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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