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!


March 7, 2012

Are Your Internships the "Best on Earth?"

I'm sure I'm not the only parent scrambling to set up a summer full of camps, nanny-sharing, sibling-sitting, and bartering in order to cover childcare for the summer months. For those parents with high school and college-age kids, though, the key word is "internship."

Thus, I had to laugh when I saw Sierra Club's funny "Best Internship on Earth" video pitch, designed to recruit older students and young adults to help with everything from trail maintenance to nature education.

I wondered how many organizations--whether associations looking for project assistance this summer or charities needing event volunteers--had taken time to develop creative outreach materials about their internships. I can tell you: Not many. Interns have the strike against them that they are temporary employees and therefore can be worked hard, cheaply, and without too much thought.

As a veteran of many internships in my younger days, I can say that the while the experiences of working briefly in various organizations vary wildly, the impressions made by those companies and nonprofits on me have lasted a long time and have been discussed with many people. Are you leaving your interns with terrific memories of their short time with you? What are they saying to their friends--your potential future employees--once the summer or fall comes?

Make it "good gossip" by asking the intern what he or she hopes to gain from the experience and what he or she most enjoys doing (talking to people? Problem-solving? Working on a team? Generating ideas and then being given appropriate freedom to execute them? "Trying out" a career in association work?). Try to ensure that at least half of the internship allows the individual to do those things while still completing your necessary work.

Give lots of feedback--frequently! Make the person feel like a welcome addition rather than another chore competing for your time. Listen and ask questions. An objective set of eyes and suggestions may be just what's needed to make a project exceed expectations.

Watch the Sierra Club video and think about what you might do to generate buzz and excitement (humor doesn't hurt either) about an often-underpaid temp job. You never know when you may be working side by side with that person on a much more long-term basis.


February 7, 2012

A Day for Happy Accidents

Yesterday Jeffrey Cufaude's Twitter feed pointed me to an article from last summer about an interesting experiment at NPR: For just one day, it unshackled its technology staff from its day-to-day responsibilities and allowed them to spend that time working on ideas they were passionate about but couldn't quite find the time for. The "Serendipity Day" was apparently a success, according to the report from Nieman Journalism Lab: 30 employees generated 25 "usable" ideas. Not a bad haul for a day's worth of brainstorming.

Serendipity Day is a variation on Google's famous "20 percent time," in which employees use a fifth of their work week to tinker with side projects that might eventually become full-fledged products. It's hard to poke too many holes in the 20-percent-time concept—clearly it works for Google—but I can see a "Serendipity Day" concept being a better fit for association staffs, for a number of reasons:

  • Not all departments are created equal, ideation-wise. I've heard people propose 20-percent-time ideas for associations, but I've been skeptical about how well that can work across various association departments. Is every one equally in need of regular rethinking and innovation?
  • Hey, who's getting their must-dos done with 100 percent time? For some, the opportunity for free-thinking is liberating; for others, it can be just another task, and tasks that are done dutifully don't usually radiate brilliance. Making such efforts relatively rare gives it a sense of importance but doesn't make it feel onerous.
  • It's a member-engagement opportunity. Letting members and volunteers know that the association is working on a daylong ideation process might encourage them to focus on their own ideas. Put it on the listservers; put out a call on your Twitter and Facebook pages.
  • It's not a retreat. One-day getaways for staff can force them into a particular kind of collaboration and are often better for big-picture strategizing than for brainstorming new products and services or coming up with a way to better address a routine member issue. Serendipity days might be a little more small-ball, but that doesn't mean they lack value.

Thoughts? If you're actually putting a 20-percent-time idea into action, I'd love to hear about how you make it work, especially if you have a small staff. But aside from that, how do you give staff the time to generate the ideas that can improve the organization?

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January 25, 2012

Are We Suffering From Teamwork Fatigue?

I've read so much contradictory information about whether it's better to work by oneself or in groups that I finally needed some alone time to think about it.

Associations Now has done its bit to promote the virtues of introversion: We've run articles on the importance of finding time to think by oneself, on how introverts aren't the insecure souls the stereotype suggests, and on how social media helps introverts better engage with associations. Of course, we run plenty of articles about the virtues of collaboration too—our Volunteer Leadership Issue is, in essence, a handbook for how association boards and staff leaders can work together and be more productive. So which work style works best, in which contexts, and why?

The cheeky answer to those questions is obvious: Well, I'd have to think on it a little more, but if you want to talk with me about it, we can. (The rest of this week is booked pretty solid with meetings, though, sorry. How's your Tuesday?) What I can say is that it was a little dispiriting to read "The Rise of the New Groupthink," an essay in the New York Times by Susan Cain about how more and more activities in the workplace have become collaborative ones. "It's one thing to associate with a group in which each member works autonomously on his piece of the puzzle," Cain writes. "It's another to be corralled into endless meetings or conference calls conducted in offices that afford no respite from the noise and gaze of co-workers."

Cain points out plenty of downsides to that go-team office dynamic: Studies show that open office plans make employees sicker and more insecure, and though group brainstorming sessions produce a high quantity of ideas, there's no evidence that the quality of those ideas are any better than those generated alone by individuals. Her prescription is for "a more nuanced approach to creativity and learning" that allows us more time to hunker down, be it to generate ideas or just to knock things off our to-do lists.

It's a good idea, but how do you put it in motion? I've read plenty in the business and association press about how to create better collaborative environments; there's much less out there about how carve out more time for individual creativity and productivity. Is it something organizations can institute, or do we just hope our employees get around to it between meetings?

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December 14, 2011

In denial about technology

So #Tech11 is about a week past us now, and I'm still letting what I saw and heard soak in. I regret to say that I was only present for about half of the conference, what with other responsibilities to tend to back at the office, but I didn't need to be there very long to come to the following conclusion:

Whatever amount of resources your association is currently devoting to technology and web development is not anywhere close to enough. Double it. Triple it. Probably still not enough.

I promise no technology vendors paid me to write that. My first inclination would be to increase in-house tech and web staff anyway. And I say this acknowledging that money, time, and staff don't grow on trees, of course. I just think it's time for a significant reorganization of priorities.

In speeches and presentations at the conference, I heard references to companies like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Yahoo!, Instagram, and Rovio (makers of Angry Birds). To be clear, these aren't just companies that are good at technology. They are tech companies. Tech is either the majority or the entirety of what they do. The common reaction is to take these examples as inspiration for lofty but unattainable ideas and think, "Yeah, but we're an association. We're not a tech company."

Are you sure about that? Here's a rundown of common association endeavors, each with a tech/web component:

  • Membership (online application and renewal, member directory, discussion groups)
  • Volunteer management (discussion groups, document sharing and collaboration)
  • Meetings (online registration, digital or mobile/tablet program guides, recording and livestreaming, virtual conferences)
  • Publications (e-newsletters, mobile and tablet editions, audio and video, e-books)
  • Communications (email, social media)
  • Advocacy (alerts, online petitions)
  • Education (webinars, self-directed online learning, digital course material)
  • Research (electronic surveys, interactive databases)

This list is not complete, but you get the idea. How many of your association's activities can you think of that involve no technology whatsoever? There aren't many. In-person meetings and face-to-face collaboration still count, of course, and they count for a lot. But when I look at this list above, I wonder what associations actually did before the invention of the internet. I really do.

And so it's with that mindset that I wonder why associations still devote such a small percentage of their in-house resources to technology. An association might not be a "tech company" in the traditional sense, and associations will always need technology partners for big, hairy projects and for highly specialized work. But if nearly everything your association does involves technology and the web—if the core of the business is helping people meet, communicate, interact, and collaborate, almost entirely online—how can you justify not shifting a larger percentage of your resources toward making those tech and web components excel? Luke Wroblewski said associations should start thinking about mobile first. That's going to be tough if you're still in denial about being web first.

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August 17, 2011

In times of financial distress, consider your talent

Over on David Patt's Association Executive Management blog, a recent post caught my attention: Positions not People. It's a short post, but to give the short overview anyway, he says in times of financial distress, you should rank the products and services in terms of importance to your organization and keep the people doing the most important work and lay off those doing less important work even if they may be strong employees.

It's rare that I have a completely opposite view from my association blogging brethren and sistern--usually differences are based on nuance, intensity level, or even just semantics. But I'm about 180 degrees from David on this one. Yes, use financial distress to your advantage by refocusing your organization on what really matters--but when it comes time to decide who is going to do the work that really matters, absolutely make those decisions based on the people rather than the work they are currently doing.

I think there are four kinds of employees:

1. Average or worse. Get rid of them, financial distress or not. They're not helping you. My opinion, as I've written before, is that associations do not use the hiring and firing tool to their advantage near enough. No one is striving for average; why would you tolerate average employees?

2. Good and have reached their potential. Strongly consider getting rid of them, financial distress or not. Certainly if you're laying off people, lay off these people right after the average people. In a few isolated cases, perhaps the staff person is good and has a specialized skill that would be very hard to teach or replace. Well, you have to keep that person for now, but I'd also be rethinking why I have a need for such a specialized skill and trying to develop systems, strategies, etc., to decrease my dependence on it. You know, the whole hit-by-a-bus theory and all.

3. Good and motivated to be exceptional. Keep these people.

4. Exceptional. Keep these people and, financial distress or not, push them into new areas and to try new things so they stay excited, stimulated, and motivated to continue their exceptional work for you.

Let's say you have to lay people off and you're following my advice to keep your best talent. Now let's say that some of the category 2 or 1 people are doing jobs that you've deemed essential. I say lay them off anyway. Skills can be taught. Attitude, enthusiasm, and motivation cannot be taught and in my opinion more than make up for the experience lost. The idea is take the staff in categories 3 and 4 from less essential functions and put them in more essential functions. Obviously you do this with an eye toward putting them in positions to be successful. My experience is that when you tell people with the right attitude, enthusiasm, and motivation that you need them in a certain area, that they see it as both a challenge and a vindication of the work they've previously done. It won't always work, but nothing ever does.

The way I read David's post is that he is saying don't let talent cloud your judgment about what is important to the organization. Amen. But I also think he is advocating being cavalier with that talent, maybe because of an equality ethic where all staff should be treated equally. Personally, I just think talent is too rare and I don't think the notion of equal treatment serves an organization well in this instance.

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August 9, 2011

What is a freak flag and why does Joe Gerstandt think I have one?

Joe Gerstandt is a freak.

I mean look at him...


(Sorry Joe, couldn't resist.) The lede to this post might ordinarily not pass Acronym guidelines, which call for no personal attacks. But I think I'm on safe ground since the title of his session at the Annual Meeting today was "How to Fly Your Freak Flag."

Flying your freak flag means being authentic - knowing who you are and being that person uncompromisingly. It's not that easy, he notes, because at work we're conditioned to fit in, which is the antithesis of authenticity. Which leads me to my question:

How would you encourage authenticity at work?

The point Gerstandt made is so simple, I've never thought about it in that way - our organizations are set up around conformity. We have a defined work week. We have dress codes. And lunch hours.

Yes, many organizations have begun to be more flexible in all of those areas, a testament to Gerstandt's point that nonconformity can be beneficial. But what about status meetings? Or performance reviews? Or staff meetings? Or hierarchies or silos or turf or board meetings or internal processes? There is in fact a long way we have to go when it comes to encouraging individuality and authenticity in lieu of conformity.

A lot of these annual meeting posts ask a single question and are followed by some kind of answer. I wish I had that to offer you here. If I did, it would make this some kind of magic blog post, I think. The word itself -- organization -- implies to me this very sense of conformity, but I don't think the best takeaway from the session would be transforming into disorganization. I don't know how to encourage employees to fly their freak flags at work, I just know that we're going to have to figure it out. The strongest organizations are going to be strong because of it, and you're not going to be able to attract or keep talent if you don't.

Gerstandt tried to help attendees learn about their inner freak flags with the following questions:

Who are you?

What about you is different?

What are you here for?

What is your gift?

Maybe that's a start. Of course it has to start with a culture that accepts and embraces freak flags--and I like that term better than authenticity because it conveys the fact that the practice of accepting it is hard and unusual. What company wouldn't say they embrace authenticity? But that's not even step number one, that's a prerequisite. The hard and fun and fruitful part comes when we figure out how to use all of these freak flags to build phenomenal organizations. Stay tuned, this is new idea for me, and one I think I'll explore again.


July 28, 2011

Moving Beyond Your Own Debt Ceiling

I recently interviewed Jean Chatzky, financial editor of "The Today Show" and a bestselling author who specializes in helping people get real about securing their financial futures.

She has been particularly focused on helping folks--especially women--get out of debt, identify some financial goals, and stop making money management so hard and overwhelming.

As we all witness the chaos of the debt ceiling debate on Capitol Hill this week in particular, it seems timely to talk about financial crises of a more personal nature, such as not saving enough for retirement or being so fearful of investing or doing "something wrong" that you just stuff everything into a checking account and let it sit.

According to Chatzky, who will speak August 8 at ASAE's Annual Meeting & Exposition, men and women have different challenges in terms of developing behaviors and attitudes that determine whether they are in good or poor financial shape.

"For women, investing appropriately is more difficult," she says. "For years women have been a little more reluctant about taking risks, and we need to take a certain amount of risk in our investing in order to keep pace with taxes and inflation and [to] achieve enough growth."

Men, meanwhile, often have a harder time responding to their intuition, Chatzky notes. "Listening to that gut sense and understanding when it's leading you in the right direction rather than just jumping on the bandwagon of something because it's hot [is], I think, more difficult for men."

Regardless of gender, professionals should know that associations are doing a lot of things right when it comes to helping them secure a positive financial future.

"A lot of programs that associations are putting into their retirement plans--automatic escalation, automatic enrollment, target date funds as a default--are helping immeasurably, by the way," Chatzky lauds. "They are definitely leading people in the right direction."

Now if only people could be sure that Congress is doing the same.

Read what Chatzky has to say about the debt ceiling debate and its potential impacts on your finances on her blog and mark your calendars for August 8 at 1:30 - 2:45 p.m. for her Game Changer presentation, "The Keys to Personal Financial Happiness and Success."


April 14, 2011

What's in a name?

Let's talk titles.

A conversation with fellow YAEC-er LaKesha McGuire inspired this post, as we discussed what's in a title? Mostly as it pertains to lateral and vertical movement through the association world.

What's "lateral" though? Sometimes, a Director position to a Manager position can be lateral or even upward, depending on the naming structure. My mother is as high as she can possibly get at her mid-sized association, and has a Director title, as it's their top title. I work for a small staff association and have a Director title, but our jobs could not be more different.

Similarly, I've seen seasoned employees called "coordinators" who do incredibly high-level strategic work, and I've seen new part-time customer service reps called "coordinator".

How do you get around this in reviewing resumes for potential hires? How important is title to you? As important as a raise/promotion?

Some associations call their highest employee "CEO", others go with "Executive Director" or "Executive Officer" or "President". But "President" could also be your top board member. I think that structure seems to often mimic the structure of members' companies.

What structure does your association use? Have you had any confusion explaining it to people or in the HR process?

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March 28, 2011

Geraldine Ferraro's Diversity Message Still Rings True

I was sorry to read about the death of former vice presidential candidate and longtime political activist Geraldine Ferraro this weekend. I recalled when she co-authored an article for GWSAE's Executive Update magazine back in July 2000, and oddly enough, I had just had it posted as a resource onto the ASAE Diversity & Inclusion Conference attendee site because its content remains relevant to today's discussions of the subject.

Titled "Reaping the Bottom Line Benefits of Diversity", the article is a warning by Ferraro (Democrat) and President George Bush's Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin (Republican), who jointly write that associations that ignore diversity risk extinction in the coming years. They urge ways that organizations can use training and leadership to leverage the business benefits of diversity and inclusiveness.

The article remains especially timely in light of last week's release of the 2010 U.S. Census results. Among its important findings are data showing that the numbers of Hispanics have grown by more than 43% since the year 2000, or 16% of the U.S. population. That increase means Hispanics have overtaking African-Americans or blacks (at 13% of the U.S. population) as the largest minority group in America. Will organizations or the business community be able to adapt to this level of change in their membership/consumer/worker bases?

Ferraro defined diversity broadly, although she often wrote about women leadership simply because that seemed to be what folks asked her about most. She had many friends within our sector, especially among women's organizations and political groups, and I often saw her on the speakers' lists of a range of nonprofit and association events, despite her battle against blood cancer.

Hopefully, the message she shared in Executive Update 11 years ago and throughout her 75 years of public service, along with new data confirming some of the trends she foresaw, will inspire association leaders to revisit her words and take action accordingly.


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.


December 21, 2010

Staff change brings new opportunities

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

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

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

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

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October 20, 2010

Why you say "Thank you" to volunteers

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

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

This is how Psyblog author Jeremy Dean summarized the results:

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

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

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

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

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October 5, 2010

Maybe the bus metaphor ain't so great

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 1, 2010

Collins' bus metaphor: greatest of all time?

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

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

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

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

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

And here's why:

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

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

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

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September 29, 2010

How important are personnel problems?

I always enjoy reading the CEO to CEO column in Associations Now, because I'm often surprised by the answers we receive. One of the questions in the latest column is a great example: "If you could take back one business decision you've made in the next five years, what would it be?"

The way this question is worded, I anticipated answers that focused on the revenue or expense side of things--new products, pricing, or discontinuing a less-than-profitable event. But instead, three out of the four CEOs quoted felt that a personnel decision was the one business decision they'd most like to take back.

It goes back to that Good to Great credo, "get the right people on the bus," doesn't it? I love Good to Great, and I've always believed that the most important thing you can do as a manager is hire the right people and create conditions where they can thrive. But I wonder: Are bad personnel decisions really the worst business decisions you can make, or do they just feel that way?


Personnel issues are in your face. If you have a festering personnel problem, you're hearing about it or seeing the evidence daily. There's a good chance you're either preparing to confront the issue or actively delaying confronting it on a regular basis. You likely find yourself having numerous conversations with other employees affected by the issue in a direct or indirect way.

Personnel problems are stressful. If you're considering dropping a poor-performing product, that product isn't a human being. You don't have to worry about whether it will have financial difficulties as a result of your decision. Not to mention that, for most of us, conversations about performance issues are stressful. Some managers handle them better than others, but I've never heard anyone say, "Wow, I'm really looking forward to sitting down and talking to Bob about his performance issues today."

Personnel problems are almost never clear-cut. People are rarely terrible performers with no upside whatsoever. So you second-guess yourself: Well, she's having problems in this area, but she's so good at other things. Maybe more training or more feedback could improve things. Maybe a little more time will help. But that second-guessing rarely leads to the issue actually being resolved--just to the problem (and the stress) continuing on.

What do you think? Is it possible we managers find ourselves spending more time worrying about personnel issues because of their nature, when we should be putting more emphasis on other business issues instead?

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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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April 15, 2010

Another look: Uncommon sensical HR practices

I scooped myself.

Please pardon this very brief detour into inside ASAE & The Center baseball (we try to steer clear of talking about ASAE & The Center operational stuff here on Acronym), but the other day I was talking with people from the Finance and Business Operations (FBO) Council about their FBO Core Competencies (pdf) document, and how it could make nice additions to Associapedia. In reviewing the document again, I noticed one of the core competencies was understanding "the importance of keeping compensation information confidential."

For quite a while now, I've thought that the opposite--publishing everyone's salary for all to see--would actually be a better practice that leads to a more healthy organization. I thought it would be a good post for Money Month, but I had a vague recollection of writing on the topic on Acronym before (that's part of the danger when you've been writing on a blog for four years). Turns out, I did, two years ago as part of something I dubbed "Uncommon Sensical HR Practices Week."

So I went back and read all six of my posts, and it made me feel good about myself. I like the descriptions of those six principles, and since most of them touch on money at least in some way (and one of the reasons behind Money Month was to help draw attention to the Financial and Business Operations Symposium, and all 6 practices are related to FBO, which covers the HR area), I've decided to recap here. Plus I'll add in two more quickies.

Uncommon Sensical HR Practice 1: Don't make it so hard to fire people. Use the hiring and firing decisions much more liberally to ensure your organization has the right people in the right jobs.

Uncommon Sensical HR Practice 2: In most cases, don't be so rigid with workday hours. Allow staff to come and go and work and balance their personal lives in ways that makes sense to them--as long as they're doing the job, who cares if they leave for two hours in the middle of the day?

Uncommon Sensical HR Practice 3: Stop bothering to keep track of sick leave and vacation. Good employees (and they're all good employees, because if they're not, then you're using the hiring and firing decisions) can come and go as needed, and they should be strongly encouraged to take time to rest and rejuvenate.

Uncommon Sensical HR Practice 4: Stop the abominable review process and be more open about raises.

Uncommon Sensical HR Practice 5: Publish everyone's salary.

Uncommon Sensical HR Practice 6: Scrap the page-long dress code policy with the dos and don'ts. Replace with five words: "Don't embarrass the company."

And now two bonus quickies:

7. Except for the first one, these practices are all about staff empowerment, even freedom. Here's one that's not. Have a detailed process for staff to follow to debrief after they attend professional development activities--try to make them use the information they learned.

8. Document and celebrate failures as the learning moments they are. Encourage people to talk about decisions they've made that they, in retrospect, think could have been made better. Give a bonus or reward for the best of these learning moments.

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December 7, 2009

What if associations abandoned hierarchy?

This part 2, see part 1 from Friday, answering the question:

“What if associations abandoned the notion of hierarchy and every employee was valued equally?”

Today, I’m going to talk about the hierarchy half of the question, which, in all likelihood, is what the author of the question thought was the “big idea” part of the question.

At various points in my life, I’ve been a hierarchy-hater, which is, I think, the trendy management flavor. (That is, that hierarchy is a bureaucracy that throws roadblocks in the way of progress and that flatter organizations are more effective.) But as I try to answer this question, I first want to take a contrarian view—one that even surprises myself a little. The view is, that at a basic, definition level, hierarchy is simply a decision-making tool.

When looked at this way, it’s really not such a bad thing. Don’t hate the hierarchy; hate the lack of leadership from the people at the top of it. A hierarchy per se doesn’t create red tape, it doesn’t squash innovation, and it doesn’t perpetuate a culture of elitism. A hierarchy does say that a particular person is responsible for making a particular decision. If the person is a poor leader of groups, then the hierarchy will suck for all those involved (well, except maybe the sucky leader). Oh well. Build whatever powerbase you can around it or get out of the situation (as Jeff Hurt said in his comments to Friday's post)—I don’t see other options for you. But if the decision maker is a strong leader, he or she will empower others to build a strong solution to whatever issue is at stake. People in these situations don’t complain about the hierarchy because they don’t feel like it gets in the way.

But take out the hierarchy, and you spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out who has the power to set norms for the group and make decisions. Many people who know me, know that I hate graduate-school-style group work. I took a lot away from my graduate program, but nothing is stronger than the idea that this kind of group is to be avoided at all costs in the real world. Maybe—and I’ll concede (grudgingly) that even probably—the group’s work will exceed the work that could be done alone, but I believe the resource cost far outweighs that benefit.

So to sum up this part of the argument, I think that when people clamor for an end to hierarchy, they really should be clamoring for effective leadership that empowers staff in that hierarchy.

“Don’t hate the hierarchy” may be heretical, but it’s not really a big idea. So I’ll spend the last 150 words of this post trying to think.

When I think of a hierarchy-lite association, I think of those entrepreneurial-minded technology companies you’ve heard about where the idea champion is the project leader, and he or she forms a team from others willing to devote resources to the project. How could such a model work in associations? Picture this: An idea will need dual leadership, one staff and one volunteer. They then work to convince other staff and volunteers to devote resources to the project. If they get enough support, then they launch the project team. Some parameters could be set: maybe no one could champion more than one thing at a time, and everyone is required to devote no more than 60 percent of their resources to what they champion themselves.

One thought is that for something like this to work, you’d need to have projects that can be completed, rather than ongoing. I think the trend is toward this type of project--certainly it's toward this type of volunteering--but associations have to be dragged there, as we are typically unwilling to give up our perpetual programs and services.

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December 4, 2009

Staff value: it's a big idea, even if it shouldn't be

It’s “Big Idea Month” here on Acronym, and I’m tackling one of the ideas that was submitted:

“What if associations abandoned the notion of hierarchy and every employee was valued equally?”

I’m splitting this question into two parts, because the idea of abandoning hierarchy is very different than the notion of valuing every employee equally. I’ll be tackling hierarchy on Monday, with a position that I, myself, was surprised I took.

Today, I’m going to push back on the term “equally,” which I think we should throw out for the purposes of this discussion. Workers, jobs, ideas, products—these things aren’t equally valuable and shouldn’t be treated that way. Now everything needs to be important in its own way; if it’s not important, don’t do it. The question I think we should ask is “What if… every employee was treated as valuable and with respect?”

My first question is this: is this even a big idea? Would anybody seriously challenge the notion that employees deserve to be treated as valuable and with respect?

I think the reality is that most people don’t work hard enough at being a strong manager or a strong leader, and I think it takes both to make employees feel valued and respected—so, yes, I think it is a big idea worth exploring.

Perhaps knocking down hierarchical structure is one way to make employees feel valued and respected. (Perhaps not, come back Monday for more.) I tend to think strong managers and strong leaders are more the answer. Here’s some common sense advice from Patricia Williams, SPHR, senior manager, HR outsourcing with RAFFA. It’s common sense, but all too rare.

“There are so many little ways and so many big ways to communicate to employees that they are valued,” she says. “And it’s critically important to take the time to do those things.

“By little things, I’m talking about managers giving constant feedback on performance. It doesn’t matter if it’s quote, positive or negative feedback—ongoing regular communication, even in casual conversation, will make employees feel valued.

“The larger things are things tied to compensation incentives, additional authority and responsibility, promotions. The opportunities for big things aren’t going to come around as often, that’s why the little things are so important—and they don’t happen often enough.”

When employees feel undervalued or disrespected, it’s a cultural problem, and Williams notes that culture starts at the top of the organization. If you truly value strong management and leadership skills, then you’ll continually work to instill them into the culture of your company. Things like employee surveys and focus groups—and even informal conversations—can help you determine how employees feel. But Williams cautions, “those things are great, great tools, but only if the employer uses them. Nothing is more disheartening for employees to feel like they gave earnest feedback only for it to be ignored.”

I’d add a final note: Don’t be helpless. If you feel undervalued or disrespected, it’s your duty as an employee to speak up. If you don’t you’re just contributing to the miserable culture of the organization. And I’m not saying you have to do it in an angry combative way. If there’s a history of those speaking up being smacked down, then be creative. Find new ways to raise the issues you’re having.

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August 13, 2009

Free Guide Available on "Making Work Work"

Despite two phone calls from newly laid off association professionals this morning, I’m encouraged to read that the nonprofit Families and Work Institute’s free, downloadable 2009 Guide to Bold New Ideas for Making Work Work concludes that 81% of U.S. employers are maintaining and 13% are increasing the work flexibility they offer employees. Only 6% acknowledge reduced flexibility.

"In fact, many report they are using flexibility as a tool to manage through the recession," according to FWI.

How? You’ll find an easy-to-search summary of 260 of the creative programs and policies of 260 employers organized by geography, industry, and innovative practice—each of whom a 2008 Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility.

Aside from a steady expansion of telecommuting-telework programs to help employees reduce commuting costs, other recession-friendly practices are

- Giving employees four Fridays off in the summer in lieu of raises the organization cannot afford
- Creating funds to support their own employees or others in the community who are suffering during the recession
- Giving employees the option to take unlimited, unpaid personal time off during the downturn, while keeping full medical benefits and the right to return to their jobs
- Allowing employees greater scheduling flexibility if their spouse has lost a job or seen their hours reduced and the family needs to make changes
- Creating flex year and flex career programs
- Creating workflow coordinators to monitor overwork and developing wellness scorecards to promote wellness

"The employers in Bold New Ideas present a roadmap to creating successful workplaces in a down economy," says Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of FWI and lead editor of the guide. "We hope these examples will provide ideas to employers around the country for their own programs, and help employees identify progressive organizations in their region -- or become internal advocates for change."

The new guide also shares insights from the latest annual National Study of the Changing Workforce, which includes shifting attitudes toward work and lifestyle choices. Basically, we workers continue to feel "deprived," especially of time to spend with important people in our lives. Three-fourths of responding employees say they don’t have enough time for their children--a 9% increase since 1992. Spouses don’t fare much better; 61% of workers (up 11% in 15 years) complain about the lack of time for significant others.

Thus, few would be surprised to read that 39% of employees report that flexibility is extremely or very important in their decision to accept a job or not. However, even to those currently employed, 86% rank flexibility as extremely or very important.

That is overwhelming. So why then, do only half of U.S. employees "strongly agree" that they currently have the flexibility needed to manage work and personal life successfully? Read the guide for clues and to learn more about how and whether organizations are including workers in questions around flexible workplaces.

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July 30, 2009

Communicating No Salary Increases to Staff

It’s one of the more difficult and unpleasant conversations you have with staff. When and how do you communicate the news?

The “when” is easy: Don’t wait until December 1st to tell staff. Keep staff informed earlier, perhaps as early as mid-summer (assuming you are on a calendar year and typically award increases at the end of each year). Nobody likes bad news dropped on them at the last minute, especially when it has to do with their paycheck. And, if there are other benefit cutbacks likely, tell them sooner rather than later.

Now, the “how” part:

1. Tell everyone at a staff meeting so everyone hears the exact same message at the same time. Be compassionate in your delivery. Acknowledge that you are sharing in the pain. No one is exempt.

2. Give yourself some “wiggle” room. You may decide to phrase the news in terms of “it is very likely that…” or “although circumstances may change, my sense is that…” It is always better to under-promise and over-deliver. Especially when it comes to salary.

3. If possible, mention other perks that will be explored as compensation. Things such as extra vacation time, free lunches, or other perks can go a long way in sustaining morale.

4. Invite staff to meet with you one-on-one after the meeting should they have further questions or want to voice individual concerns. An open door policy is critical to maintaining your role as leader.

5. End on a supportive note. Acknowledge the hard work everyone is doing. And remind folks that the economy will improve.

If there is any way to squeeze merit bonuses out of your budget in lieu of salary adjustments, make this happen. Rewarding folks based on their accomplishments, and not waiting to the end of the year to do it, helps soften the bad news, and further reinforces staff’s commitment to excellence.

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May 14, 2009

Managing across generations

Brett Farmiloe and Zach Hubbell, cofounders of Pursue the Passion and keynoter at the first day of ASAE & The Center's Finance and Business Operations Symposium, took a refreshingly different approach to talk about their chosen topic: What Generation Y Wants.

The pair of Gen Yers traveled across the country interviewing thousands of people who enjoy their work about why they do--from CEOs to shoe designers to park rangers. Rather than talk about generational differences, they talked about the similarities that span generations, and they developed three attributes that are common to all people who go to work and enjoy what they do, doesn't matter their age, experience, level, gender, or anything else. The three are:

1. Significance
2. Trust
3. Measurability

Now, you can't have a keynote on generations without bringing it into the mix in some way. So their take was to go into the three areas and talk about what, specifically, what these three things mean to someone in Generation Y. Personally, I'm an anti-generation guy. I absolutely think the generational stereotypes have some basis in factual research, but these stereotypes break down so seriously at the individual level, that the noise around generational differences is significantly detrimental.

So, there take on Gen Y and the three commonalities sounds to me like there was no need to bring generation into it all.

Significance - Gen Yers want to feel valued and feel that the organization their working for does valuable things. Their advice: make them feel like they are missed when they are out of the room. To me, that's just good management advice.

Trust - Note that some of the best ideas in an organization come from people who have not been institutionalized, but too often these are from lower on the org chart and never get serious consideration. Their advice: give Gen Yers enough rope to swing (and do great things) or hang themselves (a teaching moment). Again, sounds like good management.

Measurability - They made the point that Gen Y is used to instant feedback because of the communication methods they grew up with. My broken record moment -- instant feedback is just smart management.

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February 3, 2009

Stand Out in a Crowd

According to associapedia, “There is no single way to define who is or is not a young professional.” In fact, “there are many different definitions and every organization may have a unique one depending on the dynamics of their specific membership. Some of the ways to distinguish young professionals include age/generation; years in the work force; years in a specific career field; years from graduating; and self defined. Under any definition, this group tends to be a subset of the membership that due to age or years in a career has less experience than the overall membership demographic.”

Although I identify with this definition, I think a more appropriate label for me – and others like me – is “emerging professional.” For me, this denotes someone who has made a conscious decision to take his or her present career to the next level; someone who is actively seeking out opportunities to advance. This could include engaging in a professional association, identifying a mentor, developing a network of professional contacts and/or managing a professional development plan.

Labels aside, the factor that unites these individuals is a general lack of experience, especially when compared to more seasoned professionals in their field. Unfortunately, this lack of experience can sometimes be difficult to overcome, as others may be skeptical of their knowledge, skills and experience.

As an emerging professional myself, I have recently taken steps to help me stand out in a crowd. Two years ago I went back to school to earn a master’s degree. Last year I began serving on ASAE & The Center’s Young Professionals Committee. Earlier this year, I took the certified meeting professional (CMP) exam. (I’m still waiting for my results. Keep your fingers crossed.) Now, of course, I’m gaining knowledge and experience by blogging for a professional association.

So, my question to you is this: If you’re a seasoned professional, what are you looking for in an employee or a colleague who also happens to be an emerging professional? What should we know to help us stand out in a crowd?

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October 24, 2008

Quick clicks: Performance reviews, flex schedules, and more

I've been collecting a bunch of links to share with you:

- Did you see the very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on why you should get rid of performance reviews? I don't know if I agree (although Scott might), but it's definitely a thought-provoking read.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel started a good discussion about flexible schedules.

- Kristin Clarke's post on associations and the financial crisis sparked some good posts by other bloggers: Bruce Hammond lists some questions we should be asking right now, Caron Mason suggests ways associations can help members impacted by the economy, and Tony Rossell points out that association membership can be a form of unemployment insurance. In addition, Kerry Stackpole writes on leadership in uncertain times

- Kevin Holland and David Patt respond to Scott Oser's post on whether or not attendees at association meetings are really ready for new meeting formats. Both of them raise important points about the negatives of some more interactive education sessions.

- David Patt also points to an interesting blog post, where the blogger in question and her commenters discuss the pros and cons of joining a professional association. It's an interesting glimpse at a potential member's thought process.

- Wes Trochlil is gathering information on associations that use their AMS successfully.

- Lindy Dreyer suggests that both age and generation are less important than we often think.

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September 24, 2008

Association/Nonprofit Employers of Choice for the Over-50 Crowd

With so many organizations focused on talent management and recruitment, special congratulations are in order for several associations and nonprofits that have been named to the prestigious 2008 AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50 list. Some of the who and why are below:

- The YMCA of Greater Rochester (New York)—Ranked fourth and in the top 10 for the past four years, this nonprofit has a workforce in which 18% of employees are over age 50 and averaging a decade-long tenure. To get there, the “Y” hires specialized placement agencies to aim for “mature workers and retirees,” and partners with the Rochester Area Employee Network to recruit people over age 50 with disabilities. Its alternative work schedules include job sharing, telecommuting, and “a formal phased-retirement” program, as well as financial planning coaching, caregiving leave, wellness programs, and onsite care for grandchildren.

The Y also boasts terrific benefits for part-time and full-time employees, such as professional development programs with tuition reimbursement, short-term assignments in other departments, and public accolades for long-time service. A formal retiree association is run by an on-staff employee who coordinates temporary or ongoing project work, consulting, volunteering, and myriad networking/social events.

- The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (Arlington, Virginia)—Thirty-six percent of NRECA’s workforce is over age 50. Ranked 27 on the AARP list, NRECA employees enjoy a culture of continuing education, with a wide assortment of training, short-term projects, sabbaticals, certifications, and tuition reimbursement available. Volunteering is encouraged with paid time off, and commuter assistance and flexible work locations and hours are offered. Childcare referral services for grandchildren, an active retiree program with multiple work and volunteer options, and excellent health and financial benefits also are worth noting.

As competition for top talent tightens, these role models are sure to be replicated across our sector. Congratulations again!


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 6, 2008

Hiring and the MySpace - Facebook conundrum

About a month ago, there was quite a bit of chatter on ASAE & The Center's membership listserver on researching the social media profiles of job applicants. (Any ASAE member can access it by logging into the website and going to the listserver archive -- leave the search field blank and look at messages beginning July 1, 2008.)

I think there were some responses that went too far, such as weighting their online presence even more than their interview. And there were some that were what I would consider absurd, such as using their profiles as a factor in a decision being a violation of the applicant's privacy. But I thought the bulk of those who responded hit the mark.

I think the dividing line of that gray area in the middle is the degree to which people make their nonwork lives public. There were some on the listservers who advocated that it shows poor judgment to let it all hang out on such sights, which reflects poorly on the applicant. Of course there are limits. An obsession with pornography, for example, should set off alarms for the hiring manager. However, I believe these people are looking at this through their own biased lens. A lens that sees a professional persona and a nonwork persona. But I believe that the idea of work-life balance is more and more giving way to just balance--meaning the lines between work and nonwork are becoming less and less structured by time and place. We are who we are, without separate work and life personae—and I believe our organizations are more productive, more enriching, more diverse, and more fulfilling because of it.

My advice is: job seekers—be aware of how others (prospective employers) might see you based on what they can find out about you online. If you're comfortable with that, then don't worry about getting passed over because somebody doesn't like what they find, you don't want to work for them anyway. For employers—be aware of the assumptions you are making based on what you find, and be doubly aware of what biases you have that might preclude diverse and inclusive hiring practices.

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July 10, 2008

Telecommuting--why not?

I've been meaning to write a post on telecommuting for a few days now, so I was pleased to see the responses to Kristin's post on alternative work schedules. I personally am telecommuting two days a week this summer, and not because of gas prices or environmentalism--it's because it makes it possible for both my husband and me to maximize our work efforts without maximizing the time our children spend in day care. (Ah, the joys of a DC-area commute.)

I've been surprised to hear from several people lately who have told me that their associations or companies don't allow telecommuting at all. Really? I have to admit, I don't understand it. I can see not allowing a particular position to telecommute (the receptionist at a local association, for instance, might be required to be physically in the office to greet members and guests who stop by). I can even see not allowing particular people to commute, because they are having performance problems, are brand-new and still need a lot of training, or because they've proved to be an ineffective telecommuter in the past. But having a blanket prohibition on telecommuting? What would be the argument for that?

As Tammy Erickson over at noted recently, "How much of our work today, really, is synchronous?" Other than for a few meetings, does it really matter if I tend to start work before 7 am but another editor in my department prefers not to greet the dawn? Or, if synchronicity really is needed for a project, does it matter if we're not physically located in the same place?

Managing telecommuters is different than managing people on-site, and it does require someone who has never managed a telecommuter to adapt his or her management style accordingly. And, of course, telling one person that they cannot telecommute while someone else can is never fun. But isn't our job as managers to handle challenges like that?

So, is there anyone out there who can explain to me the argument against telecommuting? I'd really like to understand that perspective better than I do.

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July 9, 2008

Redesigning Work Schedules

I remember people laughing when Executive Update magazine, a precursor to ASAE & The Center’s Associations Now magazine, ran a 2004 feature by Brazil’s two-time businessman of the year Ricardo Semler, who had just written a book called The Seven-Day Weekend. The article, “Where Radical Design Meets Effective Business,” details Semler’s “crazy” but highly successful approach to generating tremendous organizational growth while simultaneously creating “the happiest employees on the planet.”

One way he did that was to leave all work scheduling—whether manufacturing shifts or executive work sessions—to the employees themselves. The focus was on the work—not the when or how, but the what—as in, “What were the results, and did they achieve our goals?”

Today, though, the laughter is long gone, and in its place are serious discussions of how to conduct work differently to achieve a wider range of goals. High on the agenda are flexible work schedules. Just this week I saw that the Birmingham Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is piloting a voluntary four-day work week program through July and August to help employees and the business reduce fuel and energy expenses and commuting time.

State governments, too, are re-envisioning work parameters, with Utah Governor Jon Huntsman leading the way June 26 with an announcement that the state’s non-essential service agencies will move to a mandatory three-day weekend (employees will work four 10-hour days) to conserve energy, cut in-state vehicle miles, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

Other states pondering (West Virginia, Vermont, Oklahoma, and Arizona), piloting (Kentucky, South Carolina), or even mandating (New Mexico) work schedule alternatives have found great enthusiasm among their employees.

And are associations following this lead? Eh, some are, some aren’t. What I don’t understand is that in a period of such high concern about retaining talent, cutting expenses, reducing environmental footprints, and doing-too-much-with-too-little, doesn’t it make sense to at least try some fresh approaches to getting work done? And that’s no joke ...

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April 5, 2008

Bonus! Uncommon sensical HR #6: Dress codes

I’m sneaking this bonus uncommon sensical HR policy in on a Saturday to see who’s really paying attention.

As I was coming up with a list of post ideas, I wasn’t sure how the whole review/raise/salary thing was going to work out, so I needed another idea or two. Dress code was the next on the list.

Hold on to your hats (bad dress code pun intended), because I’m not advocating a nonpolicy here. My policy is, well, more simplistic maybe than what people might like. Here goes:

Dress Code Policy

Don’t embarrass the organization.

That’s it. All day, every day—yes, including days when the board is at headquarters.

Just as before, there are perhaps caveats to various associations that may represent especially business-attired members, but for the most part, I just think people should dress how they feel most productive (as long as it doesn’t embarrass the organization). When the VIPs come in, tell them you think it's in their best interest to have free, open, motivated office, which means it's casual. The VIPs can feel free to wear whatever they're comfortable wearing.

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April 4, 2008

Uncommon sensical HR #5: Salary policy

You know the annual issue of Parade magazine that lists the salaries of 50 or 70 people or so? Most of them are man/woman on the street types of things, with a few celebs and others thrown in. I always wonder about how they get people to give their income. And I wonder what, if any, angst it causes the organizations that employ those people.

So here’s my nuttiest HR policy of all: publish everybody’s salary. Let everybody know what everybody else makes.

What would the ramifications of such a policy be?

In the case of for-profit CEOs, it turned out to be a big mistake. The SEC thought it abominable that CEO compensation had skyrocketed from 5 times the average salary of the firm to 10 times. Over mighty howls from executives, the SEC began requiring public disclosures of CEO compensation. Major backfire! Since disclosures, CEO salaries have jumped: 364 times the average worker according to a CNN report last summer.

I realize this is an argument against my policy. But just looking at CEOs makes it different; I’m not convinced the same thing would happen (skyrocketing salaries) with my policy.

Chances are you’ll get a lot of griping and moaning, some jealousy, and other nasty emotions. But I contend that that stuff is just under the surface anyway, and it bubbles up from time to time in ways that are detrimental to your organization. Once it’s out there for a while, there’s no need for the griping and jealousy. If an employee is discontent with what they make, they are free to try to go elsewhere, inside or outside the organization. It could also be motivational to people just starting out in the lower salary ranges, if a message of work hard you will be rewarded is part of the culture of the organization. Plus, I just like the ultimate in transparency that such a policy demonstrates.

One major caveat is the specialized element of association work. There are many organizations where you not only have to worry about other staff griping and jealousy, but also members if the profession is less compensated than association management (stop laughing, there are some). To be honest, I’m not sure I can resolve this argument. I’d admire an organization that did it anyway and told/convinced any complaining members that this is what it costs to provide the level of service the profession deserves.

A final thought. If outright salaries are too sensitive, then I’d advocate a pretty strict graded salary structure—and let everyone in the organization what each job is graded at and give them access to the entire salary scale for the organization. Maybe have a $10,000 or $15,000 range makes salary disclosure more palatable.

So that’s it. Feel free to rip apart this or any other post in my uncommon sensical HR policy thread. I hope you’ve enjoyed it… as with so many of my posts, I have this sneaking suspicion that these posts will contribute to the fact that no other association is ever likely to hire me again based on my Acronym writings. Oh well, I’ll always have my shepherding to fall back on.

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April 3, 2008

Uncommon sensical HR #4: Reviews and raises

Try doing this. Try saying the following sentence emphasizing the word “performance:”

It’s PERFORMANCE review time!

Now try it emphasizing “review:”

It’s performance REVIEW time!

See? No matter how you say it, you won’t be convinced that the exclamation point should be there. So why have a process that is universally hated? Yesterday’s uncommon sensical HR practice was to scrap the leave policy; today’s is scrap the review process.

This seems so straightforward to me, I don’t know why the relic of performance reviews is still around. Even if an employee works with very little oversight, there is no excuse for her not to know exactly where she stands with her supervisor. And it’s not all the supervisor’s responsibility; there needs to be a culture where employees can freely talk about their work and the organization with their supervisors.

Having a sitdown every year just seems pretty arbitrary to me. What’s so special about 365 days (366 this year)? There should be sitdowns whenever a sitdown is needed: new projects, you’ve noticed your staff is stressed, you’ve noticed your boss is stressed, or even just because. An ongoing series of these is easily more beneficial than a four-page form with a bunch of meaningless ratings on it filled out once a year.

Raises are often tied to reviews. I’m not sure if I’m reading things right, but it seems to me that HR types have tried to distance themselves from COLAs (cost of living adjustments). I think most people know that’s a load of… of… stuff. There is a COLA component to raises whether the organization is willing to admit it or not. I say, just be upfront about it. Tell people, for example, that there’s going to be a 2 percent COLA for everybody, and each supervisor/manager/director will add merit increases as they see fit in accordance with the an overall plan for the organization.

And that leads to tomorrow’s topic: policies around salary.

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April 2, 2008

Uncommon sensical HR #3: The leave nonpolicy

Tying together a few threads in the third day of uncommon sensical HR practices: The first post is really the thread that makes all HR policies and practices work. If you’ve used the hiring and firing decisions to build a staff that is motivated to do good work, then you trust them to do it.

So here’s my leave policy: don’t have one.

Ok, ok, not exactly no policy, but do away with vacation time and sick leave as you know it. I’ll admit to being a little out of my area of expertise here (I’m sure some of you are thinking, “yeah, WAY out”), and I admit to not having a great grasp of short-term and long-term disability policies. Seems to me most places have some such coverage. So let’s say that your short-term kicks in after two weeks. Then your policy should be that everybody always has a two-week bank of sick leave. No need to track it. So if one of your valued staff (and remember, they’re all valued now) unfortunately comes down with pneumonia, he uses his 10-day bank of sick leave then moves to short-term disability. Now let’s say that employee was well enough to return to work after eight days out. After his first day back, he’s back to having a 10-day sick leave bank.

As for vacation, my policy would be as a general guideline assume you have three weeks or so of vacation each year. Take off when you need to to get the car inspected or watch your son’s recital, and take a week or two or long weekends to do fun things. My policy would be that you have to use at least two weeks time off for reasons other than you or your family being sick. You have to be able to document it. I’m not sure what the ramifications are if you don’t. Maybe everybody on staff gets a $100 bonus every year for using at least two weeks. Maybe offenders who don’t use the leave are publicly excoriated at the next staff meeting. Whatever makes people take time off.

And here’s something to please the accountants: rather than have a huge liability with a bunch of staff who have hundreds of hours of vacation saved, have a policy that for employees that have been there at least a year, pay them two weeks of vacation if they leave.

I know, it sounds like I’m an idealist. Maybe I’m gullible. I just think if you actually have a staff you trust, then you trust them not to abuse this nonpolicy. Maybe if I were actually in charge, I’d hate the day I ever thought of this idea. But maybe it’s the type of flexibility that employees would truly value.

On tomorrow’s docket: Performance reviews and raises. It’s probably not too difficult to guess where I come down on performance reviews, is it?

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April 1, 2008

Uncommon sensical HR #2: Workday hours

The topic for uncommon sensical HR post number two on the surface is scheduled work hours. Below the surface, though, this is the first of two posts where the real issue is trust and flexibility.

There are some job duties in the association world that correlate to established starting or ending times. In member service, for example, you may want your phones covered from 9 am in the east to 4 pm in the west. But for most jobs, an official starting or ending time is artificial, meaning there’s no good reason for it. So don’t make people follow a rule when there’s no reason for it.

I realize people don’t work in a vacuum, they must work with each other to get things done. So maybe you establish a guideline where everybody is expected to generally be available from 10:30 to 3:30. All group meetings should respect the guidelines.

Of course I know that’s a rule that’s made to be broken, and it would be fine to break it from time to time and with good reason. But on the flip side, I’ve never heard anybody complain about not having spent enough time in meetings that day. Imagine if you could regularly count on a good chunk of either your morning or your afternoon being meeting free. Now that’s freedom!

To pull this off, you need trust in your employees. You have to trust that doing their job well is important to them. And when it comes right down to it, if you don’t trust your employees, why are they on your staff? (See yesterday’s post on hiring and firing.)

After all, everybody has job expectations. Isn’t the extent to which they are able to perform up to or beyond those expectations more important than whether they like to stay up late and get in a little late (or vice versa)?

I know that brings up the specter of performance reviews—but you’ll have to wait. That’s my topic for Thursday. Tomorrow, I’ll be making a lot of these same arguments in favor of redoing leave policies.

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March 31, 2008

Uncommon sensical HR #1: Firing people

In a post to his blog last week, David Gammel wrote about firing people through email. I think most people will universally support the notion that such a practice is repugnant. What I want to comment on his is third reason why it’s repugnant:

“It is too easy for the firer. Firing should be a last resort outside of extreme cases. Sending an e-mail allows the executive to terminate someone in the abstract rather than facing them personally. You are more likely to make the right decision if you are willing to deliver the message to their face.”

Each day this week, I’m unfurling an uncommon sensical HR policy. So my first uncommon sensical HR policy is to challenge the notion that firing be considered “a last resort.” I think firing someone is too hard in most organizations, and, as a result, managers keep employees that they think do the job adequately while secretly thinking the organization might be better off with someone different.

I think maybe there was a time when people showed real loyalty to their employer and maybe it was too much loyalty as companies can and did lay people off when under real or perceived financial distress . Now I wonder if the power dynamic has tilted too far in the other direction. People change jobs and employers much quicker and with more regularity than they used to, yet as long someone isn’t significantly underperforming, companies don’t seek to make a personnel change.

Now I’m not Attila the Hun or anything like that. I realize these are real people we're talking about. I also believe that most people with a passion and motivation for doing good work would never experience a non-"last resort" release. Could be that these people just don't have passion for what they do at their organization. Or it could be that they will never have passion about what they do—either way, I think your organization will be better off without them.

I think it would have to be done right. For example, a hypothetical employment policy might explain up front that the organization is always assessing the strengths of its employees and will not hesitate to make changes if it thinks it is in the best interest of the organization. To compensate for the lack of security, the company could have a relatively generous severance package for anyone released other than for gross negligence. Maybe any employee that has been there at least six months gets two months’ salary as severance. For each year of service, another month is added on up to a maximum of seven months. Of course there’s drawbacks, such as cash flow considerations. But I also think such a policy would be fair to the employee and is fair to the organization. Sorry to bust out the Jim Collins metaphor, but you have to use the hiring and firing decisions to get the right—not ok or satisfactory—but the right people on the bus.

Tomorrow: Scheduled work hours.

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March 13, 2008

Optimize for less stress

Michele Martin’s comment on the “Interesting juxtaposition” post addresses the need for a shift in the way U.S. organizations think about their employees. The field of association management has a unique opportunity to compete for today’s most valuable human resources by taking the discussion about compensation to another level. Associations can build on their appeal to talented, socially-conscious workers by creating satisfying job environments where all factors affecting an employee’s well being are taken into consideration.

Fritjof Capra, a brilliant scientist and major voice in the discussion on sustainability, applies the principles of ecological systems to human communities. His emphasis on dynamic balance seems particularly significant for managing teams: a healthy system is flexible and has the ability to right itself after facing stress, but “trying to maximize any single variable instead of optimizing it will invariably lead to the destruction of the system as a whole.”

Creating the right mix of employee takeaways—both tangible and intangible—may be an answer for recruiting and retaining talented staffers. Beginning to understand our teams, organizations, and the broader industry as part of interconnected networks will provide a leg up in the increasingly complex work world.

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February 6, 2008

That Jamie Notter's always thinking

I liked the post today on the Get Me Jamie Notter blog. It's on rewarding teams as opposed to individuals.

I would add the idea that team goals should be pliable, changing and updating as the team assesses and incorporates the changing outside environment into its work. Any rewards (monetary or otherwise) should take that into account.

As an additional resource, I'd recommend the book x-teams by Deborah Ancona and Henrik Bresman. Here's a word doc (sorry, this one didn't get posted online) of an interview of Ancona that appeared in the June 2007 issue of Associations Now.

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January 25, 2008

Would Your Staff Rank Your Association as a Great Place to Work?

Job sharing and telecommuting options. Onsite fitness centers and loads of professional training. These are just a few of the benefits offered employees working at many of Fortune magazine’s “Top 100 Companies to Work For." While the much-anticipated annual survey results appear on newsstands February 4, I doubt many folks will be surprised to learn that Google ranks number one. Filling out the top five are Quicken Loans, Wegmans Food Market, Edward Jones and Genentech, respectively.

Congratulations go to several business partners of ASAE & The Center that also appear on the list: Marriott International (72) and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts (88)! Both invest in and empower employees to go beyond simple competence and use innovation and imagination to create a rewarding experience for guests that also reflects the corporations’ strong values and principles.

Like corporations, many associations and nonprofits are re-examining their workplace culture and employee benefits because they, too, want to be a great place to work—especially as the market for good talent tightens. Informal research done for ASAE & The Center’s new Social Responsibility Initiative finds that numerous professional associations, in particular, are surveying staff more regularly to determine their needs and wants, and are paying particular attention to the desires of young workers in the hope of retaining these emerging but impatient leaders.

Also mentioned more frequently are staff engagement tools such as volunteer opportunities, employee wellness team initiatives, one-on-one career coaching even for non-senior-staff, customized skills training and get-away get-togethers such as retreats in interesting places (not your typical hotel conference room!).

When ASAE & The Center first introduced the Social Responsibility Initiative in August 2007, one of the most frequent questions we got in the Social Responsibility Lounge at the Expo was “Does this help me get and keep employees?” Yes, according to many studies. But I haven’t yet found such a study that is specific to the association/nonprofit sector, so more work needs to be done.

I suspect we’ll hear much more about this important “return on investment” in our discussions about the business case for strategic social responsibility at the Global Summit for Social Responsibility April 30-May 2 (hey, come join us!). Meanwhile, I look forward to hearing all of your ideas about what makes a workplace great—and whether associations and nonprofits are doing enough of what’s needed to earn such an esteemed title.


October 12, 2007

New Incentive to Pursue an Association Career

Recruiting recent graduates to association careers just got a little easier. In case you missed it, there is a valuable provision in the new College Cost Reduction and Access Act that directly benefits association employees--forgiveness of college loans. For those who qualify, their monthly payments are reduced and the balance of their debt is forgiven after ten years.

According to the October 11 Wall Street Journal article, New Incentives May Bolster Public Service, "The legislation broadly defines public service to include a wide range of occupations, such as public health, public education, working for a nonprofit organization and serving in law enforcement or as a public-interest lawyer."

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September 26, 2007

Top Ten Ways You Know You're Flying Too Much...

Over the last six weeks or so, my life has felt like one continuous plane ride. I've spent many, many hours in the air during this period, and I've tried to put that time to good use by coming up with this list for your amusement. Just consider it a public service I'm performing on behalf of all the weary travelers in the association world. It's a great opportunity for us to laugh at the ridiculous things that too much flying can do to otherwise normal human beings. (No cracks from the peanut gallery please...)

So, without further delay, the Top Ten Ways You Know You're Flying Too Much!

Continue reading "Top Ten Ways You Know You're Flying Too Much..." »

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February 16, 2007

The permanent resume

There’s an interesting post over at the Fast Company Experts blog on the future of the resume. Jory Des Jardins argues that, in the next 10 years or so, recruiting will lean more and more heavily on social media and pre-existing contacts with a company through blogs, wikis, and websites than use of traditional advertising channels.

I definitely think there are trends in this direction, but it raises a couple of questions in my mind:

- How much will this affect folks whose jobs don’t involve writing (or don’t involve writing to a great extent)? If I’m hiring a magazine editor, it really matters to me whether or not they can write a coherent sentence on their blog. If I’m hiring an accounts payable representative, written communication may not be as critical.

- How will this impact first-time job hunters fresh out of school? Will their crazy high school MySpace pages, or intemperate comments on Blogger, impact their ability to find a job?

- Will the ability to find so much of someone’s past online polarize the workforce, particularly along political lines? Will hiring managers skip over candidates whose blogs reveal deeply held opinions that are very different from those of the manager—even if those opinions have nothing to do with the job in question?

How many of you have used Google or similar online tools to learn more about a potential hire?

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February 1, 2007

Engaging Tomorrow's Association Leadership

I had the opportunity to attend The Great Ideas Conference this past weekend. It was a great opportunity to connect with old friends and meet some new ones – not to mention getting to watch ASAE & The Center staff along with Marriott staff adeptly handle a fire emergency that would have left many a professional weak-in-the-knees.

While I thought all of the programming was outstanding, timely, and relevant, I was particularly struck by the opening session speaker, Dan Heath. As others have posted on this blog, Mr. Heath walked us through what in his mind are the Six Principles of making ideas “stick.” That is, what makes some ideas, programs, products, and services stand-out in people’s minds versus others that, well, simply do not? What struck me during the presentation, and afterward, was that while there were 600 association professionals and industry partners present (which was outstanding), I couldn’t help but wonder why so many others were “stuck” back at work and unable to take advantage of the great programming.

I know, I know… time, budgets, and meeting conflicts. I realize that. I am more referring to the associations among ours that simply do not invest in continuing education and professional development for their staff – especially mid-level staff. I realize that not every association has the means to send one or more people out of their city or state for a meeting. But do they even do that? I think as association professionals and industry partners that we have an obligation to speak out and to politely confront those association leaders who attend programming but leave behind key staff. We need to convince them to expose as many of their staff as they can – be it 1 or 10+ - to the community that we call association management, or we risk losing the future of this profession to other professions. In my fifteen year career I have seen very good people move on to other professions in part because they were never aware of all that the association management profession has to offer. I have usually been fortunate to have my participation supported today but that was not true in the early days of my career.



August 8, 2006

SHRM’s 2006-07 Workplace Trends: Yikes!

I just read the Society for Human Resource Management's 2006-07 Workplace Forecast, and I have to say, I didn’t walk away with a warm, cuddly feeling. While many of the themes are not new, taken together they paint a fairly scary picture of what’s happening in the American workplace.

As author Jennifer Schramm says, “many trends indicate a potential rise in employees’ feelings of insecurity through more intense global competition for jobs, more individuals without access to health insurance and fears about data security and identity theft and the vulnerability of technology to attack or disaster.”

The top workplace trends overall for 2006-07 are:

1. Rising health care costs.
2. Increased use of outsourcing (offshoring) of jobs to other countries.
3. Threat of increased health care/medical costs on the economic competitiveness of the United States.
4. Increased demand for work/life balance.
5. Retirement of large numbers of baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1964) around the same time.
6. New attitudes toward aging and retirement as baby boomers reach retirement age.
7. Rise in the number of individuals and families without health insurance.
8. Increase in identity theft.
9. Work intensification as employers try to increase productivity with fewer employees.
10. Vulnerability of technology to attack or disaster.

The full report is available through the SHRM website.

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