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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