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.