I’m a self-professed word nerd. In college, I loved leaving classes with a new nugget of information. And now that I’m a working professional, I get giddy at the thought of attending conferences.
And, even better: My employers not only encourage professional development, but expect it.
Why? Because they know educated employees drive success.
Some HR departments have been pretty lax in encouraging professional development and education, because, quite frankly, it wasn’t deemed important. But with workplace dynamics changing and younger, better-educated professionals coming on board, that’s no longer the case.
“The demographic shifts, revamped business models, digitization of products, rise in big data analytics and new forms of competition require organizations to fuel perpetual skill upgrades,” King said in her new whitepaper. “HR must evolve to apply new paradigms toward talent attraction, mine for unrealized capability, build rapid development tactics, implement highly effective engagement strategies and unveil succession pathways with far more innovation than they have demonstrated to date. Old assumptions and stale practices need to be abandoned. Organizations that successfully compete for talent will exploit technology to achieve a smarter way, build a healthier culture and develop a more resilient workforce.”
Break down the silos between talent management and learning.
Training employees, especially with an event-centric approach, isn’t enough, King said. Instead, companies should create an environment that fosters learning and employee development. It’s about much more than setting up educational programming in an LMS and conducting performance reviews. It requires HR to adapt new roles.
“Achieving this type of symbiotic relationship between talent and learning not only dissolves silos, it also creates competitive differentiation,” King said. “Organizations that apply this modern approach build superior employer brands, entice a higher level of talent to join their ranks and optimize the existing workforce in new ways.”
Enter a self-developing organization.
A self-developing organization allows individuals to control their own personal development and career trajectories, King explains. This involves making information available and actionable and connecting employees with the appropriate resources.
And it starts with the top. Leaders of self-developing organizations establish and monitor goals and stay abreast of industry trends and opportunities, passing that knowledge on to their staff.
However, King said, that’s only possible by leveraging smart technology – technology that customizes individual employee needs and delivers recommendations.
In short, in a self-developing organization:
“Organizations that apply higher levels of talent and learning maturity will be better able to respond to business change and will be better positioned to innovate,” King said. “Their HR direction is highly purpose-driven, with clear objectives and multi-faceted strategy. They will be undoubtedly more successful in handling dynamics that will affect adaptation and ultimately, organizational competitiveness.”
Do you have questions for Kieran King? Connect with her on Twitter.
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:
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.
As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m a member of Public Relations Society of America, and I’m actively involved in the Central Michigan Chapter of PRSA.
While I enjoy attending PRSA functions across the country – during which I can network and learn from colleagues – I more frequently attend chapter meetings and events.
Obviously, convenience plays a big factor, since venues for chapter events are within the Lansing area. But also, I feel most comfortable swapping industry stories, exchanging business cards and hearing about trends during CMPRSA events.
And so, for me, my chapter is of the utmost value.
The report found associations rely on their chapters for member engagement, leadership development, membership recruitment, marketing communications and local resources.
Probably not surprising (at least not considering my experience), networking and education are the top services provided by chapters. At the same time, the central organization frequently offers promotion assistance for events and meetings and helps with database management.
When it comes to dues, for the most part, central organizations, rather than chapters, set dues rates and collect dues. And in most cases, members are required to belong to the central association if they choose to also belong to a chapter.
As for training for chapter leaders, the most common form is an online discussion forum, with associations providing four educational offerings on average.
Mariner also looked at the perceived value of chapters. Associations ranked professional development and advocacy as most important. However, when ranking the effectiveness of chapters in delivering services, such as membership engagement and leadership development, there’s a gap.
So it makes sense that alignment causes the most angst among associations. In fact, 37 percent of survey respondents said their chapters are somewhat or rarely aligned. However, only 5 percent of associations measure the ROI of their chapters.
“While there is nothing explicit in the survey data, we know from open-ended comments as well as conversations with respondents that there is an undercurrent of discomfort with the status quo on chapters, and some associations are trying new things here and there,” Mariner said.
In fact, the study found only 13 percent of respondents scored their chapters in the top quintile, indicating that many associations view their chapters as rather ho-hum.
This could be because, as Mariner says, there are two major obstacles associations face:
So what do you think? How do you rank your chapters? Tell us here.
This probably won’t come as a surprise to many of you, but it seems associations and their members aren’t always on the same page.
For example, millennials just starting their careers often turn to associations for job opportunities and career advice. But baby boomers, who are winding down their careers, may instead rely on associations to provide industry news and trends.
The problem: A one-size-fits-all approach to association management and communication doesn’t work, but associations aren’t always good at segmenting their memberships.
Furthermore, many professional organizations take pride in providing numerous meetings and conferences when instead they should focus on job opportunities, credentialing and certifications, Abila found.
“Understanding generations and how they like to engage now is essential for any organization,” Abila said. “And acknowledging that an emerging generation will change the rules of engagement down the road – and planning for that – will help ensure success.”
Some key takeaways from the Membership Engagement Study:
I alluded to it earlier, but segmented communication is crucial to member retention. In the survey, members said they most want to hear about industry news and trends, followed by professional meetings. Third: networking opportunities.
Perhaps surprising, however, was social media’s influence. While millennials indicated they’re much more willing to use social media platforms to connect with associations, email is still the No. 1 communication tool. Email messages were the most popular, followed by e-newsletters.
In terms of frequency, members said monthly communication is optimal. For social media, weekly communication is satisfactory.
So what does this all mean?
“First and foremost, organizations need to have a sharp, well-defined understanding of where members are in their career journey and cater their content and communication strategy to address the needs and desires of their members based on age and/or career stage,” Abila said. “A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach no longer works in the targeted, highly personalized and technologically advanced world in which we live.”
Abila offers some tips:
When I graduated college 16 years ago, times were different. I had a job before graduation and I never questioned the value of my degree. While I had an internship, the focus then on skills (vs. education) wasn’t nearly as strong. Today, students need internships before entering the workforce.
And then comes the price tag. My son is a freshman this year and soon, we’ll be looking at colleges. As some of you may know, I work at a university (in addition to my Event Garde role), so I live and breathe higher education. Yes, it’s expensive. And yes, it’s worth it.
But when I see students struggling to make ends meet and their parents sacrificing to pay tuition, it’s a scary thought: What will happen?
We’re facing a student debt crisis. Recent college graduates are saddled with thousands of dollars in debt and many can’t find a job, let alone start a career. So what should we do?
The answer may lay in associations, according to Elizabeth Weaver Engel, chief strategist for Spark Consulting, and Shelly Alcorn, principal for Alcorn Associates Management Consulting, who just released, “The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm.”
Educators should develop a better understanding of what students need to be learning, and then connect those learning outcomes to employment, they said. According to their research, students and employers agree on the skills necessary to succeed in the workplace: critical thinking, problem solving, oral and written communications, teamwork, ethical conduct, decision-making and the ability to apply knowledge.
However, there’s a huge divide in the readiness of such skills. Many employers report not finding such skills in recent college graduates because earning a degree doesn’t necessarily teach them.
But with credentialing programs, MOOCs, conferences and other online offerings, associations can fill the skills gap.
“With an education system that is being disrupted, college students graduating with degrees that fail to provide them practical job skills and more adult and nontraditional learners than ever, associations stand at a crossroads,” Engel and Alcorn wrote. “There are enormous needs we can meet: creating high-quality, competency based education; fostering social learning; and providing clear pathways to employment for students, the long-term unemployed, returning veterans or those individuals who are about to see their jobs significantly affected by the rise of automation and artificial intelligence. It’s a big opportunity and a big challenge.”
One example: competency-based education. Students drive their own pace of completion through a program’s curricular courses or modules by demonstrating competencies through learning exercises, activities and engaging experiences. CBE creates opportunities for digital badges, certification and micro-credentials to visually demonstrate ongoing growth and professional development for adult learners who seek career opportunities and advancement without waiting for completion of a terminal degree as the only signal of qualifications for employment.
“CBE offers the flexibility that could bridge the job-skills gap between employers and those who seek employment in professions that are rapidly evolving,” said Tracy Petrillo, chief learning officer for EDUCAUSE. “Because the learning can occur in varied settings and forms, individuals are not restricted by course schedules and access to programs. New business models are emerging, focused on making CBE programs affordable and on filling needs that are not currently well served through traditional post-secondary models.”
In addition, associations represent every industry and therefore can offer college graduates a pipeline to employers. Associations provide niche education – via credentialing and certification – something most grads won’t have entering the market.
But associations should move quickly, while the landscape is changing, Engel said.
“We have a rapidly closing window of opportunity here,” she said. “For-profits and venture capitalists see a $1.23 trillion market (the current level of student debt in the U.S.) and they aren’t going to sleep on that opportunity forever. (Indeed, the whitepaper covers some of the early moves companies are making into “our” space.) We have other advantages they’ll have a hard time duplicating, but we shouldn’t use that as an excuse to waste our first-mover edge.”
The whitepaper offers seven keys to the shift in thinking, which I encourage you to read in detail (page 28) and offers suggestions for conducting workplace analysis (pages 28-29).
At the same time, Engel and Alcorn offer some tips for associations to take the next step in the educational spectrum:
“The education-to-employment system is broken and we need to understand why and what we can do to help,” Alcorn said. “There is a symbiotic relationship between education (acquisition of knowledge and skills), employment (economically rewarded activity) and living a ‘good life’ (an ethical, spiritually rewarding existence as individuals and as a collective). After all of the research we have done, we believe the current system may have been sufficient for the 19th and 20th centuries, but not the 21st. We can do better.”
Finally, some advice for millennials reading this:
“You have personal power and more options than you have ever had. You are just at the beginning of an exciting and accelerating lifelong learning process. Focus on developing competencies required by a new employment sphere. Mix and match educational opportunities. Maybe a formal degree will give you the competencies you desire, maybe not. Maybe a certification can get you working while you pursue other educational avenues. Try MOOCs or coding camps. Try it all. The most important thing is to find and maintain a balance between education broad-based enough to help you build the trans disciplinary muscle you need to understand the interplay between systems, and education designed to help you develop a deep expertise in an area you find compelling or personally rewarding.”
– Shelly Alcorn
“Don’t discount the value of higher education, but also realize that it’s not job training (and it’s not designed to be), and it’s not necessarily the only way in to your desired career field. Consider all your options, including the education and professional development associations can provide. And if the association in your desired career field isn’t meeting your career and professional development needs, don’t walk away – kick a fuss! Get involved! Agitate for change!
– Elizabeth Weaver Engel
This month’s guest blog post is by Jennifer Grau, president of Grau Interpersonal Communication, who is a listening trainer, coach, facilitator, speaker and consultant. She co-organized the first European Listening and Healthcare Conference in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, in 2014 and is currently planning the International Listening Association’s 2018 convention.
Grau wrote the following for Event Garde.
We invest significant time selecting conference themes, locations, accommodations and meeting spaces; finding speakers; planning activities; and relating these to learning objectives and business goals. But something critically important is missing from this list: the kind of listening environment you cultivate.
People rarely design conferences with quality listening in mind. If they do, they often mistake listening for hearing and so they focus on audio quality. Yet, the listening experiences you foster makes your event memorable and enjoyable and provides lasting value to your participants.
Listening is one of the most important business skills today, yet few people know what listening entails. When asked to define listening they frequently respond with something like, “Listening is hearing what someone is saying” or “Listening is taking in a person’s verbal and non-verbal signals.
While both of these definitions describe elements of listening, neither is complete. The International Listening Association defines listening as “the process of receiving, constructing meaning from and responding to spoken and or nonverbal messages.” And the ILA definition neglects to mention the enormous amount of effort and energy listening requires to sustain focused attention over time.
Attending, constructing meaning and responding are perhaps the most important elements of listening for conference participants. Understanding what you can do to help people listen makes it more likely they will leave your conference with value.
Most people are passive, lazy listeners. Words wash over them. They don’t remember people’s names, let alone recall the information they heard after lunch. They are easily distracted and most can’t find the WIFM (what’s in it for me) if a speaker is abstract or overly detailed.
Few people realize the effort and skill needed to listen effectively. They don’t arrive with listening goals nor have they thought about whom they want to meet. In other words, most people haven’t created an information or relationship retention plan.
Even those with the best intentions and good listening skills find conferences difficult environments in which to sustain focus and attention. Multiple days in stimulating settings with a barrage of new people and new information can be overwhelming. Back-to-back sessions, events and marketplace stalls, combined with networking and socializing, can undo even the most committed and skillful listeners.
As a listening trainer, coach and consultant with nearly 20 years of experience helping people listen in a variety of business settings, here are some tips to foster a better listening environment at your next conference.
Don’t forget the power of listening to music to set a mood, calm or energize your group.
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