Archive for the 'Leadership' Category

15
Nov
16

Building a board strategy

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Dean West, president/founder, Association Laboratory Inc.

Good leadership requires vision. Strategic vision. Goal-oriented thinking. A team mindset.

And nowhere is this more important than in nonprofits – or for that matter, in any organization in which boards of directors make decisions.

“When working on complex engagements like strategic planning or developing membership value propositions, the ability of the board of directors to think and, through the staff, act strategically has consistently resulted in superior decisions,” said Dean West, president and founder of Association Laboratory Inc. “Superior decisions mean superior outcomes.”

Association Laboratory recently released a whitepaper (scroll down to download) on how associations can build strategic boards.

In its research, the company surveyed 25 chief staff officers and senior association leaders. In summary, there is a finite set of characteristics that define strategic boards:

  • Future focused — A strategic board understands and values the necessity of informed, future-focused strategic discussions.
  • Establishes, prioritizes and monitors goals and interim measurement standards — A strategic board values establishing strategic goals and the corresponding standards or criteria relevant to overseeing implementation of strategies to achieve these goals.
  • Models strategic decision making competencies — A strategic board models critical thinking skills, objective analysis and decision making. It challenges existing assumptions regarding the association’s future role and corresponding business strategy within the industry or profession.
  • Promotes accountability within the board and in the board/staff relationship — A strategic board values and supports an objective, accountable partnership with association management.

All this said, it’s not always easy to find and/or develop those characteristics, Association Laboratory warns.

company higher consil

Photo by Svilen Milev, freeimages.com

For starters, board members are often influenced by professional or personal interests, which may not align with those of the association. And so an ethical battle ensues.

In addition, often board roles aren’t clearly defined so members struggle with expectations. Some of that is because associations often don’t invest proper resources in training and orientation.

So what’s the key to building a strategic board of directors?

According to those surveyed:

  • Associations need to implement volunteer identification, recruitment and development strategies that ensure a funnel of high-quality leadership into the association.
  • Associations need to develop strategies to orient all volunteers to their role and the unique characteristics and corresponding expectations of a peer-to-peer decision making environment.
  • Associations need to be led by a chief staff officer and management team that understands and models strategic thinking and can apply these competencies to their support of the board.
  • The business processes of the association need to support the board’s ability to make decisions within a strategic framework.
  • Associations need to create and support a culture of personal and organizational accountability and continuous improvement.

“As competition for the time, attention and interest of our community’s best leaders grows more intense, the ability of an association to develop a compelling leadership funnel becomes a long-term strategic priority necessary for successfully achieving mission-based and business goals,” Association Laboratory said. “Modern associations and their leaders will create intentional, thoughtful strategies to foster a leadership experience that is attractive to the best and brightest of our professions and industries and will consider the support of these strategies an essential organizational core competency.”

11
Oct
16

Change is good…right?

innovationLeaves change. People change. And yes, businesses change.

But what about associations?

Most of us realize innovation is key to driving a business forward. New ideas, new inventions, new strategies, new operating plans. The options are limitless – even for associations.

Associations aren’t often regarded as agents of change, but recently, Marketing General Inc., in conjunction with the National Business Aviation Association, polled association professionals to learn how they set innovation goals, how they support innovation, what rewards and recognition they offer and how they set metrics for innovation.

Nearly 350 associations participated in the Association Innovation Benchmarking Report, which found most associations are at least moderately innovative. That’s a recent development, however, as most didn’t start focusing on innovation until the past five years.

According to the survey, association innovation tends to focus around a few main areas: website and social media; conventions, conferences and seminars; education programs; and membership, technology and marketing (56 percent each).

the-secret-of-innovative-companiesIn addition, associations reported that innovation flows from the top down, with CEOs and other leaders serving as the primary drivers of new thoughts and ideas. In addition, collaboration and communication and encouragement are the most common ways associations support innovation.

And it seems there’s not much middle ground. Associations either fully support innovation or not at all. At the same time, there are challenges – lack of resources being No. 1. Also, most associations don’t set goals to achieve innovation and often, there aren’t reward programs for striving toward and achieving innovation – perhaps because it’s an expectation, and, in some cases, a culture.

Other key findings:

  • Changes in the industry or profession and technological developments are the biggest motivators for adopting innovation.
  • Among organizations that have rallied around innovation, communication has been key to getting everyone on board. Permission to take risk also plays a major role in getting personnel on board with innovation.
  • Those organizations with a specific system tend to handle new ideas in a variety of ways: 50 percent rely on staff initiative; 48 percent have a special committee or group; and 41 percent develop new ideas with the CEO.
  • Increased member engagement is the most common way to measure innovation efforts.
  • In those organizations where innovation is not supported, respondents cite departments and people being very siloed as a principal cause for the lack of support.
28
Sep
16

Bonus content – Event Garde E-news – October edition

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Angie Ahrens, director of meetings and events, Connect Meetings

Q & A with Angie Ahrens, director of meetings and events for Connect Meetings. Follow her on Twitter.

Learn: Q: What’s your favorite part about learning something new?
A: The excitement of figuring out how I can work with this new information, as well as how I can share it with someone else!

Network: Q: What’s your No. 1 networking trick?
A: Passion hunting. I try to discover what people are passionate about as it not only helps remember their name, but also links our personal connection. (Isn’t that what events are all about? People?) Note: Disney is a good way to start a conversation with me!

Transfer: Q: How do you think mentorship aids in knowledge transfer?
A: Mentorship is just that – the transfer of knowledge that is related to experiences. It is one’s responsibility to share the knowledge he or she has with others, to continue to strengthen our industry by strengthening our peers. I’m lucky to have mentors in my life, and only hope that I have taken all the knowledge they have given me to do good with.

Q: Please share with us a tool/resource/book/blog/article/website/etc., and why you just can’t live without it.
A: I have “magazine Monday,” which is a good way to stay current professionally. But I do love getting ideas from BizBash and a variety of Instagram accounts on events.

Q: If I were writing a book about your life, what would the title be, and why?
A: “Entertaining Life Daily.” It was actually the name of a blog I used to write, and it took me quite a while to come up with it. I realized that my personality is pretty optimistic and I was always looking at each day as a new adventure. I try to entertain myself and those around me daily, knowing that we have the opportunity to make each moment count. Plus, entertainment can be found in a variety of places – never stop looking!

27
Sep
16

What is Your Volunteer Culture?

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Jamie Notter, founding partner, WorkXO

This month’s guest blog post is by Jamie Notter, founding partner, WorkXO

I think a lot of associations have a love/hate relationship with their volunteers. At one level, these folks do a LOT of work — for free — so their contributions are highly valued. We couldn’t accomplish what we do, given our resources, without these members moving the ball forward for us. And on top of that, we are membership organizations, so it’s the members who should really be driving things. These members ARE the association, right?

But there is also the shadow side of volunteers. You know, the ones who push too hard for their own personal agenda or are willing to reverse an entire strategic direction that was set by the leadership simply because they have a different view. These are the volunteers who drive us crazy, but we tend to throw up our hands about it, going back to that conclusion above: It’s THEIR association, so what can we do?

Well, it turns out there’s a lot you can do. Just because volunteers don’t get paid (therefore you can’t really fire them), does NOT mean  they are not subject to one of the most powerful forces you have at your disposal as an organizational leader: organizational culture.

Yes, there is a culture for volunteers. There are expectations about how things get done, and every volunteer has an experience of what it’s like to get things done at your association. They know how agile you are, how much collaboration is valued, how much you rely on technology and what level of transparency is expected from them. Even though they can’t get fired (unless they do something really horrible), the existing culture actually drives their behavior, so if you want different behavior, you need to shift the culture first. So here’s the big problem: We don’t set the culture for volunteers; we let them do that. After all, it’s “their” association.

I don’t think we realize how much value we are destroying by taking that approach. By maintaining a workforce that is that large, operating without a clear culture and having nothing in place to actually hold them accountable to a culture that drives the success of the organization, we are all but guaranteeing mediocrity. And I’m not saying all volunteer cultures are bad. That’s not the point. The point is you don’t know exactly what your volunteer culture is, and even if you do, you have set yourself up to be powerless to change it or shape it in a way that helps you accomplish your mission.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Earlier this year, at WorkXO, we released our Workplace Genome Platform to help organizations align their cultures with what they know is driving success. The platform revolves around an employee survey that helps you understand your culture with the precision and the nuance needed to make real and meaningful change inside your organization.

Now we are applying that same research and methodology to volunteers. We have converted the survey and the rest of the platform into a version that focuses specifically on volunteers. It gathers data from the volunteers themselves and will show you in great detail what your volunteer culture is truly like — across levels, geographic locations and volunteer tenure. Then we’ll help you determine whether that volunteer culture is aligned with what drives your success. Like the regular platform, it includes the survey and a year’s worth of resources and support to ensure the data you collect are converted into actions that generate meaningful change inside the organization.

This has the potential to unlock incredible value. Imagine volunteers who really knew what they were getting into when they signed up, where their routine behaviors were carefully aligned with what drives the results of the whole organization and where their experience as volunteers actually matched what they were promised as they were recruited. Suddenly, the traditional staff vs. volunteer battles would go away, because you’d all clearly be part of the same culture.

For example, here are four of the cultural building blocks on which we collect data in the survey:

  • If a process, procedure or approach is not working, we can correct it with ease.
  • People can make decisions and solve problems around here, even if they are not “in charge.”
  • We embrace change in this organization.
  • We eliminate activity that doesn’t move us toward our goal.

Again, these are just four of 64 different measures. When you start to see how different volunteer groups experience the culture and can pinpoint the contradictions and other patterns, it will open your eyes to the areas that need to shift in order for you to be more successful as an organization.

If you’d like more information on the program, please fill out our contact form and mention the Volunteer Edition, and we’ll get materials out to you.

19
Apr
16

Would Mother Earth approve of ‘green’ venues?

Earth-DayOn Friday, we’ll celebrate Mother Nature’s finest creations. Spring is finally here in Michigan and as robins chirp and flowers start to bloom, it’s the perfect time for Earth Day.

Friday is Earth Day, so in anticipation of all things sustainability, let’s take a look at the Green Venue Report 2015, produced by Greenview and Twirl Management.

In the second annual survey, 30 convention centers, representing more than 57 million square feet of space, responded.

According to the report, there are seven best practices among environmentally friendly venues:

  • 83 percent have achieved a sustainability-related certification.
  • 80 percent donate excess food to local charities on an ongoing basis.
  • 85 percent participate in sustainability programs or initiatives led by their city.
  • 77 percent have an employee green team or sustainability committee.
  • 70 percent have a dedicated sustainability coordinator or sustainability manager on staff.
  • 87 percent have secure bike parking for staff.
  • 72 percent can provide event planners a specific waste diversion report for their event.

As for physical attributes, some venues have a green roof, which means it’s partially or all covered with vegetation. Green roofs reduce building energy use, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, beekeeping seems to be an increasing trend, with some venues practicing it on their green roofs.

Another emerging trend: onsite gardening. About one-third of venues produce food onsite from their gardens.

In addition to bolstering accessibility options for guests, an increasing number of venues offer transportation options for their employees. Fewer cars on the road means fewer emissions, so 63 percent of venues offer alternative transportation, or incentives for using public transportation, while 64 percent of venues offer electric car parking and charging.

The report states that while having someone lead efforts is key to fostering venue-wide sustainability, it’s challenging to keep employees engaged. Managers report they spend significant time training staff on environmental stewardship to help them understand the “why,” not just the “how.”

In fact, some organizations hold incentive programs for employees who are the most dedicated to reducing environmental footprints, hosting things such as luncheons.

global_sustainability-green-integrationAnd, of course, efforts would be remiss without effective communications. At the foundation of communications should be a clear sustainability policy that’s shared with all audiences. In the survey, 97 percent of venues reported having an internal sustainability policy and 64 percent said their policy is publicly available. At the same time, 45 percent of venues produce an annual sustainability report.

All efforts aside, Greenview found there’s confusion about terminology and measurement of practices. Data aren’t consistent and standards are lacking.

From the report:

“If these numbers are telling us that convention centers and planners are actually discussing sustainability, yet planners are still not taking advantage of sustainability programs, then perhaps this misstep in communication highlights a significant problem in the way we talk about sustainability in general. Perhaps there is an opportunity for centers to change the way they communicate their programs. Event sustainability conversations can’t be focused on additional costs and impact reports. Conversations need to happen in a way where planners better understand how utilizing the sustainable programs in place will enable them to create a unique and powerful event experience. An event that can be a showcase of organizational brand values, that has the potential to enhance attendee experience, demonstrate leadership, potentially reduce costs and is more efficient and less wasteful.”

So take some time on Friday and think about how your organization practices sustainability. And the next time you’re booking a venue, ask about its sustainability practices.

We’re all in this together. We only have one Earth, so let’s take care of it!

08
Mar
16

The makings of a good nonprofit

nonprofit word in letterpress type

As some of you may know, I launched my career in nonprofit. I quickly learned that nonprofits play a crucial role in just about every industry.

While each nonprofit thrives on its own accord and each offers something unique to the constituents it serves, there are common traits that define a good nonprofit.

Perhaps more than anything else, good leadership molds a successful nonprofit. Excellence starts at the top, trickling down to those who support leadership.

But what else?

TVD Associates recently unveiled an infographic, “10 Traits that Make a Nonprofit Great.”

I won’t go through the entire list but a few traits are worth pointing out.

  • Focus on a few things – Think quality not quantity. It’s tempting to provide everything to everyone, but it’s much more effective to specialize in a few products and services. Nonprofits that stick to a mission and develop measurable goals perform the best.
  • Develop diverse funding sources – I’ve written before about methods to increase non-dues revenue since members shouldn’t provide the only funding stream. In addition, funding should also come from grants, special events and local foundations.
  • Reach the right audiences – I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: Communication is key, especially tailored communications. It’s best to identify three key audiences and craft messages specific to those communications needs. Key audiences include staff, board members and volunteers (internal messaging works well for this audience), those who might use products and services (think potential clients here, too) and potential donors.
  • Say thank you and ask for help – Nonprofits often ask for dollars, but a good nonprofit lists specific needs and builds financial transparency by providing examples of responsible stewardship. And when receiving funds, nonprofits that thank donors – based on their amount of giving – will earn respect.
  • Commitment to excellence – Good nonprofits keep apprised of industry trends and engage in professional development. They follow and seek out best practices; evaluate their programs and services; measure and publish outcomes; and communicate their efforts toward excellence.

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“There are many other traits that are easy for organizations to overlook or to let fall by the wayside in favor of achieving day-to-day objectives,” TVD Associates said. “Also, for most nonprofits, the prospect of reflecting on, evaluating and altering the organization’s guiding tenets is daunting at best.”

What are your thoughts? What defines a good nonprofit?

27
Feb
16

Bonus content – Event Garde e-news – March edition

Debra

Debra Zabloudil, president and CEO, The Learning Studio Inc.

Q & A with Debra Zabloudil, president and CEO, The Learning Studio Inc.

Q: If I were writing a book about your life, what would the title be, and why?
A: It would be titled, “An Unexpected Life” because life has thrown a number of things my way that most would not have expected (good and bad). As an emerging adult, my life looked set, to be fairly prescribed and somewhat privileged, and it has turned out to be a different landscape. But somehow you live and work through it all and come out better on the other end.

Q: Give us one little-known fact about you.
A: My family has been blessed by adoption, and I am a very big proponent of adoption as a beautiful way to build a family.

Q: Learn: How do you learn best – in a coffee shop with lots of noise or in a quiet, library-like setting? 
A: For me, it’s much less about the setting. I learn best by inspiration. When something makes me “feel something” it stays with me. (I love the quote from Maya Angelou that people don’t remember what you say; they remember how you made them feel.) I also learn by connecting the dots in my own mind, by seeing something or hearing something that inspires me or makes me think and by connecting it to my life, my work, my client’s needs, etc.

Q: Network: Some people are wallflowers while others are natural networkers. Which are you? 
A: I am a natural networker. I’m pretty sure I “popped out” that way. I truly love meeting new people, and have a genuine interest in knowing what makes other people tick.

Q: Transfer: Let’s say you just attended a certification course. What would be your first step in applying what you learned? 
A: It may sound a bit old school, but when I am learning, I take notes – physically in a notebook. Then, when I have a quiet moment, I go back to the notebook, transfer the thoughts I want to expand on to a different page and start extrapolating and drawing connections (picture charts, arrows, etc.). For me, it helps to expand on the learning and take it to the next level.




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.

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