Archive for the 'Organizational Behavior' Category

05
Aug
14

When your gut speaks, listen

vp_gut_feeling_signAs a mom, I’ve learned to recognize that feeling. You know, that feeling in your gut that something isn’t quite right. The kids are too quiet. Maybe a sleepover when my kid seems sluggish (and later gets sick) isn’t a good idea. After 12 years of practice, I’ve finally learned to listen to my gut.

So why is that so hard to do in the workplace? Because as a parent, I’m not faced with mounds of data, mission statements and internal politics.

I’ve written before about the importance of data. They can be powerful decision-making tools. Business executives love data, and expect their managers to analyze it to make sound business decisions – but not all the time, according to a new survey.

In June, Fortune Knowledge Group, which publishes Fortune, conducted a survey of business leaders to learn more about their decision-making habits, measuring the influence of cultural, emotional and situational factors in business decisions.

“Business decision-makers want to feel something positive,” said Christoph Becker, CEO and COO of gyro, a global advertising agency that partnered with Fortune Knowledge Group for the study. “After all, the choices made at work are the choices made in life; there is no separation. Work risks are personal risks. While hard facts inform our decisions, we are ultimately influenced by emotion and won over through our hearts, not data.”

More than 720 U.S.-based senior executives participated in the survey, all of whom directly influence business operations. About 80 percent of the companies represented in the survey have annual revenues of $500 million or more, while 41 percent reported revenues of $10 billion or more.

In short: A majority of the executives said they trust their guts when making decisions, and human emotion should trump data. Specifically, they indicated positive emotions – ambition, motivation and admiration – are stronger than negative ones.

When choosing business partners, executives said they value corporate culture and reputation above data. They suggested companies can make themselves more attractive by establishing a reputation for strong and open management practices, especially respect for employees, management credibility among employees and employee pride in association with the company.

In addition, 71 percent of executives reported they’re willing to make short-term financial sacrifices to build long-term relationships. Those relationships, executives said, should be based on trust. Interestingly, 42 percent said they’d rather do business with a company whose employees have “good interpersonal skills and emotional insight rather than analytical intelligence.”

201401-omag-instincts-1-600x411“Despite having more information than ever upon which to make decisions, executives still rely heavily on human factors when making most business decisions,” the researchers wrote. “Business decision-makers are, of course, using data to their benefit. However, especially when selecting business partners, executives are ultimately less analytical and more emotional.”

Later this summer, gyro will release complete results of the study. But for now, the take-home for associations should be that sometimes, your inner voice should speak louder than sales figures.

So when you’re building vendor relationships, investigate the company a bit. Are employees happy? What’s the company culture?

Don’t underestimate the importance of emotional intelligence.

19
Nov
13

A Tuesday ‘thank you’

GivingTuesdayEditor’s Note: As Thanksgiving approaches, we all start thinking about our blessings. So it seemed appropriate to dedicate this week’s blog post – and probably next week’s – to the topic of saying “thank you.” For next week, I’d like to write about how you thank your customers and/or give back to your community. So please drop me a quick note at Kristen@eventgarde.com!

But for now, one way to give back and say thanks: #GivingTuesday. This week’s guest blog post is from Kate Olsen, vice president of strategic projects for Network for Good, a technology platform that facilitates online fundraising and giveback opportunities. She tells us how your association/organization can participate in #GivingTuesday.

For more information, check out the #GivingTuesday Facebook page and the Twitter feed and use #GivingTuesday and @GivingTues.

Kate Olsen

Kate Olsen, vice president of strategic projects for Network for Good.

#GivingTuesday occurs on Dec. 3 this year and is an opportunity for companies, nonprofits and individuals alike to get involved for the greater good.

For those not in the know, #GivingTuesday is a campaign to add a national day of giving to the lineup of shopping days Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. It’s a prime opportunity for nonprofits and companies (and individuals) to collaborate for the greater good. Here are four steps to ensure your partnership’s success.

1.  Seek mission and values alignment.

There are many reasons to form cross-sector partnerships: promotion to a bigger audience, inspiration from new ideas and approaches and access to additional skills, more resources and knowledge. And there are also just as many reasons not to partner: Support can come with strings attached, lack of trust, conflicting goals and mission creep.

To ensure you create a winning partnership, take the time to make sure there’s a good fit between your mission and the corporate partner’s brand identity and goals.

Luna’s Pure Prevention campaign provides a great example of nonprofit-corporate alignment. As a provider of nutrition for active women, Luna teamed up with the Breast Cancer Fund to find and eliminate environmental and preventable causes of breast cancer—a major health issue for women. It just makes sense.

2. Leverage complementary assets.

Assets are any resources that you and your corporate partner bring to the table. In addition to funding, assets can include people, skills, audience reach, relationships and technology.

A partnership is not just about getting access to corporate philanthropic dollars: It’s about true collaboration. Think about what assets your nonprofit has that will be of value to a corporate partner, and vice versa.

You have invested in a brand, program portfolio, supporter base and other resources that will help make the partnership a success. Never discount what you bring to the table.

3. Design the right partnership architecture.

Thinking through the goals of the partnership and designing a measurable campaign will help ensure transparency and focus, especially if you use those measurements to tell stories with impact. How can you engage supporters in relevant and meaningful ways? How will you measure their participation and communicate results?

One framework to help structure the partnership is the ladder of engagement. Offer your audience multiple ways to participate with your partnership based on their level of passion and commitment to the cause.

The No Kid Hungry campaign, led by Share Our Strength, does a great job of offering multiple ways to take action: donate, advocate, sign a pledge, spread the word and raise money for your cause.

How can you offer a ladder of engagement for #GivingTuesday? First, understand where your supporters congregate online; then design calls to action that leverage those channels. Here are a few ideas:

  • #GivingTuesday Twitter chat (Encourage corporate sponsors to pledge $1 per tweet.)
  • Random Acts of Kindness Facebook campaign (Have supporters share acts they performed or  witnessed.)
  • Inspirational generosity pins on Pinterest (Have supporters share what generosity means to them.)
  • Kind deeds caught in the act on Instagram (Feature photos of generous acts and giving.)
  • Messages of hope and generosity on YouTube (Feature testimonials about how giving affected their lives.)

Network for Good 4. Measure and communicate accomplishments.

Evolving a partnership requires taking the time to understand where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished and how you can keep improving. Communicating impact to partnership stakeholders is a vital piece of that process. It’s also important to communicate that to your donors, and never forget to say thank you!

If you need inspiration, just check out the A Day Made Better thank you video for a refresher on powerful storytelling and expressing gratitude. You can also see how Phoenix House recapped its 2012 #GivingTuesday campaign and closed the loop for campaign participants with a heartfelt response from program beneficiaries.

Remember: Corporate-cause partnerships are all about relationships, collaboration, execution and impact (and fun!).

25
Mar
13

Overcoming your fear of “messing up”

It’s been several months now, but I was invited by Bryan L. Crenshaw, southeast zone adviser of the Michigan District of Key Club International, to present two breakout sessions on public speaking and confidence building at the organization’s 2012 Fall Rally in Wayland. As a former club president and district board member, I was eager to give back to this next generation of leaders and (fingers crossed) association professionals.

If you’re not familiar, Key Club International is the oldest and largest service program for high school students. It’s a completely student-led organization that teaches leadership through service to others. Members of the Kiwanis International family include Kiwanis (adults), Circle K (college students) and Key Club. Ultimately, Key Club members build themselves as they build their schools and communities.

Although I regularly speak to the association community, this younger audience was a new challenge for me. The process began, as it usually does, with an engaging content outline comprising key talking points. It included a brief welcome, a small group discussion, a self-reflection activity and a progressive story-telling activity in which participants practiced their public speaking prowess.

Of the various activities and discussions, I found the self-reflection to be the most enlightening. The students were given an index card and were asked to write down their confidential responses to the following scenario: “You’ve been asked to deliver a speech at your senior graduation. What’s going to keep you up at night in the days leading up to this public speaking engagement?”

Near the end of each session we spent approximately 10 minutes pulling these index cards at random and addressing the various questions and concerns that arose from the students. Since then, I’ve had an opportunity to more closely review and aggregate these responses. Of the nearly 200 answers, the one garnering the top spot – appearing 28 different times – was a fear of messing up.

Following are the six other top vote getters:

  • Writing and editing my speech – 16 responses
  • Forgetting what to say – 15 responses
  • Stuttering, slurring or mumbling – 14 responses
  • Content not good – 13 responses
  • Nerves – 12 responses
  • Saying the wrong thing – 11 responses

In the middle of the pack, between two and eight people said each of the following:

  • Won’t relate to everyone
  • Embarrassed
  • Trip/fall
  • Humiliated
  • Mispronounce a word
  • Appearance/attire
  • Topic
  • Not loud enough
  • Audience too large
  • Not breathing
  • Freezing up
  • Panicking
  • Throwing up
  • Fainting
  • Audio/visual equipment not working
  • Making a joke, but no one laughs

Finally, each of the following concerns garnered one mention each:

  • Changing people’s perspectives
  • Speaking with my hands
  • Going off topic
  • Not having eye contact
  • Face breaking out
  • Not getting a standing ovation
  • Won’t practice/be ready
  • Speaking in front of peers
  • Not delivering speech well
  • Hecklers
  • Physically shaking
  • Voice shaking
  • Talking too fast
  • Talking too quietly
  • Being booed
  • Ruining friendships
  • Going over/under time

So, my question to you is this: When it comes to your work (e.g., launching a new member product or service), do you have many of these same fears and concerns? How do you overcome them? In what ways do you and your organization create a culture that’s okay with “messing up”? What advice would you offer the next generation of leaders, college students and, ultimately, association professionals as they pursue their goals, dreams and interests?

08
Nov
12

The great proposal debate: Why consultants eschew RFPs

The call comes in. A prospective client needs you – immediately! – to help with an urgent project. They’re unclear how to resolve the issue, but they believe you can help. Simply draft a proposal describing you’re recommended course of action and be sure to include your proposed fees. Days – sometimes weeks – later, they’ve curiously decided to complete the project themselves.

I was recently faced with this dilemma. Although I cannot be certain, I believe this particular organization has – instead of hiring me or another consultant – simply decided to implement themselves the ideas I presented in my unnecessarily comprehensive proposal. So, I turned to my colleagues in the consultant community (via ASAE’s Collaborate site) for some sage advice.

Following are the curated highlights of the more than 20 responses I received. To protect the innocent, I’ve removed identifying information from these comments and recommendations. Nevertheless, the contributors know who they are – and I’m extremely grateful they took the time to respond. Organized by topic, following are the lightly edited insights:

Case studies

These examples seem to indicate I’m not the only one who’s been on the receiving end of a shady business deal over the years.

  • Some years ago, I developed and implemented an online event for an organization that attracted hundreds of attendees around the world.  By all measures, it was quite successful. They then decided to use the same software and do it themselves. It was not successful.
  • I had this happen to me many years ago – not in a proposal, but in an “exploratory meeting” where I naively gave away the store. Never again!
  • One of my MBA students this summer was asked to write a marketing piece to replace existing (and terrible) website copy as part of her job interview process. I advised her to put her copyright very clearly on it – seemed like a potentially very underhanded ploy to me!
  • I’ve also heard of cases where the proposal outline is handed to another consultant for execution.
  • A person who is a constant joy and inspiration to me is Hildy Gottlieb. Please read her story about a blatant incident of plagiarism that turned out to be a gift.
  • I did have a circumstance where an organization asked if I would like to bid on a project. They’d already gotten at least two proposals. When they then sent the RFP, they also sent the other two proposals. I declined to submit a proposal, noting they’d shared the other proposals. I’m not sure they really understood why that wasn’t okay.
  • I had a circumstance where I spent time discussing needs with an association only to have them then send me and others an RFP based on what I had suggested. Frankly, I think I just missed the cues they were trying to scope a project.

Proposals

The form and substance of proposals seems to be changing. Many consultants appear to be reserving detailed work plans until after an agreement is reached.

  • I don’t respond to proposal requests where I don’t have any direct contact and I try to outline an approach making it clear that the specifics of the plan are the first phase of the project. I’m always amazed at how many organizations don’t understand that developing a specific plan for their situation is part of the work.
  • I strive to avoid offering written proposals. I’m a big believer in the writings of Alan Weiss and Peter Block as they pertain to coming to agreement with a prospective client through discussion and mutual exploration based on value and outcomes.
  • I now make clear in my proposals that specific recommendations can’t be made until we’re actually working together.
  • I hate responding to RFPs. I have had prospects invite me to preliminary talks with clearly the purpose to pick my brain and figure out how to do the project themselves – using my ideas.
  • I don’t compete in cattle calls; many of my clients, maybe most, are previous clients and friends. Increasingly, I don’t do proposals, but offer a scope of work.

Charging

Several individuals recommended charging for proposals and exploratory meetings as a means of fairly compensating consultants for their time and intellectual property.

  • I’ve heard of some consultants charging for proposals and refunding the money if a group booked.
  • It took me some time to charge for exploratory meetings. I had to be taken advantage of several times before I offered to attend only if I charged for my attendance. Surprisingly, I’ve had little pushback to the idea when I’ve presented it.  That may be because I still offer free initial consultations, but repeat consultations, without an engagement, are a different matter.
  • One negotiating tactic might be to offer a discount or credit should the exploratory meeting result in an engagement of sufficient size and scope to warrant such consideration.
  • Renata Rafferty had a great way of dealing with the tire-kickers. Renata advised high net worth donors on philanthropy. One day, an acquaintance asked her to go to lunch with her and a couple of friends to discuss philanthropy strategy and kick some ideas around. Renata said, “I’d love to! To whom should I send the bill?” Very light and positive, but also definite. Needless to say, the lunch never happened. Coincidentally, the first edition of Renata’s book was titled, “Don’t Just Give it Away.”

Intellectual property

For those who do prepare written proposals, several consultants recommended protecting these documents (including all intellectual property) with copyright language.

  • I have been influenced by so many brilliant and creative people that I often wonder if I’ve ever had an original thought. Yet, I have. My synthesis of information is unique, my conclusions are mine, and how I perceive and convey information is from my brain.
  • If you do present written proposals, include intellectual property protection language in the text.  One example I’ve seen is the following: “Proprietary Proposal. This proposal is the property of [the consultant] and may not be distributed beyond the staff and leadership of [the prospective client] without written permission. Unauthorized use may be a violation of federal copyright laws and the federal Economic Espionage Act of 1996.”
  • Unfortunately, it has become almost necessary practice to clearly state your documents are the intellectual property of the author. In my experience, if a potential client asks that your proposal become their intellectual property, I will not work with them or provide them anything.
  • While we never have had theft or misuse of our proposal ideas, we always specify in our proposals that they are copyrighted, that they are the intellectual property of [consulting firm] and that violations of these assertions may be a violation of both the copyright laws and the Federal Economic Espionage Act of 1996, which carry significant penalties.
  • I believe intellectual property law, especially when it comes to copyright law, protects the expression of ideas, but not necessarily any ideas themselves. There’s the rub.

Value

Thankfully, an outline alone is not sufficient to successfully execute a project. Consultants responding to this discussion were quick to point out that their value lies in implementation.

  • I take comfort in knowing that my value is not just outlining an approach, but knowing how to actually implement it successfully.
  • Organizations that try to implement your plans are likely to fall short, that’s why they needed you to do the plan. They don’t have the expertise. I try to make my plans detailed enough to enable the client to make a decision, but there’s a lot more detail required to actually do the project.
  • Many consultants can recount times a prospect “stole” their ideas to do it themselves. But rarely is the prospect successful in their project. A few times they brought the consultant back to fix the mess.
  • Your service isn’t the proposal/blueprint – it’s your professional ability to assist in implementing the blueprint and, thereby, add value to their organization.  It’s easy to say, “This is what to do,” but often difficult to execute the plan.  Let them try.  Sometimes, they may even come back and say, “Oops, we need help after all.”

Ethics

As I initially raised this issue as an ethical dilemma, the topic of ethics was referenced a handful of times throughout this discussion thread.

  • If a potential client acts unethically and chooses to implement your ideas without your participation, let them go. Clients such as these are not worth your effort, as they will find other ways to sacrifice long-term gain in a misguided attempt to save a few bucks or otherwise game the system to their advantage.
  • ASAE has a (revised over four years by the Ethics Committee and approved in August 2011 by the Board) Standards of Conduct that, for the first time in ASAE’s history, applies to all three membership categories: association professionals, consultants and business partners. It is aspirational vs. enforceable; however, the CAE Commission is reviewing it to see how to make it enforceable for CAEs.
  • In the National Speakers Association, there is a clear code administered by an ethics committee, and members can file complaints.  If someone is found guilty of violating the code against another member, it is publicized along with the penalty (usually suspension from the association).

Education

Sometimes the answer really is more education. Several consultants recommended educating the offending parties (one-on-one) as to their unethical mistreatment of intellectual property. Other, more proactive strategies included industry-wide articles.

  • I believe we can all make a difference if whenever we face the challenge we call attention to it in an effort to slow less scrupulous clients.
  • The idea to develop an article providing more exposure to the issue is a good one.
  • Sometimes plagiarism of one’s ideas is unintentional. Sometimes it is blatant. In either case, it’s worth a phone call. Each of us is responsible for protecting what is uniquely ours.

Exceptions

Finally, on a positive note, it’s clear to me that those acting in a dishonest manner are the exceptions, not the rule. And to all of you, we owe our unconditional thanks.

  • The positive side is that most prospects are honest, ethical people that hire us after reviewing our proposals.
  • The vast majority of the groups I’ve worked with have been respectful of my materials and work.
  • Most potential clients are ethical and above-board. Some of the remainder are ignorant of contracting/consulting issues, not evil.
  • There are no guarantees in a world of total access, loss of privacy, diminution of civility and moral neutrality. Still, naively, I believe that the people who are my clients and potential clients are ethical.

So, my question to you is this: How do any of us determine if our ideas (intellectual property) are being used exactly the same way we intended vs. in some other way? Does it matter? With the advent of virtual communities where all of our ideas spread like wildfire, is there really any privacy of ideas? How does your organization utilize RFPs to select consultants – and has this practice changed in the last decade?

17
Sep
12

How’d we get here? Preventing an education team crisis

Revolved Chair

I had a particularly amazing yoga practice last week. It’s hard to explain exactly what makes a yoga practice amazing (especially if you’ve never tried it before). I happened to be running a bit later than usual, so I found myself “stuck” with a spot in the front row. As someone who’s a bit out of shape these days (okay, a lot out of shape), this certainly could not be the source of my excitement.

Near the end of class, at a student’s request, our instructor took some time to break down two fairly challenging poses: head stand and hand stand. Generally, I assume these poses are too advanced for me and I simply “take a knee.” For some unexplained reason, though, I granted myself the freedom to play that day – highly unusual considering both my experience and comfort level.

And while my attempts were certainly valiant, neither pose was particularly pretty or well-executed. (Though, for the record, I was more successful at head stand than I was at hand stand.) While it wasn’t a bad end to the class, I credit two specific moments during the previous 75 minutes as the highlights of my practice and the primary reasons I even attempted these difficult asanas.

I practice hot yoga at The Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse. In power vinyasa yoga, movement is synchronized with breath. To be sure, breath becomes one of the most important aspects of class. As you to move from one pose to the next, it’s synced with an inhale or an exhale. And we’re not talking baby breaths. We’re talking Darth Vader, so-the-whole-room-can-hear-you breaths.

On this occasion, the energy in the room was extraordinary. Often, breath is lost (becomes less audible) because students either focus too much on what they’re doing “wrong” or their minds have wandered onto things outside of the studio (e.g., “What’s for dinner?”). That day, breath was loud and consistent and inspiring. The instructor didn’t even have to remind us to breathe. It was as if we were one lung.

This was the first moment in class that I felt like something was different, unusual and exciting. The second moment came during a revolved chair. With the quality of breath in place, movement became inextricably linked to our breathing. I likely took this pose further than I ever had before. Every breath pushed me further, if only by tiny movements, for my fullest expression of the pose.

Since that class, I’ve been thinking about the number of organizations this year taking a good, hard look at their education strategies (or lack thereof). Although different for each association, following are some of the more common issues my colleagues and clients have wrestled with in the last six months:

  • The number and delivery method of annual programs (e.g., What’s the right mix of face-to-face and virtual learning experiences?).
  • The quality of member learning experiences (e.g., What instructional strategies would best support adult learning and how do we encourage our speakers to utilize these techniques?).
  • The core competencies/domains of members (e.g., What are the current job tasks performed, knowledge needed and skills required? Are we planning education to meet these needs?)
  • The financial implications of a changing economy (e.g., How can we better demonstrate return on learning to our attendees?)
  • The expertise of professional development staff (e.g., How does our staff stay abreast of trends and best practices within this functional area?)

I can tell you firsthand that many organizations take for granted their education departments. Although a core function of the organization (as defined by the association’s mission), little strategy is actually employed to guide and direct the team or to appropriately deploy available resources. Rather, we do what we’ve always done or what’s easiest or what causes the least number of ripples. Generally, this means doing more with less.

Instead, we should have a clearly defined education strategy (developed in collaboration by all key stakeholders) to which we make minor adjustments each year based on the needs of our members, the competencies of our staff, the initiatives of our organization, the challenges of our industries and the refinements within the professional development field.

Until organizations develop and remain focused on a shared vision that’s consistent with the learning needs of their members, and are motivated to make those tiny course corrections throughout the normal course of business, I predict that a number of education teams will find themselves in crisis mode within the next two to three years.

Crises will materialize in terms of:

  • Lackluster attendance;
  • Desolate trade shows;
  • Diminishing sponsorships; and
  • Meager revenue streams.

So, my question to you is this: How’d we get here? Or, better yet, how do we get out of this predicament? Does your organization have a defined education strategy? What does it cover? Does it regularly make minor adjustments to this strategy (and the strategy of other functional areas) to remain fresh, current and relevant? If not, how does the organization (and membership) suffer? What’s the alternative and how do we achieve it?

08
May
12

The absolute trap: How the word “never” is holding you back

Never.

It’s a simple word that packs a remarkably powerful punch. And if you regularly use this word (or some iteration thereof) throughout the normal course of your workday, you could – potentially – be sabotaging both you and your colleagues without so much as a second thought.

It’s time to stop and take notice.

In its simplest form, the word never means: at no time, not at all, absolutely not, to no extent or degree. In other words, it’s an absolute or superlative word meaning: not ever. If that weren’t already enough, the related idiom – never mind – is equally as telling (and discouraging). It means don’t bother or don’t concern yourself.

So, what’s the point?

Day in and day out, I think many of us – myself included – stand in the way of our own success, and not just personally. I mean for our members, vendors and partners, as well. We’re literally not realizing our (and their) fullest potential because of the barriers we’re so quick to put up around us. And, worldwide, this is resulting in countless missed opportunities to both create and develop superior products and services.

  • “We never allow presenters to…”
  • “We never have the money to…”
  • “We never have the support of our board to…”
  • “We never permit vendors to…”
  • “We never have the time to…”

Do any of these sound familiar? If not, I’m sure you could come up with a laundry list of your own “never” statements you’ve either used or heard within the last month.

So, what’s standing in our way? Do we just not want to commit to the effort, are we afraid of rejection, are we afraid of the unknown, are we intimidated by the key players, do we not want to expose our weaknesses, or perhaps it’s just easier to do nothing at all. Whatever the reason, enough is enough.

Call it a rule, a policy, a culture or “the way we’ve always done it.” Whatever it is, it’s a limitation. It’s a limitation preventing you, your department, your organization and your industry from achieving more. And breaking through this barrier is an important part of the innovation process.

I certainly don’t mean to imply that we should all become extreme risk takers, shamelessly buck the system at every chance we get or eliminate the word “never” from our vocabulary. That would somehow imply that the other extreme – always – is the simple answer to life’s challenges. Quite the contrary. Adopting a yes-man attitude would result in a similar trap with equally unfavorable consequences.

Rather, the goal is to find a happy medium – both at work and at home – where you’re able to develop and adhere to basic guidelines that govern work flow and processes, but that also allow for and encourage both innovation and deviance from the norm. And it starts with questioning the use of any absolute or superlative word such as “always” or “never.”

What would happen if:

  • You allowed presenters to…
  • You either shifted resources or raised the money to…
  • You gained the trust and support of the board to…
  • You encouraged your vendors to…
  • You found time to…

Wouldn’t the future be brighter?

So, my question to you is this: How often do you and your colleagues use the word “never” or other similar absolute/superlative words throughout the course of the workweek? How can you more intentionally draw awareness to these words and play devil’s advocate when they show up in conversation? What outcomes or successes have you, your team or your organization realized as a result of using the words “never” or “always” less frequently in your workplace?

02
May
12

Achieve more: The art of collaboration

As part of my ongoing series titled “Achieve More,” I’m profiling this month the role of collaboration in the development of dynamic, meaningful, and compelling education and networking experiences.

Interestingly enough, collaboration is defined as the act or process of collaborating, as well as the product resulting from collaboration. A few years ago, the Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE) introduced a new award recognizing innovative collaboration. This annual recognition continues to spotlight and reward collaboration both as a process and as product.

But that’s an aside.

I was fortunate enough in 2011 to attend ASAE’s Invitational Forum on Leadership and Management. If you’ve never been, I would highly recommend looking into it. Yes, it’s a little pricey; however, it was—perhaps—the best professional development experience of my life (and as a professional development junkie, that’s saying a lot).

In addition to good, quality information that was immediately applicable to my work, I was introduced to and worked alongside dozens of well-respected and seasoned association professionals. Even more than that, I was challenged to think about collaboration in a new and somewhat innovative way.

I’m paraphrasing here, but a few key takeaways/principles that continue to guide my work with others (and which I return to from time-to-time to refocus and refine my approaches to collaboration, particularly in situations involving strongly divergent opinions):

  • When a problem exists (in this case, any challenge your association could and would face during the normal course of business), my solution and your solution are fundamentally different because our views/perspectives on what should be done are based on our own unique skills, expertise, beliefs and values. And this is perfectly okay (and, in fact, to be expected).
  • Simply selecting one solution over the other or creating a compromise somewhere between our two solutions would result in a fundamentally deficient decision or product. Likewise, when one person “wins” and the other “loses,” friction, hostility and demoralization could affect not only our relationship, but our future collaborative work.
  • Instead, a third option should be devised that honors the best parts of my solution and the best parts of your solution, builds upon our respective strengths, and results in a third, more robust solution that elevates the skills, expertise, beliefs and values we each bring to the table.

In my experience, organizations often excel or have strong expertise in a particular functional area. Many resources are funneled into this department to ensure success and, ultimately, to create value and best serve the membership. Naturally, these projects gain the attention of top leadership, are allotted disproportionately more time on the board agenda, and appear first in both the monthly newsletter and the year-end report.

Meanwhile, the remaining departments suffer from inexperienced/undertrained staff members, as well as a lack of resources, poorly defined goals/objectives, board/leadership apathy, and an overall lack of time, attention and focus. Intentional or not, these dynamics have a tremendous impact on staff morale, motivation and productivity.

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as simple as striving for perfection (sorry Type As). If it were easy for every organization to be the best at everything they do, wouldn’t we just strive for perfection each and every day (and be increasingly more disappointed when every association began to look more and more alike or the occasional human error reared its ugly head)?

Therefore, in my opinion, we have at least two options:

  1. Strive to be more balanced. Aim for excellence in the functional areas our organizations excel at, but be more mindful of and fair to the other departments and staff, too.
  2. Be more deliberate about collaboration. Be honest about the functional areas that could use a bit more attention and resources – and deploy them accordingly.

Here, resources include staff (be it full-time, part-time or the often under-utilized intern), supplies, training, recognition and support. Additionally, collaboration is key. Collaborate with a trusted partner (such as a colleague or a consultant) and you’ll undoubtedly infuse new ideas, new energy and a renewed spirit into your department and, subsequently, your organization.

In addition to keeping projects on time, on message and under budget, I think you’d also be surprised by the impact collaboration can have on strategic thinking and long-term outcomes. In terms of professional development and creating dynamic member experiences, it could be the difference between planning the same conference year after year and developing a compelling experience – delivered in a unique and interactive way – that inspires learning, engagement and community.

So, my question to you is this: Do you identify with this model of collaboration? In what ways does your organization encourage collaboration both internally and externally? What outcomes – otherwise unachievable – has your organization realized as a result of collaboration?

07
Feb
12

There’s no such thing as constructive criticism – or is there?

I had the distinct pleasure last week of attending the Louisiana Society of Association Executives annual convention in New Orleans at the historic Hotel Monteleone. During the opening general session on Thursday morning, speaker Gary Golden shared a number of stories about leadership. One had to do with training killer whales, another about coaching a baseball team and a third about raising a daughter.

In each instance, Gary built upon his theory that performance and gratification are inextricably linked to one another (even though they happen to be two different sides of the same coin). Here, performance is defined as the execution or accomplishment of work and gratification is defined as a state of pleasure or satisfaction. (And, generally, when you’re seeking gratification, there are easier ways to obtain it than performing work.)

As the session progressed, I posted a couple of key takeaways to Facebook and Twitter for future reflection. One such post – There’s no such thing as constructive criticism. #LSAE12 – garnered 19 comments within a matter of minutes, as well as a spin-off discussion yielding 19 more. Several comments from the original post follow:

  • Really? What is an alternative, positive reinforcement?
  • Interesting. How do we point out areas for improvement, ideas to increase performance, etc.? I do agree that the term constructive criticism is not one of my favorites though.
  • The key is not making it a criticism of the *person* but rather pointing out the main goals of the project and how the person can achieve those goals. I am not saying berating people for mistakes is the way to go, but let’s not swing too far in the opposite direction. I find that too many people are so afraid of *any* criticism that they often don’t provide feedback people need to improve. That’s why “Everybody Gets a Ribbon” hurts more than it helps.
  • I always try and lead with a positive. I just caution people not to overemphasize the positive, because it can backfire. Sometimes, when you over praise and don’t emphasize critical areas for improvement, people won’t work so hard to perfect the imperfections. Really, what it comes down to is different personality styles respond to criticism differently.
  • That is an absurd statement. Everyone learns and is motivated in different ways. For some, positive reinforcement is the way to go…personally being praised all the time makes me feel like I am being pandered to. Many people respond to different types of stimulus…such as constructive criticism. I find this to be the case in the workplace, while coaching and in life. The key for an effective manager is figuring out what motivates each employee and utilizing that to help them grow and learn.

Boiled down, these comments argue that:

  1. Although the term “constructive criticism” may be cliché (and somewhat undesirable), the concept is a necessary evil to encourage performance improvement.
  2. Emphasis should always remain on the task or the project, rather than on the individual.
  3. People should be treated disparately in the workplace as everyone responds differently to stimuli such as praise and criticism.

Nevertheless, I believe Gary would stick to his guns and say there are several key steps to getting the most from your employees.

  1. Hire effectively.
  2. Assuming you’ve hired effectively, you have surrounded yourself with competent and talented staff that have the best interests in mind for you and your members/clients. Assign projects based upon skills and expertise.
  3. Each time a project or task is completed (the routine is important), first point out what was done well. And the key here is to do it genuinely. Then offer insights, suggestions and recommendations for performance improvement as the need arises (focusing less on the deficiency and more on the potential for a better future outcome – and perhaps even an improved system, rather than a one-time benefit).
  4. Finally, gratification yields performance excellence (this is true both at work and at home, incidentally). In other words, happy, satisfied, fulfilled people are more likely to produce quality work than those who are unhappy, unsatisfied and unfulfilled. (Conversely, always point out the worst in people – and productivity will plummet).

The bottom line is that criticism – the act of passing judgment; faultfinding – is not the most direct route to motivating employees. To complicate the issue further, we’re much more likely to point out when a project or task fails to meet expectations (learned behavior?) and generally miss the boat altogether when projects or tasks are completed well (by failing to take the time to acknowledge, praise or compliment).

Moreover, I think Gary would say that “constructive criticism” – loosely defined as criticism or advice that is useful and intended to help or improve something, often with an offer of possible solutions – is simply criticism cloaked by good intentions (or the pretense of good intentions). The fact of the matter is that constructive criticism is still criticism and fails to serve as the most effective human motivator.

So, my question to you is this: What do you make of the phrase: “There’s no such thing as constructive criticism”? Do you agree or disagree – and why? How do you respond to the comments posted by my friends and colleagues? How do you respond to my interpretation of Gary’s position on this matter? As an effective manager, what have you found most effective when it comes to employee morale and motivation?

31
Jan
12

The future of associations: Is the millennial generation willing to lead the way?

It’s no secret that on Jan. 1, 2011 (just about 13 months ago to the day), the oldest members of the Baby Boomer generation celebrated their 65th birthday. Since that historic day, it’s estimated that more than 10,000 Baby Boomers have reached the age of 65 each and every day (and, believe it or not, this trend is expected to continue for 19 straight years). Staggering, right?

Undoubtedly, many of these Baby Boomers serve—or have served—the association community in top leadership positions, including that of president and CEO or executive director (not to mention a multitude of other C-suite, executive-level and director-level positions). And although not all are immediately retiring upon their 65th birthday, many have at least begun making plans for the future.

And we’re not talking about a few dozen organizations and a handful of retirements here. In 2000, it was estimated that the United States alone had more than 23,000 national associations. And that number only grows when you consider the 115,000 state, local and regional associations, as well as the 1,300 international organizations.

Enter the millennial generation (approximately 80 million strong).

Millennials want to make a difference in the world, be heard, feel like they are contributing, innovate and know they are succeeding. They live in a generation that moves at an extremely fast pace and are often left wondering why everyone in the workplace is not moving as fast as them.  By and large, millennials also work well on teams. They know how to delegate efficiently and choose the person best suited for a task based on skill, not hierarchy or seniority.

Millennials also bring to the workforce a unique proclivity for technology. They utilize social media tools daily and tend to remain connected long after the traditional workday has ended. They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. They’re also less religious, less likely to have served in the military and are on track to become the most educated generation in American history.

But are they ready to lead our associations in light of this anticipated exodus from top leadership positions nationwide? (Better yet, are they willing to do so?)

Hear me out for a moment before you get crazy. (I know you want to; I had a similar conversation with a seasoned association executive and a room full of young association and supplier professionals just last week.) My question is not about the skills and expertise of the millennial generation (either now or in the future). I know they are great leaders and I know they are up to the challenge.

The question is really about interest. Is the millennial generation interested in the generalist lifestyle (or would they prefer to be experts in a particular field)? Are their feelings about hierarchy, governance and authority in competition with the present ideologies that form the backbone of our associations? Are they willing to fight the good fight and make the necessary changes to keep our organizations nimble, competitive and solvent?

Consider, for a moment, the unofficial (but widely offered) advice given to each new CAE candidate studying to sit for the exam: Plan to answer each question as a seasoned chief staff executive (presumably, Caucasian) from a national professional society. This, alone, implies that our leaders and, in turn, our organizations are to some extent predictable, conventional and unimaginative. Who’s to say the millennial generation is interested in investing their time and energy into changing this paradigm?

Certainly, some are eager to meet this challenge head-on (as was evidenced by my conversation last week); however, a majority of my colleagues seemed undecided. Perhaps the entrepreneurial spirit implicit in this generation is just too enticing. Most assuredly, opportunities abound. My peers are—by their own admission—interested in establishing association management firms of their own, serving as industry consultants and hitting the speaker circuit.

So, my question to you is this (and it’s an important one this week): What are you doing to attract young professionals to leadership positions within your organization? Is your organization committed to breaking the proverbial mold (especially as it relates to long-standing organizational behavior) and celebrating diversity (including diversity of staff, board and member composition, as well as diversity of skills, values and opinions)? What else are you doing to ensure the millennial generation will want to lead your organization long after your Baby Boomer executives have retired?

23
Jan
12

The secret to recruiting and retaining members? Relationships.

Next week I’ll be speaking with association and supplier leaders in Louisiana about the power of relationships. My goal is to illuminate the significant shifts in business today from that of previous decades. We’ll spend considerable time identifying the power of relationships in both building business clientele and in maintaining satisfied customers.

Out with the transactional business model.

Business, in many cases, used to be about quantity over quality. Specifically, the “transactional business model” is nothing more than the act of obtaining and paying for an item or service. It shows little or no regard for the people participating in the transaction and certainly doesn’t consider future outcomes such as referrals, friendship or repeat business.

Think: furniture store salesman the minute you walk through the front door (I know, I shudder too). By and large, this person has little concern for you as an individual and is much more interested in how much he or she can get you to spend before you walk out the door. And, rightfully so. With little time to actually develop a relationship with you, the pressure of a commission-based salary and limited next best alternatives for you and your family, it’s a learned approach (a matter of circumstance, if you will).

In with the relational business model.

But, with more choice—and you have to agree that associations today are a dime a dozen—comes a need to stand out from the crowd. Enter: relational business model. This model emphasizes more the mutual connections or feelings that exist between two parties as a basis or prerequisite for conducting business. In other words, the relationships we build with our members, vendors and clients (regardless of whether or not an actual transaction takes place on any given day) all support future business transactions.

Research reveals that relational customers are interested in doing business with someone they are familiar with and have learned to trust; will try to establish a long-term relationship with an organization after a positive experience; are loyal to organizations with whom a relationship has been established; and base their membership decisions on past experiences, customer service and quality.

Take a simple scan of the environment today (as compared to even a few years ago), and it’s clear that our culture (and business, in general) is mobile-obsessed. We continue to become more technologically advanced and—if it’s possible—we move at an even faster pace. Unfortunately, this has resulted in people becoming more disconnected relationally.

The absence of these relational skills not only erodes customer loyalty, but negatively impacts employee morale and productivity, as well as the association’s bottom line. And yet the ominous threat of limited association resources—primarily, staff time—inhibits us from taking the necessary time to develop these important relationships with our constituents.

And not just from the C-suite. From every layer within the organization: receptionist to staff specialist, coordinator to manager, director to vice president. Everyone—regardless of title—should be permitted and encouraged to develop meaningful relationships with those people who they regularly engage with during their ordinary course of business and are most in a position to impact the organization.

Doing so creates an environment in which members, vendors and clients transform (literally before your eyes) from supporters to advocates. And advocates are a powerful resource; not only do they support your cause, but they speak or write in support of your cause, too. Additionally, they say good things about you, your staff and your organization, and they initiate connections on your behalf. Recruiting and retaining: check.

So, my question to you is this: How well does your organization embody the relational business model? What’s stopping you from allowing more employees the opportunity to connect in meaningful ways with your members, vendors and clients? In what other ways do you and your staff develop relationships with your key constituents?




meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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