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.