Monday, December 26, 2011

It's Not Innovation If It Only Serves You

At the end of this year I will no longer be posting here at The Hourglass Blog. To see my reasons why click here.

To keep following me on my new blog, go here. A new post, "It's Not Innovation If It Only Serves You" has just gone up there.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Innovation Does Not Happen Online

At the end of this year I will no longer be posting here at The Hourglass Blog. To see my reasons why click here.

To keep following me on my new blog, go here. A new post, "Innovation Does Not Happen Online" has just gone up there.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Race for Relevance Inadvertently Taught Me About Committees

At the end of this year I will no longer be posting here at The Hourglass Blog. To see my reasons why click here.

To keep following me on my new blog, go here. A new post, "What Race for Relevance Inadvertently Taught Me About Committees" has just gone up there.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Calling Everyone (Not Just Boomers): Which Battle Are You Fighting?

At the end of this year I will no longer be posting here at The Hourglass Blog. To see my reasons why click here.

To keep following me on my new blog, go here. A new post, "Calling Everyone (Not Just Boomers): Which Battle Are You Fighting?" has just gone up there.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Film Directing Lessons in Innovation and Leadership

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To keep following me on my new blog, go here. A new post, "Film Directing Lessons in Innovation and Leadership" has just gone up there.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Things I've Learned from Being a Board Member

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Which Committee Are You On?

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Secrets of Innovation

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To keep following me on my new blog, go here. A new post, "Secrets of Innovation," has just gone up there.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Race for Relevance is a Negotiating Position

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To keep following me on my new blog, go here. A new post, "Race for Relevance is a Negotiating Position," has just gone up there.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why Innovation is Hard

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Note: At the end of this year I will no longer be posting here at The Hourglass Blog. To see my reasons why click here. To keep following me on my new blog, go here.

A little over a month ago I attended WSAE's National Summit on Innovation for Associations. As chair of WSAE's Innovation Task Force, I was instrumental in helping to frame WSAE's annual conference around the subject of innovation, and was even recognized as the chair of the conference itself. We had more than a hundred association and related industry professionals attend (a fantastic turnout for WSAE) and, true to the implied promise of the conference title, we drew attendees in from across the national scene.

The first day of the summit was facilitated by Jeff De Cagna, and its focus was on building new capacities for innovation within the association community. We weren't talking directly about making your own association more innovative (that would get more attention on day two). We were instead talking about how association professionals, the associations they worked for, and the industry partners they collaborated with could pool their ideas and organizational resources together to create new competencies and structures that would facilitate innovation in our community.

Jeff did a great job. He adeptly focused our attention on forming new peer networks for innovation. We identified a handful of common areas as ripe for innovation, self-selected ourselves into smaller working groups around those areas, and spent some time talking about what we could do to help each other move forward.

The group I was in focused on co-creation of programs and participatory decision-making--essentially having staff work hand-in-hand and continuously with members throughout the process of identifying, developing and delivering new programs and services. I was attracted to the topic because I think it's one of the areas my own association needs to improve upon. I see it as key to engaging with the next generation of members and to keeping pace with a quickly changing environment.

There were seven of us around the table and we had a great discussion. At the end of it, we made the following commitment:

Each of us will commit to a specific objective in our own organization that increases our use of co-creation or participatory decision-making in program development of strategy setting. We will then:
1. Share those objectives with one another;
2. Communicate regularly with one another to report progress, share ideas, and hold each other accountable; and
3. Develop a report on our experiences to share with the broader association community.

I can't speak for the other participants, but I left the discussion fired up and ready to tackle a new challenge. I even announced to my staff upon my return from the summit that I had participated in such a discussion, had made such a commitment, and would be working with a peer group in the weeks and months ahead to bring new ideas and practices into our association.

Then, a month went by. We had a board meeting to prepare for, a conference to plan, a newsletter to get out, a website to redesign, staffing issues to deal with. And nothing even remotely related to the commitment I had made happened.

Fortunately, one of the other members of my peer group followed up on a specific commitment she had made: polling everyone and setting up a conference call so that we could all communicate to each other the specific objectives we had set for bringing more co-creation or participatory decision-making to our associations. Last week, that call took place. Only two people from the original group were on it. Me and her.

We bemoaned the fact that so many others had dropped away, but we honestly couldn't blame them. We had almost fallen away ourselves, succumbing instead to the very real and very pressing demands of the day-to-day. But we wanted to keep the spirit we had both felt at the summit alive. Even if it is just the two of us, there was value in stepping away from the deadlines that seem to control us and spend a few moments talking about what comes next--not for the projects we're working on, but for the frame within which those projects take place.

And in that one hour I spent on the phone with her--one hour out of a month crammed with staff meetings, conference calls, and project planning activities--I came up with three good ideas for ways to bring more co-creation and participatory decision-making to my association. I've started bouncing them of off members of my staff and the response has been positive. They can see the strategy behind the tactics, and they can see the value to them and the association to find ways to get them done.

This is what makes innovation so hard. It requires us to do something different. Something, initially, that has no support and no one has time for and which will never have any evidence that it will work. We have to step away from what we do at the day-to-day level, and we have to look and respond to the unrealized future we can't define but which we know is coming.

How are you going to do that? How are you going to get that done while keeping all the other balls you're juggling in the air? What if the answer was a one hour phone call every month with a peer who is juggling the same balls and who has the same desire to look beyond and change the way things are done? Would you be able to find time for that?

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Chief Detail Officer

Note: At the end of this year I will no longer be posting here at The Hourglass Blog. To see my reasons why click here. To keep following me on my new blog, go here.

Here's a TED talk worth watching. It's from April 2010, but the point it makes is timeless, even if the Tiger Woods jokes aren't.

Rory Sutherland persuasively makes the case that organizations don't spend enough time working on the small stuff. That, in fact, there is a bias in most organizations that big problems have to be met with big solutions--solutions that have to be conceptualized by powerful people and executed with lots and lots of money.

Sutherland doesn't claim that approach won't work in some situations, but he comes out stridently for a different approach, embodied by something he calls the Chief Detail Officer, the CDO. This isn't the person responsible for coordinating all the details. It is the person responsible for finding small things that cost little that have tremendous impact and making sure they are done right and consistently.

If you don't have time to watch the whole thing, jump to just after the ten-minute mark and listen to him talk through the four quadrant diagram he's created to illustrate his point. Here's my approximation of it:
There's a question mark in the lower right quadrant, the one representing the things that have a big impact but which don't cost a lot money, because, as Sutherland says, we don't currently have a word for those kinds of things. And if we did, he says, maybe we'd spend a little more time looking for them.

It really resonates with me, because I've seen these nameless things in action. Here's a quick story.

I've been in association management for 18 years now. I started as a meeting planner. I've coordinated educational sessions for 60 and city-wide conventions for 6,000. I've stuffed more cardstock name badges into plastic badge holders than I care to mention. And I've worn them for years, usually flapping around uselessly on the end of a lanyard.

The first conference I went to with my current association, the staff showed me a trick they've been doing for years. I'd never seen anything like it before. They printed their name badges on both sides of the piece of cardstock. Why? So that whichever way the darn thing flopped against someone, their name would be clear for everyone to see.

And at that first meeting one of the Board members told me a story about how that little technique had helped them secure a business deal because it spared them the embarrassment of having forgotten someone's name.

Sutherland may not have a name for these ideas, these things that cost next to nothing but have an impact all out of proportion with their expense, but if a name is what it takes to focus more on them, we ought to come up with one pretty soon.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Help the Customer Succeed

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Note: At the end of this year I will no longer be posting here at The Hourglass Blog. To see my reasons why click here. To keep following me on my new blog, go here.

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One of the best parts of my job is getting out and visiting my members where they live and work. We are a trade association, so my members own or manage businesses, and most of their businesses are manufacturing companies. And like a lot of manufacturing companies, they operate very close to the margin, using a variety of human and mechanical systems to strip inefficiencies and wasteful practices out of the process of making the product and shipping it to the customer.

I'm always impressed by the complexity of these operations. Just-in-time, Lean, Kaizen--these are all part and parcel of what my members do. But what I find even more fascinating is the role than human beings play in these systems, and the motivational tactics my members employ to focus all of their attention on the goal at hand.

When you take the factory tour, you'll see signs and posters hung in various places; snappy slogans to remind people where to focus their attention. Some are authoritarian, like "Keep this area clear." Others seem more benevolent, recognizing the primacy of the human over the machine, like "Safety is our first priority." Others are empowering, conveying a sense of authority and accountability, like "See something wrong? Fix it."

But the best one I've seen?

"Help the customer succeed."

If you were to boil innovation down to four simple words, I think this is about as close as you can get to getting it right. And I think what I find so appealing about it is that it only works in an environment where everyone, from the plant manager to the sales person to the line worker, knows who the customer is and what it is they're trying to achieve. I'm sure that's not an accurate description of every manufacturing operation, but it probably describes a good many of the most successful ones. I've had personal experiences, walking as a guest through a manufacturing facility, and stopping a person in the middle of some assembly function to hear them describe exactly what they are doing on how it benefits the customer.

Now, think about the world of associations. How many association staffers really know who their customers are and what they need to succeed in their environments? How many could accurately respond if you stopped them in the middle of one of their daily tasks and asked them how what they're doing is benefiting their members?

Over lunch with a colleague the other day I opined that most association professionals, assuming they don't come from the industry or profession their association represents, probably only understand about 10% of their members' environment. They understand their own environment, that of association programs and services, but how those programs and services can be best positioned to solve the challenges their members face--that takes an unusual amount of insight and a willingness to learn what those challenges actually are.

"Help the customer succeed" is more than just a slogan. It is a way of thinking about your association, your role in it, and the things with which you fill your time. Like most directives, simply hanging up a sign is going to change very little. But if you accept the underlying concept--that you must first understand what the member is trying to achieve before you can help them get there--then a great many changes may start happening.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Giant Hairball of Complexity

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Note: At the end of this year I will no longer be posting here at The Hourglass Blog. To see my reasons why click here. To keep following me on my new blog, go here.

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If you're like me, you're fascinated by all the coverage Netflix is getting lately. Normally when there's a kerfuffle at one of the anointed tech companies, I have a hard time paying attention. Latest iPhone prototype "accidently" left in a bar somewhere? Publicity stunt. Facebook changing everything again? Good. Maybe now it will start making sense to me.

But with Netflix it's different. I use Netflix. I love Netflix. I suppose Netflix is to me what Apple is to so many iPad and iTunes users, except with Netflix I've never felt like I was surreptitiousness playing with the cool kids' toys while they weren't looking. My Netflix Queue is mine, and through it I can be whatever I want to be.

So when Netflix raised its prices 60% and then decided to split its DVD delivery service off from its video streaming service, you would've thought I would have had a strong negative reaction. Like so many others. But I have to be honest. My reaction in both cases was: What? Oh, okay. I can handle that. I mean, I was way more upset when they took away the ability to manage multiple queues. Remember that?

What fascinates me about the latest Netflix controversy is not the rebellion it has created among Netflix users, or the company's efforts to better communicate with and placate its customers. What fascinates me is what it might be saying about vision and leadership.

I've read a lot of opinion pieces on the situation. But here's the best one so far, written by Adam Richardson of frog design. In it, he credits Netflix for quite obviously looking at an endgame 5-10 years into the future. He quotes Netflix CEO Reed Hastings as saying:

"For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn't make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something — like AOL dial-up or Borders bookstores — do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us) because they are afraid to hurt their initial business. Eventually these companies realize their error of not focusing enough on the new thing, and then the company fights desperately and hopelessly to recover. Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly."

And to illustrate the point, Richardson includes a graphic he drew five years ago, a tongue-in-cheek "timeline" of pivot points for a frog design client in the TV business:

Richardson says:

Half-jokingly it made the point that there is a giant hairball of complexity, consolidation and confusion that the industry is going to have to go through, but if you can survive that, the obvious end state will be that any piece of media will be available whenever an individual wants, wherever they are, on any device they like.

Which leads me to my own thought-provoking questions about the organization I lead and the challenges I'm facing on a daily basis. How much of what I'm doing, I wonder, is focused on my own giant hairball of complexity, and how much is focused on the endgame that will inevitably present itself when all those kinks are worked out?

Pick your industry or profession. There are trends obvious for all to see. Generational change, social networking, for-profit competition--these are some of the changes that are impacting every association. There are others, and some are unique to individual environments, but whatever they are, right now they seem all tangled up into a giant hairball and, as a result, some of us are busy trying to pick that hairball apart and straighten out all the threads in a way that makes sense for our own organization.

Stop. Rather, keep your eyes on the far end of Richardson's chart--the endgame that is obvious to any intelligent person that looks at the situation. For Netflix, that endgame is "any video content in history available anytime, on any device," and that's what Reed Hastings is playing for. He needs to keep current subscribers happy, yes, but not at the expense of not being positioned for the subscribers of that future end state.

How is your organization any different?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Should Committees Report to the Board?

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Note: At the end of this year I will no longer be posting here at The Hourglass Blog. To see my reasons why click here. To keep following me on my new blog, go here.

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I've been thinking a lot about this question lately. It's a question, I know, that never even occurs to leaders in many associations. "Should committees report to the board?" they might say. "Of course they should. Who else are the going to report to?"


How about the chief staff executive?

I've suggested just such an idea before, and the looks I get back from chief staff executives and board chairs alike can only be described as incredulous.

But hear me out.

There are some committees whose jobs clearly relate to the governance of the association. The Finance Committee. The Nominating Committee. The Executive Committee. These are all bodies appropriately appointed by the Board to help it do its job better.

But there are other committees whose jobs relate to the management of the association. The Education Committee. The Membership Committee. The Marketing Committee. These are all bodies designed to infuse the management practices of the association with the expertise and wisdom of association members themselves.

If your association is an association of widget manufacturers, then you might want widget manufacturers on your Marketing Committee to help you decide how best to market your association to other widget manufacturers. If your association is an association of physicians, then you might want physicians on your Education Committee to help you decide what kind of education to deliver to your members. In most associations, this type of industry- or profession-specific expertise does not exist at the staff level, and the synergistic fusing of member knowledge with staff functional expertise can spell great success.

But in all of these cases, the functions of these "program" committees are not related to how the association is governed (i.e., the purview of the board). They are related to how the association is managed (i.e., the purview of the chief staff executive). And if that is the case, shouldn't these committees "report" to the chief staff executive, the way other members of the staff do? In fact, doesn't having those committees report to the board put the board in the position of having to manage the association, usurping the position and authority it has specifically delegated to its chief staff executive?

These are the thoughts I think about whenever I sit in a board meeting and find myself trapped in a discussion about the details of some committee report. Committee X wants funds to produce a new marketing brochure. Committee Y wants approval on the venues it has chosen for next year's educational sessions.

I can't help it. As a board member, my first question when faced with these requests is always: Why are you asking me? I don't manage this association. The chief staff executive does.

And I'd prefer to keep it that way.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Millennials Are the New Slackers

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What goes around comes around. Here's another one of those fun HBR blog posts where a blogger from one generation pontificates on the failings of a younger generation, and gets taken to task for it in the comments. In this case, the blogger is Andrew McAfee and his target is the "entitlement mentality" of many Millennials.

A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that might nonetheless be true. The deepest one I've come across recently goes something like at a time of high unemployment and persistent joblessness, Millennials are asking for more concessions and perks from their employers. I just came across a CNN story about how new hires at marketing agency Euro RSCG told their CEO that they want to come in at 10 or later, have free food and a Pilates room, and get reimbursed for their personal trainers.

It's horrific, McAfee says, and he goes on to detail out how Millennials should be acting in this dismal economy. His five-point plan sounds like every other piece of advice given by the older generation to the younger generation entering to workplace: play by our rules and you'll get ahead when we decide the time is right.

The comments are a fun read--more fun, in fact, than McAfee's post. There are some impassioned and frustrated young people expressing both of those emotions there. One, mocking McAfee's dismissal of the younger generation's use of "e-speak" in business correspondence, says:

Your organization should stop hiring employees who can't write. Then again, I guess you'd be jobless.

Ouch. But there is a larger point to be made here.

Millennials are the new kids on the block when it comes to the workplace. And like the Xers that preceded them, they are coming of age in a time of massive joblessness and economic uncertainty. They have youthful enthusiasm and a fresh way of seeing things, and we're witnessing what happens when ideals like that collide with the powerful status quo, protected ever more preciously by an older generation not quite ready to let go.

Although McAfee never uses the word, reading what he says about Millennials, it was hard for me not to sympathize with them and see their plight as similar to the one GenX fought and is in some measure still fighting. It's not fair to call us "slackers" anymore--us Xers with our mortgages, college savings accounts and flirtations with the alternative minimum tax--but it is such a tempting description, that I fully expect it will be recycled with abandon for these Millennials. After all, they have no true sense of how the real world works.

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It is probably appropriate to use this post about generations in the workplace to announce that at the end of this year I will no longer be posting here at The Hourglass Blog. I started this adventure almost three years ago with the intention of exploring the impact of generational shift on the leadership of our organizations and, while I have certainly done that, I have explored a number of other topics as well. These topics have been of great interest to me, but they have clearly been outside the scope of the original manifesto.

Because of this, and because of my desire to continue to explore the ideas that interest me most, I have decided to set-up shop at a new blog, one molded around all of my interests rather than one narrow subset of them. The new blog, at, is in beta-testing now. If you've enjoyed what you've read here, I would encourage you to read, subscribe or otherwise follow my activities there. From now until the end of the year, I'll be posting jointly in both places, but I expect all the sand will run out of this Hourglass by the end of December.

Monday, September 12, 2011

There is No Recipe for Innovation

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Or so seems the conclusion of this fascinating blog post from Tim Leberecht of the the frog design and innovation firm, in which he reviews and connects several established and not-so-established kinds of innovation.

Jugaad seems the latest in a long list of innovation fads, "a colloquial Hindi word that describes a creative ad hoc solution to a vexing issue, making existing things work and/or creating new things with scarce resources." But that's just a launching pad for Leberecht, who gives his reader a stream-of-consciousness tour of different approaches to innovation floating around the business landscape. Design Thinking, Disruptive Innovation, Hybrid Thinking, Hacking, Shanzai--they're all given a quick but cogent treatment, the differences and distinctions between them blurring under Leberecht's scrutiny.

His larger point seems to be that there is no magic pill for innovation.

Most of these consultants are trying to sell innovation as a toolbox, but as former BusinessWeek writer Helen Walters aptly points out: Innovation cannot be reduced to a process. “A codified, repeatable, reusable practice contradicts the nature of innovation, which requires difficult, uncomfortable work to challenge the status quo of an industry or, at the very least, an organization,” she writes, and suggests that: “Executives are understandably looking for tidy ways to guarantee their innovation efforts – but they'd be better off coming to terms with the fact that there aren’t any.”

Which is an interesting backdrop for this week, because this is the week of WSAE's National Summit on Association Innovation, where association executives, professionals and industry partners will work together to create new capacities for innovation in the association community and to help individual association professionals develop practical innovation roadmaps for their own organizations. In the words of our summit facilitator, Jeffrey Cufaude:

By associating with each other in the collaborative learning environment of the National Summit on Innovation for Associations, we have the chance to not only gain fresh insights and develop tactical plans for our own organizations, but identify shared paths for moving together as a community.

I'm up for it. I'll be there and tweeting throughout the conference (following along and join in at #innovationhub).

It'll be another major step on the innovation journey I embarked upon when I joined the WSAE Board of Directors and became the chair of its Innovation Task Force. I went into that role with the impression that there was a way of "doing" innovation in the association world. Based on the innovation principles and processes I had been exposed to in the for-profit world, there surely was an adaptation to those models that could made for associations. It would be difficult to find, I believed, and it would take association professionals willing to experiment with different strategies in their real world, but it was there, and we could find it if we worked hard enough.

Now, almost two years later, I'm more confident than ever that associations can be innovative and can find ways to make innovation work for them. I've seen it in my own association and in many other associations in my network.

But I have increasing skepticism for the idea that there is a single innovation model that will work for everyone in the association community. Today, Helen Waters' words ring really true for me. We want innovation to be an established, predictable process, because established, predictable processes are easy for us to manage and master. But your innovation solution is going to be messy, and different from mine. There is a common body of innovation knowledge we can all draw from--things that have been shown to help and things that have been shown to hurt--but it is up to each one of us to study that body of knowledge and figure out how to apply it in our own situations.

I'm going to rededicate myself to that this week in Madison. When will you?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Recipes for Innovation

So here's a funny story. Trish Hudson of the Melos Institute sent me an email a few days ago.

Reason for writing - is I was at San Fran's Museum of Modern Art yesterday - saw something that made me think of you.

Dieter Ram is an industrial designer - did a lot of work with Braun in Germany. He has designed some very innovative tools...and created innovative designs for traditional tools. SFMOMA had an exhibit of his designs. On one wall -they shared his princples of good design...thought there might be some relevance to your interest in innovation...

So - here goes. Possible opportunities for adaptation to association management, maybe?

Dieter Ram's 10 Principles of Good Design

1. good design is innovative.
2. good design makes a product useful.
3. good design is asthetic.
4. good design makes a product understandable.
5. good design is honest.
6. good design is unobtrusive.
7. good design is long-lasting.
8. good design is thorough down to the last detail.
9. good design is environmentally friendly.
10. good design is as little design as possible (back to simplicity).

I wrote back and told Trish how odd it was that she should email me this, because just a few days before I had read a post of one of frog's blogs about the work of Dieter Ram, and how it had inspired me to prepare a post for Hourglass on its similarities to innovation in the association (and other) worlds. The frog post talks about Ram's collaborations with Braun and Apple, and highlights the following attributes as pivotal to their successes:

1. Close collaboration of designers and engineers, and deep involvement by designers in working with materials and manufacturing processes.

2. Supportive executives that made design integral to the way the company operated (Steve Jobs for Apple, and Erwin and Artur - the sons of founder Max Braun. And to their credit, when Gillette acquired Braun in 1963, they recognized the value of Braun's design team and gave it free reign.)

3. Obsessive attention to detail, supported by relatively long gestation cycles and an iterative, prototype-driven process.

4. A small, stable team (Apple's ID team is famously tight-knit, and the core of Braun's design team was largely unchanged for a quarter century during its golden age of output).

As far a recipes for innovation go, I prefer this shorter list than the one Trish sent over (although I remain jealous of her proximity to SFMOMA--one of my most favorite places in the world). Close collaboration of people with different perspectives, executives supportive of experimentation, obsessive attention to detail coupled with an iterative prototyping process, and small, stable teams who know their jobs and who they're innovating for--these are all themes that we've outlined in the WSAE white paper on innovation and which have been subjects of discussion on this blog.

"Funny how people and ideas are connected, isn’t it?" I wrote back to Trish and she replied:

Dare I get freaky in saying that there's a bigger force out there that connects like-minded folks at pivotal times in ways that defies description?

And when we listen intuitively and act accordingly - we have the opportunity to experience something that goes way beyond the intellectual realm....and often when we are able to blend intellectual and intuitive - we find innovation?

Blending the intellectual with the intuitive. Be sure to add a pinch of that to your innovation recipe.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Taking a Bullet for Your Association

There's a really critical lesson for association professionals in this guest post on Hugh MacLeod's blog from Kathy Sierra. In it, she challenges the traditional wisdom many organizations have for customer loyalty programs.

“Customer Loyalty” is a figment. Business “Loyalty Programs” are nothing more than rewards-based marketing. And by rewards (aka “incentives”), I mean bribes. That we so easily refer to a customer with a bagel punch card or virtual badge as more “loyal” is an example of just how far we’ve allowed corporations to abuse the language around human relationships.

Loyalty, Sierra argues, is not something customers have for the products they love, but for the way those products help them better realize their own potential and their own vision of who and what they want to be.

The key to understanding (and ultimately benefitting from) true “customer loyalty” is to recognize and respect that customers–as people– are deeply loyal to themselves and those they love, but not to products and brands. They are loyal to their own values and the (relatively few) people and causes they truly believe in. What looks and feels like loyalty to a product, brand, company, etc. is driven by what that product, service, brand says about who we are and what we value.

In making this distinction, Sierra (half jokingly) talks about "taking a bullet" for the products and services customers are supposedly loyal to. No one, she argues, would rush into a burning building to rescue their iPad, but people would risk their lives to save that sense of who they want to be and the essential tools that help them get there.

Reading the post made me think about my own association and my members. Would any of them "take a bullet" for the organization that employs me? Some would, I think, yes. I have some passionately loyal members, and I suspect you do, too. But like Sierra says, they wouldn't take the bullet for any of the programs or services we provide. Their loyalty is not to our products, but to the way the association can help them realize a better vision of themselves and their industry.

Think about that the next time you're writing marketing copy for your membership brochure.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Thoughts on Association Education

Just two.

Webinars. They must engage the audience. Recording the plenary sessions from your Annual Conference and letting people watch them on the web is about as useful as letting them read your committee reports. There are fundamental differences between the way you deliver education from a podium to a room of four thousand people and the way you deliver it over the Internet to a single individual sitting at his/her computer. Respect those differences.

Live Workshops. Schedule them so that no more than 20% of the time is spent in presentation mode and at least 80% of the time is spent with the participants interacting with each other. Trust me. If the room is filled with my peers, I can learn more and more quickly from interactive discussion than I can from listening to 75 minutes of didactic presentation. Really. I'm not kidding.

Special bonus thought on association board meetings. The same 20/80 rule applies. Yes, the CEO should makes sure the board members have accurate information and that their discussions are framed correctly. But then he/she should facilitate interaction by as many board members as possible. Talk less. Listen more.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Daring to Lead 2011

CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation have come out with a new "Daring to Lead" study. I blogged a bit about their 2006 study, so thought I would give the 2011 update a read as well. It's a survey of more than 3,000 executive directors of non-profit organizations and, although it seems weighted towards charitable and social service organizations, there are a few interesting parallels and tidbits for associations.

First, the good news.

...the distribution of executive tenure across the 3,000 respondents reflects a healthy continuum of new and veteran leaders in the sector. Nearly a third of current executive (31%) have been on the job for fewer than three years; this is more than the 27% who have been on the job for ten or more years. Alarm at the potential widespread sector disruption executive turnover might cause has given way to concern about how best to prepare new leaders and their organizations to weather, and even leverage, inevitable transition.

It's good to hear the generational transition in leadership is actually taking place, and that people are starting to mellow out about it. In the 2006 study, there was a lot more angst about the crushing inevitability of time, and concerns that the new group of younger leaders were not prepared for their positions and (shockingly!) had higher expectations for pay and for work/life balance than the sector traditionally provided. Boomers, it seemed, would have to stay in their positions longer, or the critical missions of their organizations would not continue.

Daring to Lead 2011 seems to indicate that this is no longer the worry. It reflects, I believe, the leadership trend we're also seeing in the association world. More and more GenX and even Millennial leaders are coming into positions of prominence (something obvious to anyone who attended the recent ASAE conference in St. Louis) and, although old and new challenges still linger, the world is not crashing down and the work is somehow getting done.

Now, the bad news.

Executive time invested in working with boards of directors was notably low. Sixteen percent (16%) of executives reported spending fewer than five hours per month on board-related activity, yet nearly half of these executives described themselves as spending the right amount of time. The largest group of executives (39%) spend between five and ten hours per month--just 6% of their time overall--and half of these executives said this was the right amount of time. Other studies have found that executives who spend 20% of their time on board-related activity have high rates of satisfaction with board performance. Similarly, among these respondents, executives at the low-end of the time investment spectrum were the least happy with their board's performance.

This is disturbing and a trend, I hope, that is NOT reflected in the association sector. Speaking for myself, the predictive indicators defined above work. I definitely spend more than 20% of my time on board and board-related activities, and I am satisfied (to say the least) with the performance of the board in my organization. For executives who are not satisfied, I would ask them to reflect on how much time they are spending on the board and on board development activities. Investment of time and levels of satisfaction naturally go hand-in-hand from my perspective. To think that there are organizations whose executives are unsatisfied, but who are unwilling (or unable?) to spend more time on the problem, says something fundamentally deficient about the organization and its capabilities.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Good and Bad Lessons for Association Innovation

Here's a link to a 15-minute HBR video with Vijay Govindarajan, coauthor of The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge. It's worth a look, full of some interesting lessons about innovation from the for-profit world. Unfortunately, from my point of view, only some of those lessons are good for the association community.

Let's start there--with the good. Govindarajan describes the truism that it is the rare organization that lacks the ability to produce new and creative ideas. Far more common is the inability to turn those ideas into action. This is the "other side of innovation" mentioned in his book title, and without it innovation truly doesn't happen. It's one thing to have an idea. It's another to turn that idea into reality.

The same problem plagues many associations. Govindarajan's (and my) advice is fundamentally to start small and build on success. He talks at length about how innovators at IBM created a revolution in computer processing power by implementing this simple formula, and I think the ideas and methods described are directly transferrable to the association environment. Don't try to change the world overnight. You won't be able to do it. Start instead with a bunch of experiments focused on incremental improvement in a wide variety of service areas. Honestly measure the results and reinvest resources dedicated to the losers in the winners and repeat. Doing so builds momentum behind the good ideas and allows for greater and greater leaps to take place with each reinvestment. It works. I've seen it. But it requires the ability to turn things off if they don't go well, something not all associations can do.

So that's a corporate practice that associations can learn something positive from. But some of Govindarajan's other ideas are not worth the same emulation. For example, his innovation prescription for companies is predicated on the idea that you have to separate the innovators from the performers. The people in the trenches, the people actually doing the work, are too busy and too close to the problems to be truly innovative with them. Better, says Govindarajan, to create a separate innovation team, let them tackle the problems and develop creative solutions, and then manage the inevitable conflict that will rise when the innovators try to thrust their ideas on the performers for implementation.

This frankly seems crazy to me. It's a strategy that's definitely biased towards large organizations with large resources at its disposal. Govindarajan admits as much near the end of the video. Some associations may fit that description, but I question whether such a separation is ever a good idea, regardless of the size of the organization.

Bringing in diverse talents and perspectives--that's a good idea. As is generating more ideas and building the capacity for translating the best ones into action. Govindarajan seems to say that those goals are best accomplished by a separate innovation team, but I think it's better to engage your performers in these tasks. It may be more challenging than delegating those jobs to an "external" group of experts, but it also builds a deeper capacity for innovation in your organization. And that's going to pay larger dividends in the long run. Not just in the generation of ideas, but on Govindarajan's other side of innovation as well. Who else, after all, is going to develop the programs and deliver them to your members?

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Season of Innovation

That's certainly what it feels like with the ASAE Annual Meeting next week and the WSAE-sponsored National Summit on Association Innovation five short weeks after that. ASAE has put together some deep dive sessions on innovation, and something they're calling the Innovation Exchange Forum, a place where association staffers can get together and share innovative ideas with each other and with recognized experts.

Jeff De Cagna will be heading up a lot of those ASAE activities, and Jeff will also be leading an important session at the WSAE event. On September 14 he will be gathering together a group of association and other thought leaders for a half-day session on how organizations across our community can collaborate to accelerate the overall pace of innovation. Our intention for this conversation is to bring together a group of stakeholders willing to invest in the creation of platforms and prototypes that will make it possible for associations to build their collective capacity for innovation and new value creation. Many of our organizations face common challenges. We want to test the idea that through a commitment to broad-based collaborations we can all address those challenges more effectively.

WSAE's second day, September 15, will be a full-day educational conference on association innovation, facilitated by Jeffrey Cufaude and Mark Anderson. Its focus will be on leveraging the collective wisdom of our community so that participants can develop detailed innovation roadmaps for their own organizations. If you’ve struggled at all with how to make your association more innovative, this would be an excellent opportunity to share your challenges and work together with your peers to develop actionable solutions.

I plan to be at both the ASAE and WSAE events. I hope you do, too.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Courage and Clarity

I've started reading Joe Gerstandt's blog and following him on Twitter. If you don't, you should.

On of his recent blog posts really engaged my thinking engine. It's called Dancing in the Intersection, and it's about diversity of thought and how people, even people who think diversity of thought is a good thing, shy away from the tension it naturally creates.

Tension is much easier to avoid than embrace. It does not require any hatred or bigotry to avoid the tension of difference, it only requires aspirations of some order and some comfort and some simplicity. Avoiding difference is the path of least resistance…it is where the river of human nature flows naturally, without effort, without conviction, without intention. It is the default.

But Joe has a different take on the tension one finds at the intersection of thoughts, ideas and beliefs. He says we should wade into it. We should seek it out and embrace it because, although the tension can birth conflict and dysfunction, it can also birth learning and creation. The intersection, he says, is the church of possibility, the runway where tomorrow touches down first.

And to do this, he further counsels, requires two things.

Wading into the tension of the intersection requires courage and it requires clarity regarding benefits and challenges associated with the intersection.

So let me reflect.

It requires courage. Do I have that? You bet. I have it in spades. With every passing day, it seems, I have more and more courage, stemming from the realization that there are a finite number of days ahead, and that if I'm going to make a difference in this world, I need to take greater responsibility for it. I need to stand up and make it happen.

But it also requires clarity. Do I have that? I'll be honest. No. I sure don't. When faced with a concept like clarity, I find myself hiding behind a lot of questions. Clarity? About what? About what needs to be done? About what will make things better? About what will solve the problem? I don't have that kind of clarity, and don't think I ever will. Does anyone? Really? In my experience, people who go into the intersection with that kind of clarity just wind up crashing into other people, hurting themselves or others in the process.

In fact, isn't that what the intersection is for? Finding a new kind of clarity that transcends your own thoughts, ideas and beliefs?

Picture it. If we’re all driving cars that will potentially collide in the intersection, we may want to convince ourselves that we have clarity, that our halogen high beams give us the ability to see the way forward clearly. How else can we survive the conflicts that lie ahead?

But aren’t we only seeing the pavement immediately in front of us? In high detail, perhaps, but it's only one small section of all possible roads leading to the intersection. In some cases, in fact, this focus doesn't even allow us to see the intersection coming. Sometimes, conflict surprises us. We turn a blind corner and are suddenly threatened by other cars approaching from different directions, each with their own drivers, headlights focused on a different set of thoughts, ideas and beliefs.

That's why it takes courage to enter the intersection. If you just want to barrel through, keep your high beams on and your foot on the accelerator. You'll make it, and then you can get back on the road you've been traveling. But if you want clarity, the clarity that comes from the intersection, you're better served by turning your headlights off and looking at the problem from different perspectives.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Those Who Understand Your Members Best Aren't on Your Board

I have a hard time keeping up with the blogs that I follow. I use an RSS reader to keep an eye on them all, and each day I go through the new items there and do a quick triage. Each one gets a thirty-second scan: (1) Nope, not interested. [Delete]; or (2) Hmmm, that's interesting and it's short. I'll read it right now; or (3) Oh man, that's going to require some thought and some processing. I'll flag that and get back to it later.

One that recently fell into that third category was Joe Rominiecki's Acronym post on What good is governance without influencers?, which was based on Maggie McGary's post on Influence in the Context of Associations. They're both discussing the rise on online and non-traditional influencers in associations, and how these thought leaders and the followers they attract are changing the leadership dynamic in our community. Maggie asks:

[A]s time goes by and more of your members begin interacting in the online community, a new group of influencers will grow out of those interactions. Meanwhile, traditional influencers—board and committee members—will become less visible and, therefore, less influential and important, at least to members. Will you know when this change occurs, or will you be stuck in thinking the wrong people matter the most?

I see this change taking place in my own life and in the associations I'm affiliated with. I wrote about it here, and called it "networking in a box." Associations want to keep members connected within their own "boxes," but more and more the borderless online world is allowing people to create and leverage their own networks that don't follow any pre-existing association lines--which are, to the concern of the pre-existing associations, all the stronger and more powerful for it.

Joe speculates that associations should work to bring the online influencers in the lives of their members into the leadership of the organization, but struggles to identify a mechanism for doing so. I sympathize. To many non-traditional influencers, I would imagine that the structure and hierarchy of formal association leadership would seem like shackles compared to the freedom of association they currently enjoy online. They will naturally reject the idea of being locked up in anybody's box.

I think traditional boards are growing less and less in touch with their respective memberships--and the rise of online influencers is only one of the reasons why. But you know who remain in touch with their membership? Association staff. Especially staff people that naviagate, either as part of their professional responsibilities or personal interests, the same open and unstructured online networks that the influencers do. Joe himself, I'll bet, is much more in tune with what the ASAE members are thinking, than many of the well-intentioned and hard-working folks on the ASAE board.

Does the ASAE board view things this way? Does Joe come in at the start of every board meeting and give a ten-minute update on what's on the mind of the members, of what topics are being discussed in the blogosphere, of which ones seem to resonate with people and which ones don't? Would the board members listen to him if he did?

Maybe it's not a staff person in your association. Maybe it's one of your association members. Maybe it's the editor of one of your industry's trade magazines. Or maybe it's a blogger who has critical things to say about what your association does. Whoever it is, if they are more connected with your membership than your leadership is, you'd better find a way to get their market intelligence into your strategy discussions. And asking them to serve on your board is not going to work. They're not interested.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

We're All Millennials Now

It's been a while since I talked about generations on this blog. Isn't that what this blog is supposed to be all about? It's almost as if the themes of leadership and innovation have taken over. I wonder if I'm getting better at either as a result?

But here’s an interesting article Shelly Alcorn pointed me to. It's about the multi-generational workplace, and how some organizations are experimenting with management models based on democracy--giving workers of all generations an equal vote in how things are run--to better balance and leverage the talents of all.

It's a good read. But here’s what gets me, and what’s tempered my enthusiasm for the generations biz. The article defines the generations this way:

Veterans: Workers who preceded the baby boomers tend to be authoritarian and loyal, and they value wisdom gained from experience over technological expertise.

Boomers: Known for their workaholic habits and need for status symbols, they’ve sacrificed a lot for their careers. They often expect their junior staff to do the same.

Generation X: They are generally comfortable working within the systems established by their employers and, like the boomers before them, are more willing to let work cut into their personal lives. They have no problem using technology, having entered the work force just as computers were becoming mainstream.

Millennials: Tech-savvy, entrepreneurial and independent, they tend to value work-life balance and meaningful work more than a large paycheque. They are less likely to be attached to an employer than other generations and tend to stay only a few years before moving on.

Huh? GenX is comfortable working within the systems established by their employers? They're willing to let work cut into their personal lives? What strange alternate universe have I found myself in?

You know, I used to be happy being GenX. Then for a while I decided I wanted to be Generation Jones. Now, with the definitions listed above, I think I'm going to start being a Millennial.

Care to join me?

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Careful What You Complain About

This post's inspiration is this HBR post from Michael Schrage. Read it. It's all about a company leader's need to pay attention to his/her people's complaints about their customers.

Few things say more about organizational culture and character than how employees complain about the customers and clients they serve.

The same is true, I think, about association staff and what they say about association members. I've heard it throughout my career--execs complaining about their board, staffers complaining about their members; complaining about how short-sighted and awful they are. It always reminds me of that joke about IT Guys. "You know, my computer network would work just fine if it wasn't for all these stupid people screwing it up all the time." Well, here's a newsflash for those IT Guys: the "stupid people" are why you have your computer network. It has to serve their needs (not your esoteric desires). It has no point without them. And guess what, association professionals? The same concept applies to you and your members.

Sure there are situations where associations and association members should part ways. Most often that’s decided by members when they decide to stop paying their dues because they don’t see the value. Occasionally that’s decided by associations when members act unethically or otherwise break the social contract. But outside of those situations, I think it's important for association staffers to put things in the proper perspective. And ideally, I think that perspective has to transcend the conception of members being your customers.

In know. It’s an analogy I use all the time. If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m fascinated by what the for-profit world can teach associations about governance and innovation. But thinking of your members as “them”, as customers whose needs you must serve, creates an artificial barrier between you and them you can't afford.

You and your members are on the same team. More than that, I'd say you’re equal partners in a single model of success. If you wouldn’t tolerate a member of your staff talking trash about another member of your staff, don’t let the same things happen between your staff and your members. If they don't see your members as partners in your mutual success, you probably won't succeed in anything you set out to do. Unless your goal is simply to make a profit off your customers.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Leaders Have a Different Job

The HBR blog is running a series on leadership lessons from the military. I’m not part of that culture—unless my fascination with Grant’s 1864 Overland Campaign counts—but I was intrigued by the idea and have been following the posts pretty regularly.

One of the latest posts is a mini interview with Ken Hicks, the CEO of Foot Locker and a graduate of the United States Military Academy who spent six years in the army just after the Vietnam War. And here’s the exchange that most resonated with me.

Tell me about a couple of things you learned from your military experience that have made you a more effective CEO.

When I took over my artillery battery, at age 25, I could shoot a cannon better than any of my section chiefs. And I had six guns. The only problem is, I could only shoot one gun at a time. I realized that what I had to do was train my section chiefs to be better cannoneers than I was. Because shooting 18% of the battery isn't going to be effective. And my job really wasn't to shoot a cannon, it was to develop an entire artillery battery.

So I learned that you're very dependent on your people to be their best. You train and develop and motivate them. People think in the army that you tell somebody to do something and they do it, and that's far from the truth. They actually have more options and pressures that can be very intense. Think about it — if somebody in Afghanistan screws up, they get sent back home. If they don't, they stay in combat.

I think that’s a common story in the association world—people promoted to positions of leadership because of demonstrated excellence in managing programs. Hicks was the best cannoneer before given command of an artillery battery, just like that CME Director was the best educational program manager or that Executive Director was the best membership services manager before getting their current jobs.

So I think Hicks makes a critical observation for association leaders and leaders-to-be. The job of the manager and the job of the leader are fundamentally different things, and success in the former won’t necessarily translate into success in the latter.

To help bridge that gulf, new association leaders can use their managerial excellence to train better managers, but they can no longer do that work themselves. To use Hicks’ example, your focus is no longer on firing one cannon really well. Your job is to create a team that consistently fires all the cannons as well or better than you once did.

That's a lot harder. But also a lot more fulfilling.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Join Your Customers on Their Journey

Here’s a great post from Adam Richardson of the global innovation firm frog design about something called a customer journey map. What is a customer journey map?

A customer journey map is a very simple idea: a diagram that illustrates the steps your customer(s) go through in engaging with your company, whether it be a product, an online experience, retail experience, or a service, or any combination.

There’s a couple of map examples in the post, including one that lists a bewildering array of questions a customer looking to purchase a home theater system might have.

“For HD and Blue Ray DVD HDMI audio I do not understand if any post processing is done on the 5.1 Lossless PCM channels from these players. Will DD PLIIx or THX 7.1 apply to these? What are the limitations?”

Yikes. But you know what? It reminds me of some association staff meetings I’ve been in where good intentioned people work to design a new product or service, without ever stepping around to the other side of the counter and looking at it from the customer’s point of view.

Who will this serve? I find that I’m beginning to ask in these situations.

The members.

Ah, yes. The ubiquitous members. But which members? And how? What will they do with it? How would they design it if we put them in charge?

Blank stares. Or maybe one or two raised eyebrows.

You’re not seriously suggesting we ask the members what they think about what we’re working on, are you?

Yeah, I guess I am.

But what if they don’t like it?

That’d be fine. Then we can stop working on this and start working on something they will like.

Looks of skepticism all around the table, but no more than looks. I am the boss, after all.

Well… I guess we could send out a survey.

Here’s a better idea. We know our members. Some of them work in the same town we do. Their offices are fifteen minutes away from where we are right now. Why don’t we take all the sketches and ideas over there and lay them out on one of their tables and ask them what they think?

Now everyone looks downright uncomfortable. Like I’m the dentist and I just told them they’re all going to need root canals.

Gosh, I don’t know. We’re pretty busy around here. And we’d hate to bother them with only half-formed ideas. Maybe we should flesh this out a little bit more? Develop some prototypes. Make sure the thing can actually work before getting their feedback. We don’t want to make promises we can’t keep.

This dialogue has never actually taken place in my association—at least not out loud. Maybe it has actually happened in yours. But if not, I bet the fear and avoidance that lays beneath it does exist in your association.

There is something embedded deeply into the culture of our industry that convinces us our members are too busy to be bothered, that we don’t have to ask them what they think, and that we can ignore negative comments that come back on our evaluation forms. Creating a customer journey map for your next new program may be one way to start changing that culture, especially if its leads you to the same conclusion it led me. We really don’t know how our members think, and there are forces at work that will keep us from finding out.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had

This is the fourth and final part of my reaction to Jeff De Cagna's excellent article on business model innovation for associations in the April 2011 issue of Associations Now. In part one I talked about how the primary challenge for associations in innovating is a cultural one, and how organizational priorities need to move away from established structures and towards whatever mechanisms help the organization deliver better value for its members. In part two I talked about one of the ways of doing that—tearing down the walls that get put up between association staffers and members and allowing them to honestly interact with each other as human equals. In part three I tried to defend the value of face-to-face relationships in an increasingly digital world, and the inherent value those face-to-face connections will continue to have for associations.

Now, I want to talk about losing control. Jeff writes:

In a blog post last summer, Tim Leberecht, the chief marketing officer of frog design, riffed on “design for the loss of control,” a concept first articulated by J. P. Raganswami, chief scientist for Leberecht argues that organizations may find value in intentionally designing their work to narrow the extent of their control. As he writes, “A deliberately designed loss of control grants companies the only remaining and arguably most critical competitive advantage: access. As long as they enable and facilitate knowledge flows, ideas, passions, skills, and experiences, they have access to them. For most association leaders, this is a hugely radical, even dangerous, idea. And yet it is quite possibly the most important design principle for all new business-model concepts of associating. In very practical terms, business models designed for the loss of control may well deliver greater value while incurring lower costs. After all, among other problems, control is expensive. In strategic terms, business models observing this design principle can help energize stakeholders with a renewed sense of purpose. Among other opportunities, the loss of control encourages new self-organized forms of associating.

I’m a big advocate for the idea that control is a myth—especially in the world of successful associations. Jamie Notter has written about this on his blog as well (and he gets a surprising number of comments whenever he does). It’s my view that as an association executive, there is very much that I can shape, but there is very little that I can control. Nor should I seek to. Perhaps that’s why this sentence from Jeff’s article really jumped off the page at me.

For most association leaders, this is a hugely radical, even dangerous, idea.

Is it really? Jeff’s not specific, but when he says “leaders,” I assume he’s referring primarily to staff executives. And some of them probably do fear losing the control they have built up over their long years of service. We all know execs like this. They control the agenda, the discussion at their Board table, and, to a certain extent, their Board members themselves. But ask the volunteer leaders in those associations about this thing Jeff is describing as “loss of control” and I suspect you’ll get a much different answer.

I’m an association executive. But I’m also an association member, and recently I became and association Board member. These alternate perspectives have helped me tremendously, both in doing my own job and in helping my Board members do theirs. And more than anything else they have helped me see how stifling the pursuit of control can be.

Speaking as a volunteer Board member, I know that we have boundless passion for the industry or profession we represent. Way more, I think, than we should expect any staff executive to ever have. We want to do something to make a difference, to advance ourselves, our profession, and our organization. And one thing we’re really good at is determining whether the Boards we’ve found ourselves on are vehicles or impediments for fulfilling that desire.

As an association executive, I shouldn’t try to control that enthusiasm. I’ll be tempted to sometimes. Sometimes I’ll think they’ve gone off the tracks and they’re trying to take the association with them. But in those cases I need to shape, not control. Because control by the staff executive makes Board members check out, simply ride out their terms, and, to the detriment of what I’m trying to achieve, go looking for other places to invest their energy. Control is counterproductive.

I know. I’ve seen it from both sides.

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Post title refers to this. Go watch it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Real-World Innovation for Associations

I had a fantastic opportunity this past Friday—an opportunity to take the principles and ideas about innovation that are being developed through my work with the Innovation Task Force of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives, and apply them in a real-world situation with a real-world organization. I accepted an invitation from a national professional society to present the information we have developed on innovation in associations at their Board retreat, and help them determine how it applied to them and what specific steps they should take.

To help set-up the conversation, I asked each individual Board member to complete the innovation assessment we have posted on the Hub for Association Innovation, and then I presented their aggregated responses back to them. In some cases the results surprised them. In other cases they didn’t. But I think everyone would agree that it created a lot of great dialogue on where they needed to focus in order to become a more innovative organization.

From my perspective, this organization has pretty much already adopted a culture of innovation among their top leadership. The Board has recently culminated a process in which a new organizational mission and vision have been identified, and are now contemplating a name change in order to better reflect the changes in their environment and how the association is repositioning itself to expand and better serve its membership base. Unlike a lot of other organizations facing similar issues, this one has bravely identified that change is necessary, and its leaders are ready to drive cultural change within the organization appropriately.

In order to perpetuate that change, however, one key area they identified for themselves was leadership development. Having arrived at that place where the current batch of leaders were willing to drive for necessary change, what guarantee did any of them have that the next batch, or even the current leadership one layer down in their organization, would similarly embrace what they were trying to do? We talked about tackling the problem from both the process side of the coin—an immediate need to engage with existing leaders throughout the organization and incorporate their thoughts and ideas in the work of reinvention—as well as from the culture side of the coin—a longer-term plan in which the individuals in their organization with the appropriately innovative approach to leadership were identified and groomed for future involvement.

There was a thoughtful pause in our discussion when one Board member reminded everyone that (probably like a lot of other organizations, I thought), given their existing leadership criteria, those individuals with the appropriate mindset and leadership skills, may not currently be “electable” to leadership positions. It was one of those moments when you can see by the look on people’s faces that everyone together is wrapping their heads around the true scope of what they’re dealing with. It was intimidating and invigorating at the same time.

I think another big issue for them will be nimbleness, and a willingness to experiment in front of the members. Again, like a lot of other associations, it seemed like their processes for launching new programs are being hampered by the overly complex nature of their organizational structure. There are perceived risks that need to be managed—financial risks, yes, in launching programs that haven’t been properly vetted or embraced by their potential customers—but more pressingly reputation risks, the idea that the association must protect its reputation by never allowing unsuccessful or half-formed programs out of the gate.

We spent a lot of time talking about the need to design an innovation process—and build an innovation culture—that operated on the exactly opposite principle. That lots of half-formed programs were going to be launched, not to embarrass the organization, but to engage directly with their members in helping to decide which ones were worthy of additional support and development, and which ones should be allowed to suffer an early demise.

Some Board members got really hung up on the issue of failure—a word I deliberately threw out on the table and wanted them to talk about. They thought we were talking about encouraging people to fail. It was great when one of the Board members themselves helped to clarify. No, we’re not encouraging people to fail. We’re encouraging them not to be afraid of failure. Well said.

It was a remarkable experience—one I hope to repeat for other organizations as we continue to define our evidence-based model of innovation for the association community. If there are any Hourglass readers that would like to share their experiences in trying to adopt the principles of innovation, I’d be happy to have the dialogue.

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