Sunday, October 22, 2006

We've Always Done it That Way: 101 Things About Associations We Must Change

From what I can tell, the impetus for this book was that the folks who wrote it, Jeff De Cagna, David Gammel, Jamie Notter, Mickie Rops and Amy Smith, were “concerned by the instinctively conservative approach to organizational stewardship that far too many association executives and volunteers continue to pursue in the early years of the 21st century.”

I took notes throughout the book, and now I realize they are far too extensive to make a very good book review. And I am definitely the choir that this book is preaching to. However, I really, really liked the problems these folks addressed and they pretty much slaughtered and butchered several sacred cows.

This book is not extensive narrative or heavily footnoted, but it is based on the collective experience of 5 people who together have worked with many different organizations, and the collective themes will be familiar to anyone in the field.

On a meta level, this book takes observations of what’s happening in the larger world and does the translation necessary to make it appropriate for association leaders.

So, we must change some things about associations. They are organized around these themes:

Changing the way we think

Upshot: We aren’t protected from societal shifts just because we have such a traditional model. We have to lose some of that tradition and start thinking entrepreneurially—because sooner or later we won’t have any choice.

I really liked Mickie Rop’s piece on not letting uniqueness stifle growth. We’re different, so all the research and best practices and bold thinking don’t apply doesn’t cut it; I agree wholeheartedly. Also, the rousing questions asked by De Cagna at the beginning form a good, broad sketch of the climate we currently face in associations.

Changing the way we lead

Upshot: Renovating governance models and structures. Strategy vs. Strategic Planning. The necessity of outcomes and evaluation. Providing staff leadership and not throwing up your hands when the next volunteer leader comes along. Ensuring diversity among the membership and leadership of organizations.

I especially liked the piece “Outcomes Orientation for Everyone,” by David Gammel. It’s that whole “what do I want to happen here” step that sometimes gets overlooked in the face of little emergencies, but in reality, is the only reason the little emergencies exist.

Changing the way we manage

Upshot: Don’t be incompetent!

Seriously, this section was my favorite. I think every single point I’ve wanted to scream over at some point or other. I liked Amy Smith’s “End the Wild Goose Chase,” where you don’t get bogged down in these vertigo-inducing intrigues between board, committees and staff; I also liked her piece “Organizational Dashboard,” where she talks about keeping track of the metrics that really matter. JNott’s advice on handling silos is imminently sensible, and his piece on building teams is as well. Jeff De Cagna’s piece on “What if there were no dues,” borders on the heretical, YET if people don’t think that way they’re going to have some surprises coming. Mickie Rops’s “Stop Rewarding ‘Hard Work,’” had me nodding in agreement so hard I need to visit the chiropractor. If I recapped all the tidbits in this section, I’d just have to type the whole thing in here and that just wouldn’t be right. Besides, you can go see it on the blog.

Changing the way we execute

Upshot: It takes us too long to do the things we do, and we have to get better at being relevant to our members—especially on the educational side of things.

I especially liked the first piece, by David Gammel, talking about the six-month meeting planning lag. This is kind of emblematic of the sea changes that we’re seeing all over the place.

Changing the way we work together

Upshot: People sometimes are difficult and cause problems that need to be solved. That doesn’t mean you should give up. Issues of cultural and generational diversity.

This is the difficult section, which dredges up all those pesky people problems. Why oh why can’t we all just get along? This section will make you think in healthy ways about what to do when you see dysfunction in the association workplace. These are critical problems when you think about it because we mostly work in relatively small organizations. Bad blood can really cause problems and you can’t just ignore it. People problems need to be addressed, so take a look at this section.

Changing the way we involve others

Upshot: This is the R&D advice for associations. How to read your members’ minds and make them happy.

My fave from this one is Amy Smith’s “Your members are subject matter experts.” In organizations I’ve worked for in the past, I’ve wanted to shout this from the rooftops. They know a lot about what’s happening in the field and so any professional association would be wise to tap into that knowledge by selectively picking people’s brains and crafting cool program components.

I know this review is pretty long, but I wanted to write down my takeaways so I can reread them. The book is very much worth reading, and I wish there were more writing so tailored to the kinds of problems associations face. You can buy the book here.

Never Eat Alone

Okay, I've reached the height of laziness. I'll explain later.

My excuse is that I'm on the road. I came back to BYU for a homecoming reunion since I'm the treasurer of an alumni chapter (very easy job, since we have no money). And of course we trashed UNLV at the game! Also, I've wrapped a bunch of work into the trip out west so I'm doing Utah, Idaho, Arizona and possibly Nevada if I get time.

Here is a picture of campus. The Y is on the mountain, and they light it up at special occasions such as homecoming. The reason why there is only a Y is that they started to put BYU up there and they ran out of money or something. So now it's just the Y and that's what we call the school for shorthand.

Okay, so now to the lazy part. I brought a jillion books with me and I'm trying to plow through them and send them back media mail. I read the book Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi. The book treats the topic of networking, and does it really very well--and realistically. But I am not going to review it but rather link to reviews. Here is one that gets the really good stuff. Here is another from Harvard Business School.

I had lunch with JNott before leaving, and we had some fascinating conversation, thanks for that! I am working on digesting We've Always Done it That Way, that will be forthcoming. In a nutshell, it was great.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Get Out of Your Own Way

This book, by Robert K. Cooper, was on the library's newly arrived shelf. It's pretty good, although if you read biz books a lot, there's a lot you'll want to skim. Still, the principles he talks about are good to think on.

The subtitle of the book is "the five keys to surpassing everyone's expectations." These keys are:

1. Direction, not motion

2. Focus, not time

3. Capacity, not conformity

4. Energy, not effort

5. Impact, not intentions

Each key has three or four supporting chapters that talk about subprinciples. Some things that I identified with from key one is that a) "good and great are the enemies of possible," a quote Cooper attributes to his grandfather. It's pretty self-explanatory though. The other thing
is he talks about "what's automatic, accelerates." Basically, if you can put effort into something until it becomes automatic, you've won the battle. So focus resources on issues and behaviors that will eventually run themselves, and thus produce payouts. He makes this point very well, so I would suggest if you're curious about that to get the book.

Under key two, I really liked the idea of "emphasizing the right moments, not the clock." Although I love my current position and I have a great deal of freedom, those around me are not always as fortunate. They seem to have employers who don't get this point at all. People have pent-up frustration about not being able to apply this principle in their paid employment. The visionary in me says watch out for this issue, because we will see problems with it in the future.

For key three (capacity, not conformity) I want to underline the point that "constructive discontent drives growth." In the literature, the need to accept change is a yawn-making bore at this point. However, the concept of "constructive discontent" is a, if not the, causal force behind this change. So, to quote scripture, we can "act or be acted upon."

Keys four and five are pretty self-explanatory.

I did enjoy the book, which helped me to articulate some of my personal philosophy and things I've observed to work.

In the mail: We've Always Done it That Way: 101 Things about Associations We Must Change

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Membership Developments Article

I thought this was pretty good, so I thought I'd put it here, until they send me a cease-and-desist :)

One of the seven traits of remarkable associations has to do with internal culture in the organization. Remarkable associations feature a close-knit, consistent culture where all employees receive the same information and also see the potential to contribute to a blockbuster production. Everyone, whether in lead or supporting roles, equally shares the responsibility to contribute and add value to the association.

Of course, having a healthy organizational culture is something that we often see in theoretical literature, but it can get short shrift or written off in practice. And, it matters to membership professionals what kind of culture is present in the organization. This is demonstrated time and time again in case studies of troubled organizations: what’s happening inside an organization seems to effortlessly telegraph itself to customers, members or other stakeholders, who then become guarded and disengaged.

How can we as membership professionals contribute to this “close-knit, consistent” culture? As warm and fuzzy as it may seem, a lot of this boils down to the simple concept of trust: we have to be able to trust our members and coworkers.

Now, trust may be a simple concept, but it takes work and dedication to achieve. It involves a never-ending series of negotiations and renegotiations with those around us—and it will be in some cases impossible to obtain. Nevertheless, it’s worth working on.

Here are some keys to maintaining trust with coworkers and with members:

Be open to learning. It has become a cliché that we need to be lifelong learners. But there is a simple reason for this: change, which always was a constant, continues to accelerate before our very eyes. Being open to learning means not only keeping up with technology (which it does) but also being open to learning about people, cultivating a curiosity about what drives people and makes them tick, and of course, always improving skills, among which are interpersonal skills.

This also means you need to ask questions. Somewhere in junior high school—or perhaps graduate school—we mainly learn that it’s easier to keep quiet and not ask questions. You don’t put yourself out on a limb, and no one assumes you’re dumb (at least not right away). And hello, we all know that saying about there not being dumb questions is okay for kiddies, but not for us. Seriously, questions are essential to learning. Most people won’t stop and say, “hello, Steve, today I’m going to tell you my philosophy on business and life. And by the way, here’s what to avoid in your presentation to the board.” But they might just do that if you pull it out of them one question at a time.

Make sure you’re confident in yourself. In order to “contribute and add value” to the organization, we have to feel we’re able to do this. I know! This is in the realm of MENTAL HEALTH. Ahh! But it’s 2006. Our society has therapy, EAPs and drugs, so these are not insurmountable problems. But maybe some time with a self-help book will suffice as well.

Be honest. We hopefully learned that it’s easier, long-term, to tell the truth than to fib. I will tell you: it is sometimes hard to be perfectly honest, it’s easier to tell a lie. And it’s certainly the case that we need to pick our battles. But when you’re having a conversation with someone and you have the choice to tell a white lie, be assured that things will work out better if you figure out a kind and diplomatic way to tell the truth.

Make time for people. It is easy to get slammed with work and to focus on crossing things off our lists. But make time to build trust with people. Go to lunch with your assistant, talk about work if you want, or not. But let people know you care about them. (If you don’t care about them, omit this step.)

I was watching a program on employment issues the other night. The person on the program said that when you get a job, you master it and become independent. The next step though, is the path to true employment Zen: you reach a point where you help others achieve their best as well. Trust is key to reaching this level, and it’s an important part of having a remarkable culture.