Archive for February, 2012


The professional development trifecta: Competition, strategy and experience

The professional development landscape is changing. Wouldn’t you agree?

Simply scan the environment and it’s clear our culture is mobile-obsessed. We’ve become more technologically advanced and move at a faster pace. Combine this competition for time and resources with the endless access to information and content available online—not to mention the countless organizations now offering education opportunities at competitive rates (even free!)—and you have a long list of continuing education providers competing for market share.

And as associations play a more significant role in training today’s workforce, they must help learners take responsibility for their own learning, as well as teach them how to learn and how to leverage that learning within their organizations. To remain relevant, associations must also:

  • Transform industry-specific knowledge and information into viable training;
  • Align education with member needs through regular industry research, analysis and trending;
  • Connect the dots between theory and practice; and
  • Explore opportunities for virtual and/or blended learning formats.

Finally, recall a past conference experience with a one-dimensional keynote speaker and an afternoon of lecture-style breakout sessions. (Rather not, right?) Members today demand compelling experiences—delivered in a unique and interactive way—that inspire learning, engagement and community. These transformations require buy-in from key leaders and stakeholders, deliberate training and coaching of program facilitators and content leaders, and significantly more planning, organization, lead time and logistics management than ever before.

So, my question to you is this: How is your organization adapting to this shift in the professional development landscape? What are you doing differently to make your education offerings more innovative and engaging (dynamic, even)? How will you stand out from the crowd this year?


Work smarter, not harder: Leveraging association content

Picture this: All of the pre-planning for your organization’s largest annual conference of the year is safely behind you. The welcome reception, the golf outing, the award luncheon, the expo, the breakout sessions and the closing night celebration are all a distant memory. There are five minutes left until the closing keynote presentation concludes. You’re ready to collapse. Tell me: What’s the last thing on your mind?

Okay, I’ll say it: Curating, repackaging, repurposing and leveraging content. Am I right?

I’ve totally been there. Your toes are numb from standing for 72 hours straight. You’ve not slept in days. The most food you’ve eaten is a carrot stick from last night’s cocktail hour and half a dinner roll. Staff isn’t pulling their weight; several speakers have demanded last-minute technology; your florist shorted you a few centerpieces; and the band was high-maintenance (to say the least).

You want nothing more than to forget this conference ever happened. In fact, you’re working up the courage to confront a stack of BEOs (for your next conference) on Monday morning that require your immediate review and approval, not to mention what you’re going to do about the low attendance numbers for that event and the panelist who’s now canceled due to a scheduling conflict.

The point is this: A meeting professional’s job is never done. And it’s evident why post-program follow-up is low on the list of priorities. I mean, the sponsor, vendor and attendee revenue has already been collected and deposited, and—presumably—the organization has delivered an adequate participant experience. In other words, there’s no looking back. It’s time to focus all time, attention and resources on the next program—right?

Unfortunately, this is the vicious cycle causing us all to work harder, not smarter. Instead of quantity, the solution here is really all about quality. I know I’m not the first person to lobby for professional development experiences that extend beyond the confines of the program itself (either onsite or virtual). And while I could say just as many things about the pre-program experience, I think the real missed opportunity here comes after the program.

First, everyone who attended your program already engaged with your staff, your organization, your content and the other participants. Essentially, these attendees walk away with a tangible experience they can draw upon when they encounter the future marketing of products, programs or services that precipitate from this event. Assuming they had a good experience, they’ll be more likely to engage again; it’s like you have a vetted audience that’s eager to “pick up what you’re putting down” (to quote my sister).

Second, and this is really the kicker, the content already exists. You simply need to curate it, repackage it, repurpose it or leverage it in some meaningful way. And this can take any number of forms. For example:

  • Popular education sessions could be repeated in person or online;
  • Content previously presented in a 75-minute breakout session could be teased out into a half-day or full-day session;
  • Speaker-generated videos providing follow-up or points of clarification could be posted to the organization’s website;
  • An important topic could be formatted into a blog post, newsletter article or white paper;
  • Pictures from the event, as well as aggregated Facebook and Twitter posts, could be shared with members;
  • Online communities could be formed and moderated to continue conference discussions and create opportunities for further engagement and collaboration;
  • And the list goes on—limited only by your imagination.

The point is this: Tangible deliverables (such as those listed above) can and should be used to optimize existing engagement activities; create meaningful and relevant educational programs (long after the closing keynote session has ended); aid learners in connecting theory (presented at the conference) with practice (challenges they encounter on the job); and drive organizational recruitment and retention efforts by developing quality products and services that members value.

Again, the solution here isn’t about planning more programs, but rather maximizing the opportunities inherent in the ones you’re already planning (and can’t give up).

So, my question to you is this: How do you leverage content following your organization’s major annual conferences? What innovative products, programs or services would you like to develop following a signature program given adequate time and resources? What’s stopping you from hosting fewer educational programs each year and—instead—focusing more on strategic follow-up?


What have you done for me (young professionals) lately?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the millennial generation and whether or not my peers would be willing to ascend into leadership positions over the next five to 10 years as their Baby Boomer counterparts began to retire—not because they’re not capable, but because “associations cling to traditional operating models that … have little appeal to young professionals” (to quote Harrison Coerver).

Needless to say, this post garnered a flurry of interest. Two particularly compelling comments follow:

  1. Morley Winograd: Our book, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America, emphasized the very themes of a change in leadership that you talk about here. We believe the shift holds enormous promise for the non-profit world, including associations. The previous civic generation, GIs, created the social fabric of America’s towns–Kiwanis, Elks, etc. This civic generation, millennials, are creating the social fabric of America’s like-minded communities–on the web and in social media. Since associations are predicated on the common interests of those engaged in an activity or profession, they should be able to leverage this tendency on the part of millennials to gain new strength.
  2. Annie Gallagher: I joke with people and say for the first time ever we have what I call “four-play” in the workplace. This actually refers to the fact that there are currently four generations in the workplace at the same time. The boomer generation currently dominates leadership positions. Their energy and engagement are admirable. Yet most groups have not been successful in getting millennials engaged on a path to association leadership. You ask if they are interested. I am not sure. However, I have observed that the echo-boomers do not know how to get involved. Many groups claim to have young professional (YP) groups, but that is not enough. And guess what? The millennials do not want to just be by themselves. They want to be with the heavy hitters, too. So you need to mix it up. If you want to get millennials engaged, don’t give them a token YP group, really get them networked with all the centers of influence.

I was also reminded of a takeaway I jotted down during the LSAE annual convention two weeks ago. ASAE Chairman Peter O’Neil said the following during a session he led titled, Leadership Strategies for Today’s Association ExecutivesBoards today need to reflect where your organization is going in the future, including young people and people of color.

And I wholeheartedly agree; however, the implementation of this mandate is two-fold (and somewhat tedious).

First, young professionals must want to ascend into leadership positions (both staff and volunteer roles). And I believe that most do (note here that I’m intentionally referring to leadership roles in general and not necessarily an executive director position). They should also be poised with increasingly responsible experience, including prior exposure to committee work, task/project management, strategic planning, fundraising activities and member recruitment/retention efforts.

Second, and the more important component of this equation (similar to any diversity and inclusion discussion), is that every aspect of the organization must be positioned in such a way that pulls up these young professionals into leadership roles. Staff members, board members and other volunteer leaders must actively seek out and create opportunities to engage young professional leaders.

And not just by bringing them to the table (or by creating the token young professional group), but by giving them a meaningful platform upon which to speak and be heard. We’re hearing a lot these days about ideal board size, but just as important is ideal board composition and strategic initiatives designed to integrate diversity (including generational differences) throughout the organization.

This includes opportunities other than just board representation, too. Associations should consider engagement strategies that reflect the young professional perspective (especially those that intersect with the organization’s mission): building a personal brand, creating a portfolio of work, applying for the perfect job, balancing work and life, starting a new job, committee/meeting management, leadership, office politics, employer relations, professionalism, social media, promotions, moving on, networking, volunteering, donating (time and money), mentoring, education, professional designations, professional development, getting ahead and becoming a change agent.

So, my question to you is this (courtesy of Janet Jackson): What have you done for me (young professionals) lately? How do you engage this unique demographic beyond the requisite young professional group? How do you ensure their needs as members, prospective members and civic leaders are being met? How are you leveraging millennials (and their issues/interests) to ensure your organization remains strong and relevant well into the future?


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?

meet aaron

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

meet kristen

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 5,359 other followers

Twitter Updates

Featured in Alltop

%d bloggers like this: