, anyway. And conversely, I wouldn't expect the specialists who do those jobs to be able to facilitate the board of directors, speak on camera as the face of the organization, or even just manage a large staff.

But I don't think Tobak quite says enough about the need for a CEO to have a deep, personal understanding of how the actual work of the organization is executed. To stick with the burger metaphor (in fact, the Undercover Boss episode in question was about the CEO of White Castle), I think the CEO ought to know exactly how long the burger should cook on each side, because the quality of the burger is what the customers experience. Understanding the craft that makes the company's customer experience possible can only better inform the CEO's decisions.

Associations don't make burgers, of course, but they do produce meetings, seminars, knowledge resources, advocacy, and so on. The association CEO should understand the details of crafting these efforts successfully.

This all begs one question, though: what about CEOs and executive directors of small-staff associations? Under a certain number of staff, a CEO doesn't really have a choice but to understand a lot of the front-line work, because he or she likely has to be the one personally doing much of it. So I have a couple questions for association executives out there:

  • At a small-staff association, is that experience with front-line work an advantage, or would you rather be able to delegate more duties?
  • At a larger association, is understanding front-line work a challenge for the CEO?

I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

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January 19, 2010

Earthquake Response Efforts Continue

To everyone who has been sending press releases and e-mails about what their organization is doing to respond to the Haiti earthquake disaster, I send you a big thank-you! To avoid weighing down Acronym with the latest updates, all responses are being posted in the commentary section of my earlier blog posts down below. I encourage you to continue emailing me news at Thanks again for all you are doing!


January 13, 2010

Associations, Nonprofits Begin Haitian Earthquake Response

As they have so many times in the past, associations and nonprofits around the world are moving rapidly to help the hard-hit communities in and near the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, after a severe earthquake measuring 7.0 quake apparently flattened much of the area late January 12.

With communications impaired, electricity out, and roads blocked by fallen debris from collapsed buildings and homes, organizations were struggling both to track down local staff and members, and to assess how best to assist the densely populated, impoverished region that appears devastated.

Here’s a round-up of some association and nonprofit efforts and news underway:

Within hours of the quake, local Haitian teams of the nonprofit Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières were reporting that damage to their Port-au-Prince medical center and other facilities is “significant” as are injuries to staff, patients, and incoming residents. Additional staff are being deployed immediately.

World Vision International, a nonprofit that helps the poor, said on its Web site that staff in Haiti are trying to assess the damage and configure a response plan, but some workers are struggling just to leave their building because of aftershocks and damage that continue to send walls and building materials into the streets.

The American Red Cross, World Vision International, Oxfam, numerous faith-based relief services, and myriad other disaster relief charities have already set up emergency funds—many of them linked to mobile phone text giving--and e-mailed urgent donation appeals to millions of supporters.

Save the Children’s Ian Rodgers, who was in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, quickly became the eyes and ears for many media around the globe stymied by the lack of working communication technology and lack of access to the area.

Social media is again playing a riveting role in revealing the extent of the disaster, as well as the types of real-time decision-making occuring onsite and in offices far afield by nonprofit staff and government officials. Twitter updates from charities, federal and international agencies, and others have been running throughout the night as news and photos have slowly leaked out. While no association-uploaded videos related to humanitarian efforts is on YouTube yet, several groups expressed hope they would soon have footage or videotaped interviews to post shortly.

Many professional and trade associations have created global disaster relief funds in the past 10 years and are likely to tap them now, saying they want first to see what primary needs emerge.

Expressing fears about safety, shifting needs, and inadequate information from the hit region, none of the aid charities are accepting outside volunteers at the moment while the groups try to get their own trained staff onsite. Indeed, some are trying to get staff and members out of the Port-au-Prince area while aftershocks remain so strong.


September 14, 2009

What I’ve Learned about Being an Association CEO – PT 1

This month marks my third year anniversary at the American Ceramic Society as well as my third year as an association chief staff officer. While this is just a drop in the bucket compared to the experience of some of my long-serving peers, I have learned a few things and thought I would share a little of what I’ve learned here. Hopefully, some of these observations will be of value to those of you who might want to become a CEO in the future. So in no particular order, here’s the first:

EQ is more important than IQ. In my past roles as chief knowledge officer for ASAE & The Center and chief strategy officer for the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives, most of my work was done on the “T” side of the Myers-Briggs scale. But being an effective association CEO demands far more emotional intelligence (EQ) than I ever expected.

Much of my time is spent building consensus, nurturing relationships, encouraging and supporting staff and volunteer leaders, discerning people’s true motivations and needs, mediating disputes, telling people things they don‘t want to hear, and helping people to see new possibilities (and preferably convincing them that they came up with the idea in the first place). In my experience, being great at writing/editing/meeting planning/product development/finances/project management/etc. is not nearly as critical as the ability to empower others to be great at those things. So, if you really want to be an effective association CEO, practice your people skills.

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August 6, 2009

Fundraising in a “Flatter World”

Joanne Fritz, who writes for the nonprofit section of, expresses enthusiasm for a new book of interest to associations and nonprofits that are re-examining fundraising techniques in the new economy.

Building on Thomas Friedman’s best-selling book, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, author Jon Duschinsky explores the effect of such increased global connectedness on philanthropy in his new book, Philanthropy in a Flat World: Inspiration Through Globalization (Wiley, 2009). His four-step process for how nonprofits should adjust to a flatter world economy is succinctly summarized in the Fritz review.

“Nonprofits have been slow to catch on to the survival techniques of a flat world,” she writes. “Philanthropy in a Flat World is a quick read that might just help your organization transition from a 20th-century organization to one that can flourish in the 21st century.“

Friedman, by the way, is essentially crowdsourcing “Chapter 18” of his next version of The World Is Flat. You can watch the experiment in action—and even participate—on his site.


May 5, 2009

E-mails to Myself?

In my rapid-fire life as to owner of an association management company, just keeping track of all everything is a big deal. In fact, I think it is the “biggest deal” of all. I simply can’t let anything slip through the cracks. When dealing with multiple associations, there are deadlines set, often by others, with no regard for how these deadlines might interact. Sometimes it is a challenge.

For years I have maintained a master to-do list. “Shoe repair,” “finish book,” “develop project plan for membership drive,” and “plan Berskshires trip” all share space on a single list. There is only one me, so I figure I only need one to-do list. But I have to say it is a long list. It used to be on sheets of yellow legal paper; then it was on my desktop, and the latest version was in a spreadsheet.

The problem with maintaining any kind of to-do list is that it takes time – lots of time. I would rather be “doing” than writing lists of what I need to do.

Today, I came up with the best way yet to maintain a to-do list. It isn’t a list at all; it is my e-mail box. About 70% of what I need to do comes in the form of e-mail. Another 15% comes from my own notes from meetings and another 15% comes in the mail.

My e-mail program (I use Eudora) allows different mailboxes, so I have named one “To Do List.” I can also give each e-mail a color, though you could use whatever system your e-mail program offers for prioritization.

If an e-mail comes in that requires me to take some sort of action, and I can’t do it immediately via return e-mail, I give it a “priority.” At the end of the day, I transfer everything that is prioritized into the “To Do” Mailbox. Other items go into the 2009 Archive.

I use the following Priority categories, but you could set up something that works with your e-mail. The categories are: HOT, ACTION, LATER, PENDING, ORDERS, ATTEND. Because I am using color coding, the Priority Flag is not in use. This means I can go in each day and look at the HOT items, and actually use the real Priority Flag to note the ones I want to tackle first. When a task is accomplished, it can be moved into the Archive file.

This is great for the 70% of actions that are e-mail driven, but what about the others?
In the case of things that come up in meetings with client boards, I can just send an e-mail reminder to myself, right there on the spot at the board meeting. When things come by mail, or something pops into my head that I think I should do, I just send e-mail to myself from my desk or cell phone.

This simple technique allows all of things I need to do to come together in one place, and the system in very easy to maintain. Now I can spend more time doing and less time making lists. This will definitely save me time and help me do a better job.

What tricks do you use to keep yourself organized?

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April 28, 2009

Hand Hygiene for Grown-ups

With the contining spread of the swine flu, we’re all hearing one directive drilled into us like never before—wash your hands! Often! In the right way! Sounds pretty straightforward, but even before the swine flu hit, the Soap and Detergent Association and the American Society for Microbiology were responding to data showing poor hand hygiene in many adults (a rather disturbing 25% of adults, for instance, don’t wash their hands in public restrooms).

Now, with 149 swine flu deaths on record and almost 1,700 people sickened, what seemed a small project last fall--creation of an online and print-version brochure ( about proper hand washing--takes on new and greater importance. Available in English and Spanish, “'Don’t Get Caught Dirty Handed' reminds adults that many cases of colds, flu, and food-borne illness are spread by unclean hands, and these diseases are responsible for billions of dollars each year in health care expenditures and productivity losses in the United States,” says the association.

No soap around? Reach for a hand sanitizer (keep one in your desk, purse, laptop pocket and car glove compartment) or hand wipes.

With a slight blush of embarassment, I suggest sharing this information with staff as a gentle but direct reminder that we’re all in this together when it comes to germ sharing and avoidance. For more info, visit


April 25, 2009

Associations in Action regarding Swine Flu and Potential Pandemic

With reports breaking all Friday regarding hundreds of both Mexican and American citizens sickened or even killed by a new form of swine flu, associations in the health care and agricultural communities have been busy confirming information, alerting and surveying members about any potential swine flu-related patients, and calming an anxious public even while acknowledging that much—including the original source of the illness--remains unknown.

"At this point, it appears to be human-to-human transmission only," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, CEO, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), in a press statement Friday. "We've been in contact with the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV), and there have been no reports of outbreaks among animals, although their members are certainly aware of what's happening and are stepping up surveillance for the virus with federal and state animal health officials."

According to officials, “there is little or no risk of catching swine flu from eating pork or pork products, but as always, proper food handling and hand washing should be practiced.”

The AASV is regularly updating its Web site at with news for its veterinarian members and the general public.

The American Lung Association in California quickly blogged about the six documented cases of this new strain of swine flu in the San Diego area and Imperial County, as well as two cases in San Antonio. It noted that rapid flu tests cannot tell this type of flu from seasonal flu, “and the current vaccine may not be protective. Tamiflu works, as does Relenza.” The post, found at, also notes that “while there are likely more cases in the U.S., there are no large-scale outbreaks.”

As of this Friday night post, however, CNN is reporting that 75 high school students in New York City are being tested for suspected swine flu.

The National Pork Board also has issued a helpful 4-page information sheet about swine flu at

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control has information on the human swine flu investigation at


March 28, 2009

A Mentor Remembered

One of my longtime mentors and former nonprofit bosses, Jack Lorenz, will be buried In 12 hours, dead at the too-young age of 69. He was executive director of the conservation organization Izaak Walton League of America for 18 years before retiring, and he hired me as a magazine editor and media manager way back in the late 1980s after I moved to Washington, DC. I stayed there for more than six years, learning and erring as all overworked young professionals do in this sector.

Jack was not organized or formal when it came to mentoring staff. As the "Ikes'" former magazine editor himself, he did a remarkable job of not micromanaging me in his old role. Like IWLA's members, he was of salt-of-the-earth stock, rarely losing his temper and always operating with an open-door, excuse-the-mess style. He wasn't perfect, and he let me be the same. I appreciated that--not many mentors are comfortable acknowledging their own weaknesses. He tried to be gentle when he pointed out mine.

Together we would attend the annual Outdoor Writers Association of America conference, an extremely male-dominated event at the time. It was intimidating for any woman, especially one in her 20s. Everyone always thought I was someone's daughter along for the ride. At my first conference, I almost went home after the first night. The level of sexism and, at times, blatant harassment was quite unnerving.

Jack, though, would get his back up about it, and he was determined that I succeed despite the good-old-boy atmosphere. Because of him, I finally agreed to run for OWAA's national board, which I didn't make the first time. The second run was a ringer, though, and I still count that board experience and its painful challenges among my best professional learning experiences. I never would have taken the risk if he hadn't told me that he believed I could and should go for it.

I'm thinking of Jack tonight, and it's still hard to believe I won't ever see him again. Although I have not gotten together with Jack for many years, I have still felt connected through his crazy e-mailed jokes and the hilarious fishing stories that I'd sometimes run into in outdoor publications.

I'm so happy that he accomplished his lifelong personal goal of fishing every U.S. state and territory, and all of Canada's provinces. And I'm so grateful that Jack lived his professional goal of serving as a strong role model when it came to professional ethics, self-sacrifice, tireless optimism, true passion for mission, and generosity of spirit.

Most mentors never know how fundamentally they touch those they coach--so often their teachings aren't drawn from until a relevant situation arises much later. Maybe that's why good mentors seem in short supply--they just don't realize they're change makers.

I know you're up there watching me type right now, Jack, so I thank you again, and I wish you the best bass fishing Heaven has to offer.

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March 8, 2009

Now how did THAT happen?

I am a CEO and Education Director of a small staff association. For most of my professional life I have been a licensed health care provider and educator; in some ways I am an “accidental” chief staff officer. A couple of years ago the executive committee of the association approached me to help troubleshoot some issues. The organization had recently lost a key staff person and was struggling to stay upright during a very rocky transition. A business manager had been brought in but resigned after only a few months, leaving the association in a worse position. Having served as the board president of the organization four years earlier, the exec committee thought I could provide some insight about the association and help assess its situation. A few weeks as a consultant turned into a year as chief operating officer, and transitioned to the chief staff officer a few months ago.

It’s been amazingly busy and I felt overwhelmed at times, learning the skill set of organizational management. Resources such as ASAE, especially the Diversity in Executive Leadership Program (DELP), and other association professionals have been very helpful (lesson number 1: no one goes at this alone!). I’ve been able to come to place where, while everyday is still daunting in challenges, it becomes a bit easier to see the brass ring - all of the intricacies of fulfilling the organization’s mission from a broader perspective. It’s easy to become lost in the minutiae of day-to-day operations - and sometimes that’s really important to do. Yet staying down in the weeds can be disorienting; the CEO can’t afford to lose the crucial sense of direction.

Membership is a key example. Our association has had a steady number of members for the past 5 years. No contraction yet no growth. The staff and board have had meetings to talk about why this is the case. Many reasons have been cited - not enough advertising; not enough benefits; few outreach efforts, to mention just a couple. In thinking this over, larger questions came to mind: Just who is our membership? Why do they join? Is there a need that we not meeting? Is there a segment that we are not thinking about? As simple as these questions are, we have actually few answers - no surveys, no data crunching. The mechanics of attracting new members becomes easier if the organization is clear about whom it really serves. We’re working on finding the answers to these questions right now, going through our database and asking existing members about why they joined. We hope to also ask those folks who are NOT members why that’s the case.

We’re using low-cost tools to do this, and it’s slower-going than I would like, but I also know this information will help us in the long run, and make us stronger in the process.

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March 4, 2009

Coach Marshall Goldsmith on Leadership in an Uncertain Economy

A fabulous 13-minute podcast of learning guru Elliott Masie interviewing world-renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith on “Leadership in Uncertain Times” is available free and is well worth getting a cup of coffee and having a listen with pen and notebook in hand.

Goldsmith starts off with some firm advice: “What not to do is fake it … There’s nothing to be embarrassed about” in terms of not knowing what will happen. But subordinates do need to know “where am I going now?”

Goldsmith urges leaders to pursue a six-question dialogue that should help reveal some sensible strategic options:

1. “Where are we going? (And where do you think we should be going?)”
2. “Where are you and your part of the business going? And where should you be going?”
3. “What are you excelling in?” (This is called the “doing well” question, and Goldsmith wishes leaders would ask it much more frequently, regardless of the economic landscape.)
4. “If you were the coach for you, what advice would you have?” (Prepare to be shocked at the honesty of these answers, which are often more substantive and relevant than anything the leader might suggest, according to Goldsmith.)
5. “As a leader, how can I help?” (The answers help you shape an action plan for yourself to best support others.)
6. “What suggestions do you have for me as leader?”

Most of all, Goldsmith warns leaders not to become paralyzed, especially by the big, scary numbers that may result in a feeling of helplessness. “What is, is,” he quotes a Buddhist mantra. “Ask yourself, ‘Given the reality of now, what’s the best step forward? …’”

Don’t hide from what is, he continues. Realize this reality can be hard to face, but you need to let go of the past, the anger, the grief…. "It may all change tomorrow.”

My own interview with Goldsmith on how the weak economic climate has affected board and CEO attitudes of succession planning, as well as guidance regarding what association leaders should do to help successions succeed, will appear in the next week or so on ASAE & The Center’s new economic resources site.


September 1, 2008

Hurricane Gustav Prompts Businesses and Organizations to Launch Emergency Recovery Plans

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is urging businesses and organizations in the impact area of Hurricane Gustav to execute their emergency recovery plans, which should include the following (note: All associations and nonprofits across the U.S. would be well-served to include these in their own disaster plans.):

· Phone-calling trees and/or a phone recording for employees that keeps them informed during an emergency and provides clear direction for whom to speak with if they have problems.
· An out-of-town phone number that allows employees to leave a message telling organization leaders whether they are okay, where they are, and how they can be reached.
· A clear plan for employees with disabilities or special needs that was created with their input, so all needs are addressed during a disaster.
· Payroll continuity processes and communications.
· An evacuation plan for records, computers, and other stuff from your office to another location.
· Procedures for establishing the conditions under which the business/facility will close.
· Emergency warnings and evacuation plans and other disaster processes. Practice these if possible.
· Employee transportation plans, if appropriate.
· Plans for communicating with employees' families before and after a hurricane.
· Purchase of a NOAA weather radio that has battery backup and a warning alarm tone.
· A process for protecting any outside structures or equipment on your property. Windows, too, should be protected with plywood.
· Knowledge of whether your business phone system works even without electricity. If not, add a phone line that can do so.

You can find other disaster planning articles and information on ASAE & The Center’s Web site, but here are some to get you started:

Quick Tips Regarding Disaster Planning for Hosted Solutions

7 Helpful Disaster Planning Sites

What If? A Guide to Disaster Preparedness Planning


August 31, 2008

Associations Responding to Hurricane Gustav Threat

As always, I am proud to report that many associations have already sprung into action in response to the serious threat of Hurricane Gustav, now a Category 4 hurricane heading toward New Orleans, and the potential threat of Tropical Storm Hannah coming toward the Florida coast. Here are some of the actions associations are already taking:

· The Air Transit Association of America (ATA) has released a statement explaining evacuation processes for residents in the New Orleans area. You can read it here.

· The Humane Association, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, local and national food banks, and numerous faith-based community organizations have partnered in Nashville, Tennessee, to open shelters, distribute meals, and support evacuees from the hurricane.

· The American Red Cross is urging people in the potentially affected areas to register themselves its new Safe and Well Web site at, or call a loved one and ask them to register you. This online tool helps families and individuals notify loved ones that they are safe during an emergency. You also can read and link to the organization’s advice to evacuating families by going here.

· The Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants is urging people in the affected areas to “financially prepare” for the hurricane, using its tip list, which includes the need for having plentiful cash on hand, documenting household goods and valuables, and gathering important documents.

· The National Association for Amateur Radio (ham radio folks) has developed guidelines for potential volunteers interested in responding to the hurricane emergency, warning them not to “self-deploy” and noting that the International Radio Emergency Support Coalition has been relaying reports online since Friday.

· The Texas Hotel & Lodging Association sent an alert to members last Thursday, repeating a local government estimate that 45,000 evacuees could arrive if Gustav hits Louisiana. Local restaurant associations and members have been stocking up as well.

· Social media also is coming into significant play in terms of sharing storm information, relaying community/government emergency operations, organizing nonprofit relief and assistance responses, checking on association members, monitoring local chapters/components, and rallying volunteers on standby.

· Bossier City Firefighters Association is working with the International Association of Fire Fighters to find housing for IAFF members evacuating the area. Like the response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago, many local associations have turned to their national associations and leaders for help—and emergency housing is just one such request. Others I’ve seen relate to transportation advice, pet care in the region, and reinforcing communication strategies.

· The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is actively tracking the storms on the Hurricane Preparedness section of its web site and has the latest NOAA and other weather updates, the status of various airports, an emergency preparedness checklist, and many more resources available to help members and the public stay abreast of rapidly changing weather conditions.

· Various electrical power associations are urging the public and businesses in the potential hurricane zones to review their virtual brochures on preparing for power outages and surges as a result of poor weather. Here’s one example from Coast Electric Power Association.

· A number of associations also are encouraging members to access the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) Hurricane Preparedness page, which contains emergency plans for businesses and families, emergency supply lists, and background on hurricanes in general.

Thanks, y’all, for once again stepping up to make a real difference in the lives of both your members and the larger public. Please know that ASAE & The Center stand ready to assist you in your efforts!

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August 18, 2008

Conversations in the Social Responsibility Lounge

Informal programs and chats in the Social Responsibility lounges have produced some wonderful stories of what associations and business partners are doing to move their organizations forward toward greater social responsibility (SR). Here are some snippets:
“How do we move from being successful to being significant?” That’s what a woman from the Project Management Institute said her organization began asking recently, eventually developing a program that moves from caring just about test passing metrics to caring about the whole child.

Richard Moore of the Texas Community College Teachers Association shared that his organization is focusing on four social responsibility (SR) endeavors—community involvement, democracy building, incorporation of SR in educational content, and greening of educational facilities and operations. In addition, since first embracing ASAE & The Center’s SR Initiative a year ago, the association has launched the theme “Community Colleges—Building a Better Texas.”

“This Social Responsibility Initiative fits in completely with what we’re trying to do,” he said.
The Society of Neuroscience had to review its supply chain management after leaders were questioned about whether the copywriters to whom some of its many journals were outsourced in India were being treated and paid appropriately. They then had to give a presentation that showed such outsourcing “validated enhancing of social values,” according to the society’s Marty Saggese. The huge organization also adopted an element in its strategic plan that requires all three SR elements—environmental, social, and economic—to be considered in operational decisions.

Look for Marty’s cool handout at today’s session on greening your organization’s culture: a flash drive made of bamboo.

Other items prompting discussion are two tools being distributed in both SR lounges: a how-to piece on creating a multicultural board, and a checklist/guide for developing a more socially responsibility family lifestyle.


August 17, 2008

Honest Words about Diversity--for a Change

I've lost count of how many diversity programs I've attended in my career, but I thought this morning's General Session on "Looking Through the Lens of Others" was especially terrific. Here are some samples I valued:

--Nadira Hira, the impressive 20-something journalist for Fortune, is an articulate mouthpiece for young and younger workers. Her advice: "Be authentic. Don't try to pretend you're diverse when you're not." In other words, forget the BS.

--Doug Klein, executive director of the Association for Conflict Resolution, noted that the reason race or ethnic-based professional and trade organizations still exist is "because there's a need not being met" by the broader association in that profession or trade.

I immediately recalled a conversation I had with--of all people--actor Louis Gossett Jr. backstage at the last Nation’s Capital Distinguished Speakers Series. He had told me about the evolution of racism from a black professional's perspective, and I had asked him if the time had finally come for the association community to make a commitment to facilitate mergers of broad-based associations with similar niche groups grounded in race or gender as well as the profession or trade, such as the Society of Professional Journalists with the National Association of Black Journalists.

The actor, who founded and actively guides a New Orleans-based foundation to help at-risk youths, said no. He urged associations to instead focus on youth--the next generation of workers--rather than try to overcome the prejudices of the current workforce, which he said was essentially fruitless. Klein's comment today seemed to reiterate those conclusions on an organizational level.

--The always-blunt, always-superb Patti Digh laments that "people aren't focused on retention at all. They just want to 'get 'em in the door.' This lack of "diversity succession planning" was raised at ASAE & The Center's last diversity forum. Basically, no one knows how to do it or even what such a plan looks like. Perhaps that's a project or research idea for our Diversity Committee or for a select task force.

--Co-moderator Cokie Roberts noted, "At some point we have to be the token," but then that representative should "bring others in." That implies a responsibility, not a choice, on the part of the, say, female executive about actively attracting other smart, accomplished women into the organization.

I have mixed feelings on that. I think we should do what we can to attract all smart, accomplished people to our association IF that organization is best set up to leverage their talents and knowledge for the benefit of the members. I'm uncomfortable screening candidates primarily because they look like me or share a cultural commonality. That said, I'm likely to be a more successful recruiter within those desired demographics because of that reality. Comments? I need to think about this more.

A "Say what?" moment: Patti was called by a company that said its white employees were putting nooses on the lockers of black employees. Patti said she could design an intervention, etc. The response? "We're thinking of a two-hour training session."

Quotables from the General Session:

"We talk about diversity as an end in itself, not what that brings us.... Diversity is not a problem to be fixed.... We've damned ourselves in this country by being too PC [politically correct]. You can't know if you're talking to yourself only." --Patti Digh

"We're afraid of [diversity], even though we know it's good for us."--consultant Steve Hanamura

"Powerful" and "moving"--just some of the high praise I heard about the "Peer Perspectives" video clips of diverse association executives.

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May 12, 2008

Moving On—Again!

Well, it’s time to move on—again! After six years at ASME, I’m retiring July 2, and my wife and I are reinventing ourselves for a fifth time. After a year’s participation on Acronym, this will be my last article. I have this perspective that every 5-8 years I need to move on and find something new and innovative to do. All of us are different, but this is one way I stay challenged and energized. Between now and July 2, there are many final activities at ASME to conclude, including taking my president to Western Europe in a few days for development of alliances and outreach activities. Thus, my time to blog new thoughts will be very limited.

Merle and I are going back to our place in Chadds Ford, west of Philadelphia, where I will do some things that I have long wanted to do: paint full time, teach art, self publish guide books of historic areas in the western Philadelphia area (with my paintings as illustrations), redo the herb garden, design a new house, and maybe, just maybe, do some consulting in association management. We’ll see. One thing is for sure: it will be an exciting and wonderful time of exploration and new discovery.

Folks have asked me what I consider to be my major achievement. It’s one of those common questions asked of retirees. My answer is simple--association management is a wonderful field, full of extraordinary people. Working with so many wonderful volunteers and staff is the achievement I treasure most.

Association management is not for everyone, of course, but it is an important and rewarding endeavor. I’ve been an army officer, practicing architect, university administrator and tenured faculty member, and, thanks to the invitation of a good friend in 1989, a senior association executive. I can’t think of anything as challenging and rewarding as association management. The non-profit sector is an important and significant contributor to the improvement of work, quality of life and personal well-being. Non-profit leadership is hard, but worthwhile and important work.

I want to thank Lisa and Scott for allowing me to participate as a contributor to Acronym. It’s a great blog and fine resource for ASAE. I’ve enjoyed my time here and the many conversations with colleagues.

Merle and I send all of you our very best wishes. I consider myself fortunate to have worked with and learned so much from so many of you. Keep up the fine work.

If you are interested in painting or need a guidebook for the historic areas in Delaware, Chester and Lancaster Counties, just let us know. If you’re in the area of Chadds Ford, stop by and we’ll have some lemonade on the back porch. Cheers!

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May 1, 2008

Ego versus Idea

One suggestion in the "dream and design" phase of the Global Summit's Thursday session is for associations to look around them and see if it might be worth....disappearing. Seriously. Andy Clarke, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists (and--full disclosure--my husband), suggested that association leaders examine where overlapping associations exist and needlessly compete when they could simply merge and "create half the number of associations with twice the memberships and eight times the influence."

It's an interesting thought. Certainly I've been part of organizational coalitions in which external stakeholders such as corporations or government agencies have complained that they could hardly keep track of which organizations may be the best partners in, say, the environmental sector because so many have similar agendas, duplicate programs with different names, and murky leadership within their field.

Call me cynical, but I think ego would be the biggest barrier to even a discussion of what widescale association mergers might mean to society and the earth. In the fascinating book Egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (or Most Expensive Liability), authors David Marcum and Steven Smith look at business success and performance from the standpoint of ego. Their extensive research concludes that unbalanced ego "becomes the ultimate blind spot," with more than one-third of all decisions in failed organizations driven by ego. they note that unbalanced ego slows change and innovation, and "there is a clear difference in the power of knowing versus the discipline of becoming."

However, nearly two-thirds of executives "never explore alternatives once they make up their mind," and "81% of managers push their decisions through by persuasion or edict, not by the value of their idea." A surprising 63% of surveyed businesspeople report that ego harms "work performance on an hourly or daily basis, while an additional 31% say it happens weekly." That's a lot of poor productivity and decision making, as well as lost opportunity.

Might the research differ among association employees? What would you think if your boss walked into a staff meeting and said, "For the sake of the planet, let's do a competitive analysis in our industry with an eye toward potential mergers?" Would you think, "Oh, my gosh, my job's in trouble." "Has he lost his mind?" "Finally!" "Whoopie!"

I remember one small trade association whose CEO actually requested that the board let him shut down the organization because the programmatic and mission overlap with industry competitors had led to unsustainable financial hardship. The board was appalled at the idea. He suggested merging with another group instead. Still they balked, citing the organization's long history and criticizing all possible merger candidates.

I don't recall what happened to the association in the end, but I do know that the CEO eventually left, and at some point, I stopped receiving press releases from the organization. Perhaps if leaders--whether volunteer or paid--move their egos more to the side of humility, they will find that exploring potential mergers would indeed lead ultimately to accomplishment of their broader mission.

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Speed-dreaming a Better World

Wow--what an amazing afternoon of what I'll call "speed sharing," which reminded me a bit of speed-dating but with people exchanging ideas instead of personal phone numbers. Some of the ideas are natural extensions of the exciting momentum we've been building during this Global Summit on Social Responsibility (SR): an SR listserv, an association SR blog and monthly Idea Swap, create a "Social Responsibility in a Box" how-to toolkit, and a new requirement that SR strategies are integrated into CAE knowledge domains.

But here are some of the larger-vision ideas that got me personally jazzed during today's "dream and design" exercise:

Use ASAE & The Center as "innovation incubators."

Create a "Retired Association Exec Corps" to help coordinate and contribute to SR efforts by associations.

Develop an offshoot version of the United Nations Global Compact that allows associations to sign on in agreement to meet specific SR metrics and standards.

Create a "Bright Light Network"--a coalition of associations that want to work together on social, economic and environmental challenges.

Create a "Seven Wonders of a Socially Responsible World" committee structure in ASAE & The Center to focus on global problem solving in the areas of education, environment, health, prosperity, innovation and technology, peace and security.

Friday we'll be breaking into groups to begin creating something tangible from the best ideas in the various categories generated by our "dreaming." Keep checking back for news of our progress!


April 30, 2008

Stories as Influencers for Socially Responsible Behavior

Compelling stories have emerged as potent tools in forwarding discussions about what values members gain when their associations are involved in socially responsible practices, programs, and goals. At both my morning and afternoon tables at the Global Summit on Social Responsibility, association professionals barely took a breath between sharing and commenting on each other’s stories, whether they had to do with an organization’s actions or an individual’s choices. Frankly, it’s a challenge to capture every anecdote for later thought or follow up, but one colleague told me that he had taken almost 25 pages of notes in less than six hours!

I’m feeling especially attuned to the power of storytelling today because I’m halfway through the excellent book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, which I thought would be good prep for the summit. Also, co-author Joseph Grenny—whose last best-seller, Crucial Conversations, was referenced several times at my table today-- is speaking August 19 at ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting and Expo.

According to Influencer, “people will attempt to change their behavior if (1) they believe it will be worth it, and (2) they can do what is required.” Stories that guide people to those conclusions must contain both “a clear link between the current behaviors and existing (or possibly future) negative results” and “positive replacement behaviors that yield new and better results.”

Those of us at the summit today heard such “high-point stories” recounted on the stage, in the coffee line, and from attendees at some of the 14 connected sites across America. I liked the examples given by CEO Scott Steen of the American Ceramic Society. First, Scott described the rapid membership growth achieved by the National Association of Counties after it cleverly arranged a deal with a corporation that allowed the association to provide prescription discount cards to members for free distribution in every county in America.

Second, he cited the National Academy of Engineers’ inspiring work with members to identify 14 “grand challenges” such as making solar energy affordable and reverse-engineering the brain. The organization then spotlights research and grant money focused on those topics. “They’re saying to their members, ‘Here is where to go to make a difference as an engineer,” explained Scott, adding that the organization is using the initiative to “define their mission in the world and show how engineers and their industry are making huge differences.” I can’t wait to hear what comes out of Thursday’s “dream” process….


March 26, 2008

So You Want to be an Executive Director?

Colleagues: As you many of you may know, I am retiring effective July 2. Today I have uploaded two files to the shared documents area of the ASAE CEO Community that I created to assist in my own executive succession. If are you progressing towards becoming an Executive Director or Chief Staff Officer position, or are a first time or newly hired ED or CSO, these files may be of some future use to you. Even if you are a long-tenured ED/CSO, the two files may be helpful as you need to communicate about the ED/CSO role with your volunteers.

Of course, each of our organizations is different—different cultures, different governance models, different business processes. Nevertheless, you may find some topics or information that is useful in your situation.

The files are:

“A Day in the Life of an Executive Director”: A 29-slide PowerPoint presentation designed to help our volunteer search committee have a common understanding of what an Executive Director does, and the knowledge and competencies required. The deck includes some strong graphic slides borrowed from Tom Peters public web site and his file of publicly available slides.

"Executive Director Succession Manual”: A 70-page Word document designed to support the succession of my replacement. It will be much longer and focused specifically on the role of the ED in our Society, but may be a useful reference tool for others in terms of “hands-on” roles, responsibilities, processes, etc.for an Executive Director, as well as a useful transition document.

Enjoy. Let me know if you find the information helpful. Cheers!

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February 29, 2008

Succession Planning: Don’t “To-Do” It for Later

I have yet to hear an association leader say something like, “Man, I love succession planning! Best part of the job.” Uh, uh. So lots of folks avoid it. They focus on the leadership responsibilities that clog their to-do lists that day, not next year. This seems especially true at nonprofits.

“I don’t have anyone in-house capable of taking over for me.” “Who knows what the board will want in their next executive director, so why start prepping someone now who could be all wrong later?” “I’m not planning to go for a lo-o-o-ng time. There’s no rush.”

Bill George, a Harvard professor and former CEO and chairman of the mammoth medical technology company Medtronic, isn’t standing for any such excuse but also doesn’t believe succession planning is up to the executive director alone.

“I think one of the reasons for a lot of the disasters [in corporations] in recent years, right up to the present moment, is because boards and directors are not focusing on leadership succession,” George said during a Thought Leader Forum held by Leadership Coach Academy recently. “They are focusing on getting and bringing in a ‘savior,’ if you will--hiring someone from a headhunter or a hotshot to run the company, and a lot of these people come in like Bob Nardelli did at Home Depot. They make a huge amount of change, get rid of all the people who know something about the business, and don’t really understand the essence of the business. I say, ‘Shame on boards of directors for doing that!’ I think boards of directors are, just simply, derelict in their duties when they do that.”

George points to Citigroup as an example of this, as well as Merrill Lynch, “where you have 550,000 employees and no leadership succession.”

Harsh. But you execs aren’t off the hook, either. “It is incumbent on any leader to develop succession, not just for immediate succession but looking many, many years down the road—10, 15, 20 years down the road. You develop people of all ages who can take over and run the organization going forward, and you have enough of them so that if someone drops out for health reasons or changes jobs or doesn’t work out, you have others to step up.

“The key is to have a leadership culture of great leaders coming up at all levels, not just on the top,” he concluded. “That’s why organizations like Johnson & Johnson, Pepsi Co., and General Electric have been historically successful—they have that kind of leadership development and culture.”

Continue reading "Succession Planning: Don’t “To-Do” It for Later" »


January 25, 2008

Crucial Conversations

How are you at crucial conversations? You know--those situations in which you are involved with others, in which the outcomes and the relationships are at stake?

I was in one of these last week in Phoenix, where 16 of us came from various parts of the U.S. to attempt to settle and dispose of disputes between my parent organization and two of my subsidiary component organizations. You know the situation—it’s common in national and global associations. The meeting was important. The situation had a 15 year history, needed resolution, and all affected parts of the organization needed to move on to other, positive activities. We're all familiar with this type of situation.

Fortunately, and due entirely to the positive and constructive leadership of all 16 of us, we succeeded. It wasn’t easy, but it was important and we reached unanimous agreement on all major points. There were diverse opinions about everything, and fortunately, open minds on the important points. That evening we had a “victory reception and dinner”, complete with a signing of a Proclamation of Achievement and Appreciation by all participants. They say all’s well that ends well, and we made sure we ended very well, indeed.

There’s a great book that helps address crucial conversations. Coincidentally, it’s titled Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High. Authors are Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler, published in 2002 by McGraw Hill, and subsequently a New York Times bestseller.

Building from their research on the subject, the authors define these crucial conversations as those that “occur when there is a lot at stake, when emotions are strong, and when opinions differ”. The authors suggest the importance in such situations of having a clear sense of desired results (outcomes) as well as a clear sense of the desired relationships when the crucial conversations are concluded. This is not a situation in which one may want to do ones thinking out loud!

You can Goggle the book notes or buy the book (or both). You may be better prepared for your next crucial conversation. Good luck!

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December 13, 2007

The Power of a Dog-gone Good Story

Wells Jones, CEO of the much-lauded Guide Dog Foundation, is a great storyteller. That's not a label many nonprofit leaders work hard for, but Wells has found that stories can get you places that appeals letters and political allies cannot: into people's wallet, mind and heart.

I was interviewing him recently after our Key Philanthropic Organizations Committee (KPOC) meeting, having already talked to him once before about his foundation's successful revision of its governance practices. We had spent a good chunk of the KPOC meeting talking about leadership, organizational excellence and the differences and synergies between our Seven Measures of Success book and a new publication, Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant.

We were all intrigued by the differences in data about leadership between these two books and even Good to Great's Jim Collins, who had been involved with both publications. One thing none of these books did, though, was explore in any real depth the types of communication techniques that great organizatonal leaders routinely find most effective: compelling storytelling.

So I asked Wells how he created the storytelling culture that is so apparent on his Web site and how his staff and volunteers collect and use those powerful anecdotes to show the real impact of the organization. You can read his responses in the profile department of ASAE & The Center's new philanthropic Web section, but in the meantime I wanted to share what he said was his favorite program-related story.

"This story relates to a Marine who lost both of his arms in Iraq above the elbow, so he wears two prosthetic arms," Wells said. "And he also has some balance issues. We trained one of our dogs to work with him to help provide balance, fetch items and do various tasks that the Marine needs to get done.

"So he’s outdoors with his dog one day, and they are having down time--he’s playing Frisbee with his dog--and when he throws the Frisbee, the dog brings it back, like all of our dogs do. But then one time when he throws the Frisbee, one of his arms goes with it. The dog goes over and looks at the Frisbee and then looks at the arm, looks at the Frisbee and looks at the arm. Finally, he makes up his mind and grabs the arm, which he takes back to the Marine. And the Marine is laughing really hard about this, thinking, 'What fun!' but then he realizes what the dog just did: The dog made a decision that his owner had to have the arm first before he could bring the Frisbee back. It’s a wonderful, wonderful story."

Now ask him to tell you the one about the two old-time war vets who have raised half a million bucks in just a few months....


November 29, 2007

“The Membership” Doesn’t Exist and Other Thoughts

Recently, Scott Briscoe wrote a thought-provoking membership article “Should you be serving or leading your members?” As we think about the future of associations, the wants and needs of membership deserve critical consideration. Hopefully some of our respected marketing and membership folks will weigh in, since they have important insights. Here are some thoughts which I hope will further discussion:

Thought 1: “The membership” is a myth. We can’t generalize about membership. If “the membership” means a homogenous, unified, like-minded body, then it doesn’t exist anymore than “the electorate” or “the consumer” exists. What exist are various member, electorate and consumer segments. Each segment has its own common or shared interests or aspirations. For example, there are association members whose primary interest is expanded knowledge. Among the electorate are red-dog Republicans. And there are consumers for whom “green” is more than a color. Point is, while these are important segments, they hardly represent the entire spectrum. Success in membership and marketing depends on identifying and understanding your markets and the voices of the customer. Membership success, like the success in any market, is seldom achieved by thinking and treating everyone like they are a size 6.

Thought 2: Volunteer vision frequently is a 12-month window. Our active volunteer members often see things in short term, annual perspectives, particularly if they have a one year leadership position. Governing boards, even with 3-year terms, often have difficulty focusing attention beyond one year at a time. The “project oriented” Millennials may have an even shorter attention span. So this leaves the staff to see and deal with the longer term strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the association—if is to be done at all. Since volunteers often define success as 12 months of smooth sailing (no problems please), is it any wonder that the natural tendency is for volunteers to focus on (this year’s) wants rather than (longer term) needs? Beyond membership, how do you suppose the 12-month window influences successful strategy, operational execution over time and other cross-enterprise and intra-enterprise performance?

Thought 3: Traditional models may not match emerging membership challenge. My association model will hardly surprise long-time observers of associations. Many older associations, like mine, were founded for “higher purposes” (ASME was founded in 1880 for public safety, property protection and growth/access to the engineering body of knowledge). We tend to be about engineering, not engineers. Our thinking for 127 years has generally been that what is good for engineering is good for engineers and others with technology interests.

We have a culture where volunteers “mature” their leadership by volunteering for increasingly more responsible roles, over extended time periods. Our members self organize into common interest groups, often working together for many years, to build and share knowledge, community and advocacy. I regularly give out 15, 20 and 30 year pins to staff. We are a fine organization with great traditions.

As a global association, in a rapidly changing world, we are increasingly required to be an agile, innovative and performance-oriented enterprise. Here’s the emerging challenge: Members and volunteers who may: 1) be primarily motivated by their individual, personal interests; 2) have less disposable time, resources and patience for “leadership ladders” and extended, time-consuming volunteer commitments; and 3) identify with their peer interest group rather than the enterprise. Can the challenge be successfully resolved in the old, traditional membership models? What’s the definition of insanity: doing what you’ve always done, the way you always have, and thinking you’ll get new and different results?

Where are the new membership markets, voices and models? How do we reconcile wants and needs?

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October 8, 2007

Better Communications: Make A Plan, Stan!

Have you been caught in the communications trap? I have and it’s not pretty. It goes like this: At the annual meeting, a long-time member (often a respected past president) says into the microphone, “This organization does a crappy job of communicating. I never know what’s going on, except for my annual dues invoice! Why should I renew when this organization can’t communicate any better than that?”

Someone has to respond (why is it always the exec?) even though no response can possibly suffice—right? “Blah,” interrupts the member, “Not good enough.” With a straight face the past president sticks in the final pin, “I don’t read the (no-good) magazine, I travel too frequently to read my (junk) association mail, my fax is broken and I don’t use a computer!” Then the coup de grace: “This organization has gone to Hades—it never used to be like this in my day!” The meeting concludes with smiles and general agreement that this meeting was one of the best in recent memory. Does this ring a bell?

Communications are vitally important. The challenge is that most associations have a wide range of audience segments. These segments are interested in some messages (and media) and not others. This is a case of “I want what I want when I want it (the way I want it).” If there is one predictable constant it must be that there is no simple, single solution for communications with diverse members and customers. We are not all a size 6 and living in one geographical area!

What to do? One useful proactive tool is an annual communications plan. Conceived at the outset of each fiscal year, the plan contains a small number of high priority messages for the year. For example, the messages might focus on new technical information, strategic priorities, and/or association achievements improving the value proposition for members and customers. A communications plan also includes a schedule of key events and appropriate media to reach desired audience segments during the year.

For an annual communications plan to work, it must have the understanding and support of senior volunteer leaders, senior executives and communications staff, because these are the folks who will be doing most of the communications during the year. Volunteer and staff leaders must understand that their personal messages are secondary to key consistent messages from the organization each year.

Another tool for successful communications is repetition. Repetition enables audiences to become aware of and understand important communications. Have you ever wondered why commercials are so repetitive? One-time messages simply don’t have much impact.

If you want to improve your association’s communications, try working with your volunteer and staff leaders to create an annual message plan, and update it every year.

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August 28, 2007

How to Define Success?

How does your association define success? Success comes in many flavors. Perhaps the important thing is to identify and implement what works for you. Thereafter communicate, communicate, and communicate. Your association has a sizable new volunteer leader class every year--did I mention the need to communicate?

What does your association value most? Is it performance? How about relationships? Perhaps its competencies or credentialing. We’re all different when it comes to what matters most, not to mention why it matters to us. So, to define success, there has to be agreement on what matters most. The situation, which may change over time, has a lot to do with defining success. For example, an association in a protracted, downward financial spiral, for example, may define success very differently than an association whose growth has been 30% per year for the past five years.

Here are some important success categories, with suggestions how they might be used.

Strategy--Does our association have a sustained record of performance to plan over time (successful strategy is not measured in 12-month cycles and someone’s pet agenda for the year)?
Voice of the customer—Who are our (right) customers and how do you know if they are satisfied (yes, there may be “wrong” customers)?
Financial—Do we have sustained performance over time meeting budget or ending each year with positive variances (no margin, no mission)?
Business operations—What is the record of new program development and existing program retirement over the past 5 years (are you still doing what you did 5 years ago)?
Learning & growth—What investment do we make on a consistent annual basis for volunteer’s & staff’s learning and growth in their association roles (no investment, no dividends)?

When you have figured out what matters most to your association and how you will measure success, it’s time to think about annual communications planning. An annual communications plan is important to your success. The plan is based around key messages that your organization wants to communicate about your successes. These key messages are important for association leaders—volunteers and staff—to focus on, repeat and reinforce. The messages help everyone to understand and stay on the same page.

Associations are best served by continuous success over time. We want our organizations to continue valuable work year after year. Of course we must allow for emerging opportunities and threats. What we don’t want to do is to swing the organization violently from one “theme” to another “theme” every 12 months. This redirection and continual change can be wasteful and discouraging.

There are many useful ways to define organizational success. And to communicate effectively about it. The most important point is to do so—consistently, over time, year after year. Your volunteers, staff and external relationships will thank you, knowing what to expect and how to help. How do you measure organizational success?


August 13, 2007

Leadership: Considering a New Flight Plan

After sharing stunning Imax photos, dramatic video of flight lift-offs and passionate descriptions of what he believes leadership means today, former NASA space shuttle pilot and astronaut Charles Bolden got a standing ovation today at the Annual Meeting & Expo.

It was an unusual, sometimes emotional presentation with such compelling imagery in the background, and Bolden used that majesty to urge leaders to develop their skills so that they could take even small steps toward making the world a better place.

“Earth is unbelievable; it’s breathtaking,” he said. “It goes in 45-minute spurts--17,500 miles per hour—so it takes 90 minutes to go around one time. Every 45 minutes you see a sunset or a sunrise.”

His favorite photo of the thousands he has taken is a spaceship view of the Middle East because “it’s so peaceful looking and organized.” Can you imagine seeing such sights and not feeling protective of the planet we occupy?

Although Bolden’s presentation hadn’t been scheduled with any particular tie-in to ASAE & The Center’s new Social Responsibility Initiative, I thought that this recent Astronaut Hall of Famer may have made one of the most inspiring appeals of the day for association leaders to “do what is right,” to use their business and leadership savvy in much broader, more powerful ways toward positive world change.

Much of what Bolden said about leadership was not necessarily new to regular attendees of ASAE & The Center programs. But he did a good job reinforcing the most important elements and then concluded with the startling power behind the words of 12-year-old Nikosi Johnson, who at the time of his death in 2001 had been the longest-living AIDS patient: “Do all you can with what you have in the time you have in the place that you are. … If we just live by Nikosi’s philosophy, we can make a difference.”

Probably 50 people crowded around Bolden when he finished, just to shake his hand, compliment him and get a quick photo. Others headed straight to the BrightSight Group rep who handles Bolden’s speaking engagements. Me? I thought of exactly the right spot to put Nikosi’s quote on my office wall.

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June 4, 2007

Five Years, Two Angioplasties & Four Stents Later

This is the name of the book that I am going to write after my unplanned, second coronary angioplasty procedure last week—the second in the past five years. Life, it seems, is full of unplanned bumps. Last Thursday was one of those. As we know, association management executives are used to facing unplanned and unforeseen circumstances. It proved to be good training.

“You’re looking great,” Dr. Feit said, as they wheeled me into the operating room. “Good to see you again”. Dr. Feit was my surgeon in September 2002, for my first angioplasty. “Well, I’m not glad to see you,” I growled, “but I’m glad you’re still here.” To prove my point, I quipped “You should be getting pretty good at this by now!” He smiled, and said “I’m staying in practice.”

Thus it was that I lay on my back staring at the ceiling for four hours, watching the four television monitors. For those of you have yet to be introduced to coronary angioplasty, it is a procedure to widen narrowed or obstructed blood vessels and is used to avoid bypass surgery. The procedure involves a small incision in the groin area to access the femoral artery, where an introducer needle provides access for a long, flexible catheter used to introduce radiopaque dyes. The dyes allow the state and location of the blockage(s) to be studied with real-time x-rays. If you like digital photography, as I do, this is an interesting part of the procedure.

With the blockage(s) identified, a guide wire is inserted through the introducer needle to each blockage, using real-time x-rays for guidance. The surgeon inserts the guide wire, gently pushing and rotating it to the point of blockage. Patients are usually awake during the procedure so that any discomfort or other issues can be reported. Thus, one can watch the entire procedure on one of the many televisions used by the surgeon to guide the progress of insertion and placement at each blockage.

Once the guide wire is in place, it becomes the pathway for the surgeon to gently push forward a hollow catheter with a balloon on the end and (in my case) a treated-wire mesh stent. At the proper point, the balloon is inflated, expanding the artery wall and implanting the stent, which supports the newly reopened artery.

After a night in the hospital, I've returned home. No strenuous exercise for 72 hours and no travel for four weeks. And maybe no steak and French fries forever!

Now regarded as common surgery, coronary angioplasty is an amazing procedure. Dr. Feit and his team are unbelievably skilled at what they do. I hope that none of you will have first-hand experience with this procedure, but some of you will. It’s not necessarily an age, exercise or diet thing. The good news: if you find yourself on your back, looking at the ceiling, you can be confident that there are some first-class cutters out there who know what they are doing. And the television is great! Dr. Feit and team: Salute!

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May 17, 2007

Episode 2: CEO Agreements: 5 Things to Get In Writing!

Association Management: Interesting Things No One Tells You

Association management is wild and whacky—there’s so much that no one tells you. Like walking into a glass door, some of the learning experiences can be unexpectedly jarring.

Continue reading "Episode 2: CEO Agreements: 5 Things to Get In Writing!" »


January 17, 2007

Bill Marriott, Blogger

Bill Marriott just launched his own blog: Marriott on the Move. Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Marriott! Why did he start a blog? Here is an excerpt from his first post:

Blogging will allow me to do what I've been doing for years -- on a global scale. Talking to the customer comes easily to me. I visit 250 hotels around the world every year. This year I'll be traveling once again to China where we have 27 hotels, 16 under construction and many more in our development pipeline. At every hotel, I talk to associates, from housekeepers to general managers, to get their feedback. I call it "management by walking around." Like my parents, I value the input from our associates at all levels. I make lots of notes -- and my best ideas almost always come from our people in the field.

Sounds to me like he gets the value.

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June 27, 2006

Creating a Network Effect of Member Value

I spoke last week to the Board and senior staff of a large association about Web 2.0 and what these technologies mean for associations. I was asked by the moderator to boil down the single greatest value of Web 2.0 for associations. For me, one of the greatest lessons is the idea of creating network effect businesses where the product or service is more valuable to each person the more people use or purchase it.

Associations must create a network effect of member value in everything we do. In fact, I believe that associations are better positioned to create a network effect than most other businesses and organizations. We start as informal networks! But I think we move away from this over time as organizations mature and build up a bureaucratic middle.

Imagine how much value your association could create for your members if a network effect of value is built into your services and products. The path to doing so, I believe, is to pay attention to what is going on with the Web these days around participation and social networks and develop ideas for how to create the same dynamics with your members. As you plan events, products or services, simply ask "How can we design this so that each person who joins/buys adds value to all the others who do so as well?"