Archive for the 'Professional Development' Category

06
May
14

Back to basics: Education programs

photoI recently facilitated two sessions on meeting planning and professional development for the Michigan Society of Association Executive’s (MSAE) Academy of Association Management. It’s again a reminder of the important intersection and relationship between learning and logistics, particularly as it relates to association education programs.

The course content primarily focuses on two chapters of Professional Practices in Association Management, Second Edition: Chapter 26 on education programs and Chapter 32 on meeting planning and management. Additional insights were gleaned from The Meetings Report jointly published by Event Garde and MSAE.

Following introductions and an outline of the day’s learning outcomes, I shared four big ideas that represent the importance of education to our organizations:

  1. Meetings represent a significant and increasing proportion of association revenue.
  2. Significant percentages of association memberships attend annual meetings or trade shows.
  3. Members believe the most important function of an association is to provide training and professional development.
  4. Six of the top seven reasons identified by association leaders as the reason people join are related to meetings. (Note: The final reason is related to advocacy.)

For a long time, planners have been tasked with coordinating chicken and chairs. Perhaps this is an oversimplification of their role as logistics managers; however, it’s clear that for many they’ve had little to no experience in instructional design, speaker coaching and content development. And most aren’t afforded a seat at the executive leadership table.

I firmly believe that moving forward our meetings personnel must have skillsets in both logistics and learning if they’re to find and cultivate successful association careers. As members become more sophisticated and their options to learn and to network become more bountiful, the status quo is no longer enough to capture their interest or to motivate their purchases.

So it’s time to get back to basics.

Carousel_at_Hyde_ParkAccording to Ralph J. Nappi, CAE and Deborah B. Vieder, “The very purpose of an association—enabling people to achieve common goals, meet common needs, and solve problems—is realized by sharing information, networking, or joining together for a common good. In many associations, education programs help achieve these goals.”

So, what truly is the purpose of education? It seems like a simple enough question. But if you’re not currently asking it each and every time you plan a program—whether new, recurring or inherited—you’re doing both yourself and your organization a tremendous disservice. Our Academy participants—across both sessions—shared with us these thoughts during an initial carousel activity:

  • Advocacy
  • Apply new skills and best practices
  • Better serve clients/members
  • Better understand complex issues
  • Career advancement/professional growth
  • Create a stronger workforce
  • Deliver content
  • Diversity/adaptability
  • Efficiency (i.e., cost savings)
  • Elevate the profession
  • Expand the field
  • Gain experience
  • Hear about developing trends
  • Improve ROI
  • Increase awareness/income
  • Knowledge acquisition/retention
  • Learn about the latest information shaping business/profession
  • Learn things you didn’t know you needed to know
  • Make connections/networking
  • Motivation
  • Personal growth
  • Prepare for certification
  • Problem-solving
  • Provide a ready resource for the continuous learning necessary to keep pace with today’s rapid rate of change
  • Resource acquisition
  • Stimulate innovation
  • Workplace transference

Next, we asked the question: What types of education programs do associations offer? At first blush, this question seems elementary: learning and networking or face-to-face and distance. But when we really dig into the available options, the list grows exponentially. This is especially important when finding the “right” fit for our next generation of learners.

  • Accreditation
  • Annual conferences
  • Board/committee meetings
  • Case studies/reports
  • Certification
  • Communities of practice
  • Competency-based
  • Demos
  • Expositions
  • Face-to-face
  • Facilitated
  • Focus groups
  • Fundraisers
  • Institutes
  • Internships
  • Interviews
  • Knowledge-based learning
  • Networking events
  • Mentoring
  • Online learning/training
  • Peer-to-peer
  • Printed resources/materials (e.g., publications)
  • Regional meetings
  • Research-driven
  • Retreats
  • Roundtable discussions
  • Seminars
  • Social networking sites
  • Surveys/evaluations
  • Symposia
  • Team-building
  • Tradeshows
  • Virtual (e.g., webinar, on-demand)
  • Websites
  • Workshops

Finally, we don’t operate in a vacuum. We must constantly survey the environment to evaluate our competition (specifically as it relates to providers of continuing education our members find relevant, innovative and cost effective). Following is a preliminary list of other education opportunities that likely exist for your association members:

  • Business groups/counsels
  • Certificates/certifications
  • Chambers
  • Clubs/chapters
  • Community colleges
  • Computer-based studies
  • Consultants
  • Corporate training
  • Exhibitors
  • Extension programs
  • For-profit groups
  • Free information online
  • Government agencies
  • Home-study courses
  • In-house training
  • Internet
  • Law firms
  • Leadership centers
  • Magazines
  • Members
  • Networking
  • Non-profit groups
  • On-the-job (e.g., individual unit, corporate office)
  • Other associations (e.g., international, national, state, regional, local)
  • Personal networks
  • Publications
  • Sponsors
  • Suppliers/vendors
  • Topical conferences (e.g., TED Talks)
  • Universities
  • Webinars
  • Wikipedia
  • YouTube

The key takeaways here are relatively straightforward:

  1. Define goals and objectives for each and every program your department offers – and develop unique learning and networking experiences that meets those goals.
  2. Identify program types and formats your members find appealing and valuable; support your speakers and facilitators both in the planning and the delivery of these programs.
  3. Analyze your competition; summarize and effectively promote both how your programs differ and the innate value proposition they offer participants.

In the meantime, tell us what you would add to this conversation.

01
May
14

Bonus content: Event Garde e-News – May edition

The first edition of Event Garde’s monthly e-newsletter launches today (and we’re sharing here some of the bonus content from that publication). If you’re not yet signed up for our quick, fun, easy-to-read tips, news and association industry information, click here to join our mailing list. 

 

Peggy Hoffman

Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC

Reflecting on the ASAE Great Ideas Conference

Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Consulting, attended the ASAE Great Ideas Conference, which was held March 8-11.

So what was her biggest takeaway?

Undoubtedly, associations are still in a muddle about what to do about membership, she said.

“We know the world is shifting – we can feel the rumbles – but we don’t really know what to do.”

A couple good examples: AIGA gave a presentation on its shift to a new membership model to draw millennials. And Turnaround Management Association is using its NextGen strategy.

Her second aha moment was that associations can build cool learning opportunities. She attended two active sessions – one swim and one spin – and a fun “Whose Session Is It Anyway?” session, which offered active learning.

What was your favorite part of the conference?

 

Q & A with Kristen Parker, Digital Content Manager for Event Garde

Kristen Parker

Kristen Parker, digital content manager, Event Garde

Q: When you’re not working for Event Garde, what keeps you busy?
A: My kids! I’ve got three kids – 12, 9 and 6 – all of whom are involved in sports and scouting. So we rarely have a night at home. I’m also PTA president at my kids’ school. Oh. And I have another fulltime job. I’m media communications manager for Michigan State University.

Q: If you could be any type of ice cream, what would you be?
A: Coffee with dark chocolate swirl. I’m a huge coffeeaholic and dark chocolate is my vice. Both are rich with flavor, but simple at the same time. I’d like to think that my personality reflects that – I’m fun-loving and vivacious, but low maintenance.

Q: If you were stranded on an island, what two things could you not live without?
A: I can’t stand not seeing my kids every day, so I’d say a picture of them. Also, I’m blind as a bat, so my glasses. Not very exciting, I know.

Q: What is your pet peeve?
A: Grammar mistakes! I’m a grammar freak, so incorrect grammar – written or spoken – drives me nuts. However, a close second is laziness. Life is too short to be lazy.

Q: What are your favorite things?
A: I have quite a few, but here’s the short list: snuggling at night with my husband of 14 years; tucking my kids in at night; the smell of burning leaves in the fall; Christmas morning magic; Michigan State University (I’m a proud alumna and I bleed green!); college football; and Lake Michigan summers.

22
Apr
14

Life goes on…and so does learning

AlbertEinstein-001As some of you may know, in addition to my role with Event Garde, I work for Michigan State University’s central communications office. I love working with students. They’re brilliant. They’re ambitious. They’re overachievers. And some of them are old, well, older.

I’m amazed by the nontraditional students I encounter on campus. Some are undergrads and some are grad students. And others are lifelong learners. MSU, like many universities around the country, offers lifelong learning credits. In fact, I took my first graduate class as a lifelong learner because it was so much cheaper.

Lifelong learning seems to be on the upswing as curious minds look for answers. But sometimes, universities don’t fit the bill, which is where associations should step in.

“With the short- and long-term value of traditional degrees increasingly in question, the number of people looking for alternatives will grow,” said Jeff Cobb, co-founder of the consulting firm Tagoras. “As a result, certification programs, assessment-based certificate programs, digital badging and competency-based education are likely to be areas of significant growth for continuing education and professional development providers.”

Why? Globalization.

Even mom-and-pop businesses are dabbling in international business. It’s safe to say that in today’s global economy, employers require skills that go beyond a degree. They want trend-savvy employees, so professional development is a must.

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, co-founders of Tagoras

And so, Cobb said, associations should beef up their education staffs. Cobb recommends hiring in-house subject matter experts to address increasingly complicated global issues. Their specialized industry knowledge and stakeholder connections are invaluable to creating lifelong learning materials. Remember this as your association competes with cheap, easy-to-find educational resources a la the web.

That said, associations should capitalize on technology, not shy away from it. For example, if an association offers online certification, it can easily incorporate a YouTube video or podcast. Crowdsourcing is also key. Associations should provide a platform to allow their members to share virtual resources.

At the same time, technology provides incredible tools to measure the effectiveness of your association’s lifelong learning opportunities.

“A variety of tools – from web and social media analytics to e-mail statistics to low-cost feedback systems like iPerceptions – can be used to extend and strengthen traditional, less agile market research methods,” Cobb said. “Organizations need to get more adept at using these tools, testing new ideas quickly and moving to full implementation with decisiveness.”

Tagoras has produced a list of tips for associations that want to compete in a global market for continuing education and professional development.

Simply put: Learning doesn’t stop after high school or college. And your association can easily meet the demand.

So now I’m wondering, where do Massive Open Online Courses fit into this equation? If you know of an expert on MOOCs, or if your association uses MOOCs, please contact me. I’d like to write about this in the near future.

08
Apr
14

Economically engaging

economic downturnThings were humming along pretty well a few years ago. Gas was, well, relatively affordable, grocery bills were somewhat manageable and people were working.

And then 2007 hit. As the economy came crashing down, many of us lost jobs, houses and much more. Stocks and investments plummeted. Luxuries fell by the wayside.

Fast forward seven years, and the U.S. is slowly coming back, experts say. But consumers are cautiously optimistic and their spending reflects hesitation.

And that’s affecting nearly all industries and associations, according to a new Association Laboratory whitepaper released last month, which discusses the future of association engagement.

Simply defined, engagement is the relationship between a person or a business and an association. It considers touch points, interaction and influence. Measuring it is important for success, but doing so has become much more complicated since 2007.

“The recent economic downturn provided evidence that as the economic situation deteriorated, membership engagement, as measured by anticipated membership revenue, decreased,” according to the whitepaper.

For the purposes of the whitepaper, economy was divided into public and private sectors. In a recent study conducted by Association Laboratory, association executives revealed only minimal hopes for more engagement, mainly because of budget constraints of state and federal governments. The public sector has been hit especially hard by the recession, and professional development – which often includes association memberships – has fallen victim to budget cuts.

The three biggest factors affecting engagement, as reported by association leaders: reduced investment by federal and state governments; business mergers/consolidation; and nontraditional competitors entering the market.

In addition, as companies operate with leaner staffs, people have less time to commit to professional development. Return on investment has become increasingly important as some companies justify their existence in an uncertain economic climate. Also as a result of restructuring, decision-making is becoming more team-focused, and, quite frankly, things like association memberships and dues don’t take precedence.

As a result of tough economic times, government agencies – and the public sector in general – are facing more scrutiny.

So what does all this mean for associations?

engaging customers“To improve engagement, the association needs to identify and develop a deep understanding of the primary audiences, stakeholders or markets it serves,” Association Laboratory said.

Associations should understand the needs and expectations of their industries, especially as some companies contend with new market strategies and trends. They need to concentrate only on essential services and needs, which means legacy programs may have to be cut.

In addition, fostering professional networks will be key to improving association engagement. And relationships will need to become more intimate, which includes developing brand ambassadors.

“The decision-making environment facing associations will be complex and dynamic,” according to the whitepaper. “It will challenge many of the assumptions associations have used to guide membership and engagement strategy. Associations that invest in understanding their market more fully and aligning their strategic initiatives and organizational structure more closely with market needs will have a much higher likelihood of developing and sustaining membership engagement.”

Association Laboratory provides suggestions on how to use the data and recommendations.

Key questions for discussion:

  1. Who are the primary, secondary and tertiary audiences essential to the mission and market success of the association?
  2. What are the leading economic and business or professional influences facing the association’s members and what are the implications of these forces on their attitudes and behaviors relative to engagement?
  3. What is the historical culture of engagement within the industry and profession and what are the implications?
  4. What benefits and goals of engagement do key audiences seek and how are those benefits reflected in choices relative to the association?
  5. How should we define and measure engagement and modify our strategies based on performance?

How would you answer these questions? Has your association been affected by the sluggish economy?

04
Mar
14

Sharing our Great Ideas

The ASAE Great Ideas Conference is right around the corner. If you’ve not attended before, I highly recommend looking into it (if not this year, then next year). The event focuses on creative approaches to everyday issues in association management and is built around the sharing of – you guessed it – great ideas.

Unlike other events, this conference offers a relaxed, but business-oriented environment where you can step back from your day-to-day routine and be exposed to new thinking. Likewise, many of the ideas garnered at this conference can be immediately tweaked and applied to your own organization.

Scott Oser

Scott Oser, president, Scott Oser Associates

During this year’s program I have the good fortune to be speaking with my two favorite Osers – Donna and Scott. Scott Oser is the president of Scott Oser Associates and has more than 17 years of marketing experience in the association and publishing industries. Throughout his career, Scott has excelled in developing, implementing and analyzing multi-channel direct-marketing programs and is highly skilled in creating effective membership, marketing and sales programs.

Together, Scott and I will present:

Under Pressure: Navigating Extreme Association Trends
Sunday, March 9, 2:45 – 4 p.m.
Hyatt Regency Orlando, Plaza D

The session description reads as follows:

Countless authors and thought leaders claim to have identified “The Next Big Association Trend”—the end of the traditional membership model, the demise of the face-to-face meeting, the rise of the social media imperative. It’s confusing to know who to listen to and how it all applies to our organizations. Join us for an open and honest discussion about some of the most highly debated subjects in the industry today. We’ll clear the air about these polarizing association trends and you’ll leave with a simple strategy for evaluating the appropriateness of the next “Big Trend” within the context of your association.

Whether or not you’ll be in Orlando, join the discussion on Twitter by following @aaronwolowiec, @scottoser and the hash tag #ideas14 LO1.

Donna Oser, director of executive search services, Michigan Association of School Boards

Donna Oser, director of executive search services, Michigan Association of School Boards

The second Oser I’ll be speaking with is Donna Oser, CAE. Donna currently serves as the director of executive search services for the Michigan Association of School Boards; however, she also has extensive experience as a management consultant, coach and facilitator and specializes in membership, non-dues revenue and business innovation. We worked together to develop the myLounge concept for ORGPRO in 2013 and have since facilitated a number of presentations together. Some may say we’re kindred spirits.

Together, Donna and I will present:

The Solution Room: Burning Issues Resolved
Monday, March 10, 1:30 – 2:45 p.m.
Hyatt Regency Orlando, Florida A

The session description reads as follows:

The Solution Room is an innovative framework for knowledge sharing that provides participants with a brief but powerful consulting session on an issue or a topic of their choosing. Participants can expect to walk away with a variety of ideas and resources that can be immediately applied to their greatest workplace or personal challenges. Come prepared to actively participate!

Moreover, session participants will debrief the Solution Room framework and identify its applicability to their own organizations. Once again, you can join the discussion on Twitter by following @aaronwolowiec, @donaoser and the hash tag #ideas14 LO2. Handouts for both sessions will also be available here later this week.

In the meantime, tell us in the comments about a session you’re presenting at Great Ideas – or one you’re particularly interested in attending.

18
Feb
14

The certification conundrum

Book questionTo certify or not to certify. That seems to be the debate among association professionals.

CAE. APR. They’re just letters, right? Sort of.

When listed after someone’s name, they add credibility. And on a resume, those letter combinations pique employers’ interests since it means candidates strive for professional development. Whether it’s for prestige, a salary bump or a resume builder, people from all industries seek out certification programs.

So it’s a safe bet that just about every industry has them. But the question is, should your association offer certification programs?

Such programs can be costly and sometimes there are legal loopholes, said Mickie Rops, principal consultant for Mickie Rops Consulting, LLC. It’s tempting to jump on the certification bandwagon but first, it’s important to conduct research. And lots of it.

The three reasons most associations cite for starting certification programs are to generate revenue, to increase attendance at events and to one-up (or at least match) their competitors, Rops said.

Increasing revenue is a good goal to have, but it takes time. And too often, associations measure success with dollars. But money should never be the motivating factor.

In addition, while boosting attendance may seem tempting, the best way to increase interest is to improve curriculum. If your association needs a certification program to draw attendees, chances are, better content would do the trick.

Finally, while it’s human nature to compare, associations often wear blinders when doing it. For example, your association may think its program is better – and it might be. But the key is to determine the market demand.

How? Research: What’s already out there? How can your certification program complement – not compete with – existing programs? Remember, Rops said, just because your competitor does it, doesn’t mean you should.

Ask your members what they want. But rather than simply asking if they would be interested in a certification program, explain to them the specifics of the program – goals, eligibility criteria, testing requirements, etc. – and provide a timeline. This will help to avoid the inflated “yes” answer.

Mickie Rops

Mickie Rops, principal consultant for Mickie Rops Consulting LLC

“The key is to agree to step back and strategically consider what you are trying to accomplish and determine if certification is the most effective strategy for accomplishing it,” Rops said. “Yes, this may delay progress for a month or two, but it may very well save your association a costly mistake or help develop a certification program that’s much stronger for it.”

But where does an association start? The first step is to determine goals, and this might be a good project for a board of directors. Possible goals could include protecting health and safety, enhancing career mobility and opportunities for individuals or providing performance standards. Once you determine goals, make sure they align with your association’s mission.

Next, an association should weigh opportunities vs. obstacles, Rops said. Certification programs can provide improved visibility for the field/industry, but they can also create a rift between certified and non-certified members, and with partnering organizations. Your organization needs to decide if that’s a risk it’s willing to take.

And finally, associations should examine whether offering certification programs is truly feasible. Things to consider: Do you have enough staff to support such a program? Do you have enough funds? (Research alone usually costs $100,000 plus, Rops said.)

I’d like to open this up for further conversation. If your organization offers certification programs, what was the impetus for starting them? How do you measure the success of such programs?

31
Dec
13

New Year’s resolutions: Time for your association to drop some pounds?

2014For most of us Michiganders, this year’s Christmas celebrations were put on hold – or completely rearranged – thanks to Mother Nature’s icy fury.

The hum of generators replaced the sounds of Christmas morning giggles in many homes. Christmas lights didn’t shine and instead of prime rib or turkey dinners, families ate at McDonalds or rescheduled for brighter (literally) days ahead.

In fact, as I write this a week later, some of my friends are still powerless.

“Things don’t always turn out the way we want or expect.” “Change isn’t always bad.” “Make the best of it.” “Some things are out of our control.”

I’ve uttered these phrases at least a dozen times to my kids throughout the past week, perhaps mostly to calm my fraying nerves. But as I thought about what to write for this blog post, I realized that as 2014 approaches, I need to believe these words, instead of just saying them.

And there’s No. 1 on my list of New Year’s resolutions.

I said I wasn’t going to make any resolutions because I rarely keep them. And I expect most of you say the same thing.

But a new year seems like the perfect time to lose weight, reduce debt, get more exercise, simplify our lives, watch less TV, spend more time with family…and the list goes on and on, not just personally but professionally.

weight-lossThink about it. What would happen if you made the same list for your job? Your company? Your association?

Let’s take the No. 1 resolution: lose weight and get healthy. Personally, we may want to lose 10 pounds, but what about the extra fat around your association’s waistline? What’s bogging down your daily operations or bottom line? Take a look at your miscellaneous budget line to see which extras can be trimmed. Then, consider what “getting healthy” means for your association. Wellness is important, and it could mean a happy board of directors or staff and volunteers who feel more fulfilled. What can you do to achieve wellness?

Next, “spend more time with family.” We all say it, but what does it mean professionally? Ask your staff members how many of them feel they have a good work/life balance. If you’re a CEO or director, ask yourself the same question. Juggling work, raising a family and other obligations stress us out. So for starters, make sure your association’s members don’t feel they have to choose. At your next event, plan family-friendly events at family-friendly places. And consider offering some personal development and wellness opportunities for your staff members. Encourage them to bring their families along while attending conferences.

“Change bad habits.” Most of the time, that refers to smoking and drinking, but bad habits exist in the workplace, too. Whether it’s communications, management or finances, review your practices. What can you do better? Have you received complaints from your members about any of these things? If so, now is the time to address them.

These are perhaps the three most popular New Year’s resolutions, but whatever resolutions you make personally can be applied professionally.

So now that you’ve made them, how do you keep them?

“Setting small, attainable goals throughout the year, instead of a singular, overwhelming goal on Jan. 1 can help you reach whatever it is you strive for,” said psychologist Lynn Bufka in an American Psychological Association blog. “Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.”

First and foremost: Be realistic. Don’t expect to meet all your goals within three months.

APA offers these tips for keeping New Year’s resolutions:

• Start small
• Change one behavior at a time
• Talk about it
• Don’t beat yourself up if you have a misstep
• Ask for support

So, tell us, how will you keep your resolutions? What are they? Please email Kristen Parker at Kristen@eventgarde.com.

As we close 2013, Happy New Year from Event Garde to you! May you all enjoy a prosperous and memorable 2014.




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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