March 27, 2012

Enrich the lives of your members

Great Ideas 2012"Your members don't care about your association. They care about themselves."

This was my favorite quote from Carmine Gallo, the closing general session speaker Tuesday morning at ASAE's 2012 Great Ideas Conference. Gallo, author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs and The Power of Foursquare, shared a range of inspiring lessons from innovative companies, Apple chief among them.

We've all heard countless examples of the genius of Apple and Steve Jobs, but Gallo did a nice job showing association professionals how the lessons from those examples can be applied to their associations. Most emphatically, he urged associations to ask themsevles how they can help their members achieve their dreams.

Gallo pointed to the vision for Apple products and stores: not to sell computers, but to enrich lives. It's that relentless focus on the customer experience that makes Apple so successful (one of the reasons, at least).

For example, I don't like my iPhone because Apple made it, or because it's shiny and chic. I love it because it helps me stay more connected with friends and family, gives me faster access to information, and even helps me be more creative. Think of every iPhone or iPad commercial you've seen; they always show people doing things with them, like finding a nearby restaurant or creating music or video-conferencing with family. That's how lives are enriched.

And so the lesson for you as an association professional is to think beyond benefits. Think outcomes. Think dreams. Whatever will enrich the lives or professional careers of your members, that's where you should focus. Help your members achieve their dreams, and they'll love you for it.

For more insights from Carmine Gallo, see Kristin Clarke's interview with him, "The Game of Life: Engaging Members Through Foursquare."

Flickr photo by ahissrich.

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Tweets from #ideas12, day 2

Another day at the 2012 Great Ideas Conference provided countless thought-provoking tweets with the #ideas12 hashtag. Here is a sampling of what you can find on the full hashtag stream.


March 26, 2012

Big lessons from small presentations

Great Ideas 2012 Ignite

Lowell Aplebaum shares "Associations Lessons from Dr. Seuss."

At the Great Ideas Ignite session Monday evening at ASAE's 2012 Great Ideas Conference, an audience member described the Ignite presentation format as "the Twitter of presentations." Speakers must keep their messages to five minutes long, with 20 auto-advancing slides to accompany, so that description is a good one.

In that spirit, I'll share a lesson from each Ignite presentation tonight, and I'll keep them nice and short.

"What Seven Jobs at Three Associations has Taught Me." Beau Ballinger, certification programs manager, Investment Management Consultants Association. Among Beau's lessons learned: be passionate. You have the responsibility as an association professional to act with as much passion as your members do, he said.

"So What if it Feels Uncomfortable?" Elizabeth Brisson, association and affinity marketing consultant, MetLife. In her life, Liz has overcome fears of flying, public speaking, and heights. But she says she always remembers that, if you are growing, you will always be out of your comfort zone.

"Speaking of Great Ideas." Christine Smith, CEO, Boxwood. Christine shared five ways associations can recognize their staff and members and closed with this note about the importance of recognition: "Think about a time you were recognized for a job well done and how it felt, and ask yourself when was last time you made your employees feel that way."

"Associations--Let's Date First." Mariela McIlwraith, CMP, CMM, MBA, president, Meeting Change. Mariela likened the association-member relationship to a courtship. She said she would never date someone who sent her a lot of email spam, and that she doesn't like it when her significant other [association] forgets about her when someone new [prospective member] shows up.

"What Attending Eleven Different Schools Taught Me About Change." Shelly Alcorn, CAE, principal, Alcorn Associates Management Consulting. Shelly moved a lot in her childhood, and she said the ups and downs through that experience taught her that change can be: empowering, enlightening, stifling, courageous, chaotic, overwhelming, defining, accepted, inevitable, and survivable.

"Quick PR Tips and Tricks: Lessons from Teen Idols." Adele Cehrs, president, Epic PR Group. Adele loves Elvis, and she pointed to several of his qualities that association PR pros can learn from. My favorite: embrace imitators.

"Associations Lessons from Dr. Seuss." Lowell Aplebaum, director, membership & councils, International Facility Management Association. From reading bedtime stories to his son, Lowell has learned some association lessons. He reinvisioned a Dr. Seuss classic as "Green Eggs and the Private Social Media Site," and turned a rhyme that encouraged associations to build member buy-in for a private social networking platform rather than forcing it upon them.

As is custom for Ignite, the presentations were video recorded. Check them out on the Great Ideas Conference website or ASAE's YouTube channel.

Flickr photo by ahissrich.


Can you change your association's culture?

Organizational culture is a hot topic at Great Ideas this year. In a well-attended Idea Lab session Monday, attendees took a look at both the ideal and the real.

Led by Jodie Slaughter, FASAE, of McKinley Advisors, the group started by listing characteristics of an association culture they aspired to: one that is "professional without being stodgy," collaborative, respectful, and helmed by leaders who value inclusiveness, ensuring that all members and staff have opportunities to contribute to the mission.

Then came the reality check. With Slaughter's guidance, attendees undertook an assessment of their own organization's culture, ultimately determining which of four types it most resembled (described by Bruce Tharp in his white paper, Organizational Culture):

  • The Clan: a collaborative culture

  • The Adhocracy: a culture marked by creativity, innovation, and risk-taking

  • The Market: a culture driven by competition

  • The Heirarchy: a controlled culture that puts a premium on stability

"There's no right or wrong culture," Slaughter said. "There's only whether the culture fits the mission of the organization."

But when the two don't fit, how to bring change, especially when culture is ingrained in an organization? Some attendees questioned the ability of association staff other than the CEO to change the organization's culture; others suggested that the belief that change can only come from the top is itself a cultural assumption.

Although an organization's chief executive and top volunteers clearly have the most leverage to bring about change, "cultural influencers need not be those officially in charge," Slaughter said.

Ultimately, she said, "culture is largely a function of what you pay attention to. It's changed by what you measure and monitor. That's what your organization values." For example, she asked, does your organization pay as much attention to staff retention as member retention? Should it?

And pretty talk about fostering a healthy culture has to be supported by action and modeling. "You cannot fake it. You have to embody the values that you want to promote," Slaughter said.

Does your organization know what kind of culture it needs to accomplish its mission? Does it walk the talk? And can positive change be a grassroots effort, or does it have to come from the top? Tell us what you think.

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Learning to measure the value of next-generation learning

I sat in on two Idea Labs in the "Next Generation Learning" track this morning at ASAE's 2012 Great Ideas Conference, and in each one, a comment from the audience near the end of the session captured the challenges associations face in adopting new methods for professional development.

In the first session, "Next Generation Learning: Five-Minute Forecasts of the Future of Learning," five presenters each shared one emerging or evolving form of professional development practices. At the end, the audience was polled for which form it thought associations are most likely to adopt, and "bite-size education"—learning that is broken into shorter, more manageable and brain-friendly chunks—came out on top, compared to open-source education, changes in face-to-face programming, or hybrid events. When asked why, one audience member said she thinks bite-size education is most likely because it poses the least risk.

In the following session, "Next Generation Learning: Informal & Social Learning," professional host and moderator Glenn Thayer led participants in discussions on how to engage members in learning from each other. He shared Marcia Conner's definition of social learning as "participating with others to make sense of new ideas." (Kudos to the leaders of both of these sessions, by the way, as they both embraced that philosophy, with far more two-way group discussion than one-way presentation.)

Participants shared examples of online platforms for event attendees to connect pre- and post-conference, networking events that allow attendees to learn from each other, and learning sessions that embrace open-ended conversations. At the end of the session, one participant asked if anyone else in the group was measuring the return on investment of these social-learning features, specifically, in their conference evaluations, but no one said yes.

These comments made it clear that the nefarious "we've always done it that way" attitude remains a road block on the path to the future of association learning. Like any change from the norm, new forms of learning, and particularly the shift of an association's role from source of knowledge to facilitator of connections, will cause a sense of risk. But "just because it's the new wave" is never quite enough to overcome that risk.

Rather, solid metrics that show the positive outcomes of these new formats are essential. If you expand networking time at an event, are you asking attendees in post-conference surveys if they learned something valuable in conversations with fellow attendees during that time? If you build an online group for attendees to connect in advance of an event, are you asking them if those connections enhanced the value of attending?

As with any form of experimentation with new products or services, measuring the value of new learning formats can help combat the inevitable uncertainty that will arise. I'm curious if your association is measuring the ROI of new learning formats it has tried? If so, please share.

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Tweets from #ideas12, day 1

The #ideas12 hashtag on Twitter was hard at work yesterday as attendees converged on Colorado Springs, Colorado for the 2012 Great Ideas Conference. Below is a sample of the insight and wisdom you can find on the full hashtag stream.


March 25, 2012

A better culture, from the top and bottom


Two afternoon Idea Labs on the first day of ASAE's 2012 Great Ideas Conference offered different ideas on improving the organizational culture at an association.

First, in his session titled "Straight Talk: Creating a Culture of Creativity, Openness and Honesty," Larry Johnson, co-author of Absolute Honesty: Building a Corporate Culture That Values Straight Talk and Rewards Integrity, explained six rules for achieving a more honest culture:

  1. Tell the truth
  2. Tackle the problem
  3. Disagree and commit
  4. Welcome the truth
  5. Reward the messenger
  6. Build a platform of integrity

The rules are all straightforward, but throughout the presentation, Johnson emphasized the importance of the leader's role in setting the example and building the culture. He asked the audience to finish the sentence "I would be more effective working with [insert colleague's name here] if...". Often, the responses Johnson hears begin with "he" or "she," but he said an effective leader completes that sentence beginning with "I." And he said building an honest culture is a manager's responsibility, like it or not. When you become a manager, you become a "famous person" and a role model. "Do you realize there are dinner conversations about you?" he said.

Later, presenters Nora Burns, SPHR, and Mark Dorsey, FASAE, CAE (pictured above), illustrated how "A Strategic Approach to Association Staffing" can improve the culture of an association.

Dorsey, executive director and CEO of the American Association of Snowboard Instructors and Professional Ski Instructors of America, shared how PSIA-AASI has broken down silos by revamping its hiring process. Burns, principal of Insightful Endeavors International, conducted an assessment of the PSIA-AASI staff using a profiling tool called Emergenetics to identify gaps in work styles and personality traits among the staff overall.

The organization used that information to decide what skills and values it needed to evolve among its staff in order to meet its mission, and it seeks those skills in new hires rather than simply filling the position based on technical skills alone. It has also incorporated more staff into the hiring process so that the people who make up the organization's culture play a key role in shaping its future.

While this new approach to hiring was a decision guided by Dorsey at the top, it shows how focusing on organization-wide, bottom-up skills and values can change the culture.

These two approaches to organizational culture, one focusing on the leader and one focusing on the ground-level staff, come from different directions, but I don't think either is right or wrong or better than the other. Rather, with culture being such an intangible, constantly evolving challenge, I think you need both.


Open your beginner's mind

kao piano small.jpgHello, Acronym readers. Julie Shoop here, reporting to you from the ASAE Great Ideas Conference, now in full swing in Colorado Springs. This is my first Acronym post, so it's only fitting that I'm writing this with my beginner's mind switched on.

Let me explain: I'm a relative newbie to ASAE (having joined the staff as Associations Now editor-in-chief nine months ago), a first-timer at Great Ideas, and a complete rookie blogger. So imagine how perfectly right it felt to spend an hour this afternoon listening to self-described "innovation activist" John Kao tell attendees at the Opening General Session that one of the keys to organizational innovation is to adopt "the beginner's mind"--an attitude free of preconceptions, a mindset that says, I don't know, and that's OK.

Hey, I thought, he's talking to me. I suspect most of the 600 other folks in the room, who may have some misgivings about trying whatever scary new thing they know they really need to do back at the office, were thinking the same thing.

Tackling the new and different, Kao said, means getting comfortable with improvisation, a little dissonance, and the idea that you'll never be finished practicing.

The music metaphor wasn't accidental. Kao, chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation and a former professor at Harvard Business School, is also an accomplished jazz pianist, and he draws a direct parallel between the work of jazz improvisation and innovation of all kinds. In an interesting twist for a keynote address, Kao shared the stage with a grand piano, which he used to show his audience the difference between following a set of rules or instructions--the "sheet music"--and improvising to create something far more pleasing and valuable.

You had to hear it to really get it, but imagine the difference between your perfectly workmanlike rendering of a familiar old standard and, say, what Miles Davis would do with it.

"What's going on is a powerful illustration of innovation as a capability," Kao said, after using the piano keyboard to create his own version of "All The Things You Are," displayed above him in its sheet music form. "Innovation is a series of capabilities that allows the creation of a desired future. Practice builds the capability."

In organizations, as in jazz, he said, being innovative without being random or chaotic means finding the sweet spot: managing the "creative tension between risk taking and risk avoidance."

"People have the misconception about improvised music that the musician is just playing whatever they feel like," Kao said. "Jazz is not the absence of structure. It's the balance between structure and freedom, between what you have and what you're reaching for, between your expertise and your beginner's mind."

We all have organizational "sheet music"--our org charts, our standard operating procedures, our meeting agendas. We need those, but they can become straitjackets. To break free, Kao said, organizations need to create workspaces separate from their mainstream activity where innovative ideas can emerge and be explored, unencumbered by business as usual. Organizations need Charlie Parker's woodshed. (Read more of Kao's thinking on organizational structures that promote innovation in this recent interview in Associations Now.)

In other words, even though associations may become experts in doing certain things, they need to develop a culture where the beginner's is mind alive and well.

"It's important to learn the sheet music and the harmonies," Kao said, "but after you've learned them, it's equally important to throw them away."