Posts Tagged ‘decision-making

15
Nov
16

Building a board strategy

dean-west

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.”

05
Aug
14

When your gut speaks, listen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t underestimate the importance of emotional intelligence.

13
May
14

Good data, good decisions

analyticsBig data equal big opportunity.

It sounds simple, but for most associations, it’s not.

Think about all the data your association has at its fingertips: demographics of your members, conference registrations, product sales, vendor buying habits.

It’s a goldmine, right? But chances are, it’s untapped.

Data are crucial to associations’ decision making, so if an association has “dirty data” (vs. quality data), that’s a problem, said Elizabeth Engel, CEO of Spark Consulting, who recently co-authored a whitepaper with Peter Houstle, CEO of Mariner Management & Marketing, LLC, on evidence-based decision making.

“Much like a successful exercise program, a sustainable data quality management program must become a deeply ingrained institutional habit shared by every member of your team,” Engel said. “Achieving a clean, unified dataset that captures your key data points is a critical first step to implementing the type of evidence-based decision-making that allows you to most effectively allocate your limited resources to advance your mission.”

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC.

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC.

So where does an association start? Engel suggests answering three key questions:

1. What’s your association’s baseline? What is it trying to achieve? Where and how large is the gap between the two? The answers should be strategic, measurable goals, such as growing membership by 80 percent.

2. What drives success for your association? These are your Key Performance Indicators, the process-related metrics that determine how well your association is doing. So a KPI related to membership growth might be the retention rate.

3. Who are your customers and what do they need from your association? In other words, what do your members need to make membership so valuable that they’ll renew?

For example, think about your last conference. How does your association determine its success? Perhaps your event had the largest turnout in history, but what if several of those registrations were complimentary? Or what if your attendees’ buying needs didn’t match your vendors’ selling needs?

Simply put: When it comes to data, quality trumps quantity.

By themselves, data are just numbers. But inside those numbers are patterns and trends, which sometimes aren’t easy to spot. That’s why there’s a plethora of data visualization tools, i.e. graphs and charts, to help associations analyze data. Engel and Houstle list several examples in their whitepaper.

With such tools, associations can:

  • Plot members by region and overlay income demographics from the U.S. Census
  • Identify the most frequent sources of volunteers
  • Spot trends in member participation
  • Compare attendee profiles across event types
  • Detect common exit points in website visits across various member demographics

Take the Entomological Society of America (yes, bugs). Students comprised 30 percent of its membership, and as such, the association had been focusing on recruiting and retaining students.

But upon analysis, ESA discovered a large membership drop off after graduation. After analyzing membership data, it concluded that focusing efforts on student retention wasn’t paying off. So ESA revamped its membership efforts to retain all members, especially regular professionals, who bring in more revenue.

ESA’s new membership model is just one example of effective data mining. The whitepaper lists several others, such as ASAE deciding to stop one of its print publications.

Tell us, how does your association use data?

18
Dec
13

Strategic meeting audits: Leveraging data to improve ROI

Are you under the impression that all associations are experiencing diminished attendance at their in-person events? Has your organization’s meetings function experienced a year-over-year revenue decline – however slight – since the 2007 recession?

If you’ve answered yes to one or both of these questions, 2014 may be a great opportunity for your organization to conduct a strategic meeting audit. We need only look to ASAE to learn that at least two signature in-person events were stronger than ever this year:

So I’m sure you have some questions. For example:

  1. What does a strategic meeting audit look like?
  2. What is the first step in initiating this type of audit?
  3. Who should be involved in the process?

Let’s start by identifying the key players. In my opinion, this isn’t a job only for the senior management team. Nor should the meeting professional conduct an audit in isolation. Rather, the association CEO/executive director, senior executives, meeting professional and anyone else responsible for the successful implementation of programs or events should be invited to the table.

Additionally, I’ll advocate here for supplier participation. Although this individual – or team of individuals – may not be involved during the preliminary discussions, I believe it’s important to include industry partners early on both to encourage diversity of thought and to promote better collaboration and decision-making during the planning and implementation of programs.

Next, let’s identify step one. After all, getting started is generally the greatest barrier to the implementation of most projects. As a CMP (certified meeting professional) preparation course facilitator, I’ll borrow a page from our participant reading materials: Identify event goals and objectives. For those who know me, this has sort of become my mantra.

It seems simple and obvious, but this very important first step is often overlooked. Many meeting professionals simply do not take the time to set goals and objectives for events they inherit (they tend to focus more on program maintenance), nor do they comprehensively evaluate these events using a variety of financial and non-financial indicators.

It’s not that they don’t want to; they either don’t know how, don’t feel empowered or have limited resources. And while a handful of industry tools already exist to support these planning and evaluation efforts, they are tedious. And let’s be honest – this often prevents adoption. Unfortunately, failing to set goals and/or evaluate success perpetuates the status quo and inhibits organization growth and member ROI.

If only we could leverage the right data to elevate the quality and sophistication of our programs, build the reputation of our signature events, improve our bottom lines and enhance member outcomes. Believe it or not, there’s a way. When establishing goals and objectives, there are at least four key indicators that should comprise the strategic meeting audit:

  • Onsite experience – What experience do you hope to deliver to attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and speakers onsite? What must you implement to make this happen?
  • Financial performance – What are your revenue and expense targets? Does event pricing reflect the projected profit margin?
  • Relationships/engagement – How will you create opportunities before, during and after the event to create meaningful relationships among participants?
  • Transference – How will you help ensure information and knowledge presented onsite is retained by attendees and applied to their workplaces?

Following each event, meeting professionals should evaluate actual performance and identify areas of opportunity for the future. Quarterly, meeting professionals should then use the aggregate results to drive continuous quality improvement efforts and annually this data should be used to help draft the organization’s meetings budget.

Ultimately, it’s about improving ROI both for your organization (i.e., financial performance, member engagement and alignment with the organization’s mission and strategic plan) and for your members (i.e., learning, networking and value).

Tell us in the comments about your experience conducting a strategic meeting audit. What key indicators did your organization emphasize?

02
Jan
13

The Meetings Report: Five game-changing tactics redefining education strategy and success

MeetingsIn December 2012, I was pleased to finally release Event Garde’s first research project. In a nutshell, The Meetings Report strives to describe the state of the Michigan association meetings industry.

Alex Kontras, a data manager for the City of Grand Rapids, and I were delighted to author this report. Likewise, it was edited by Kristen Parker, a media communications manager for Michigan State University. Finally, the finished product was jointly published by the Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE) and my Grand Rapids-based consulting firm Event Garde.

The 16-page research report represents the first-ever Michigan association meetings industry survey and key recommendations examining the characteristics of senior education/professional development staff, characteristics of association meetings, professional speaker hiring practices, industry speaker preparation and compensation, and meeting evaluation practices.

While respondents primarily represented statewide trade associations (meaning the resultant benchmarking data is largely Michigan-specific), the five key recommendations precipitating from this 65-question survey and follow-on analysis are not only instructive and actionable, but remarkably universal across state lines. In fact, when applied to any association’s annual education strategy, these simple but effective tactics can substantively redefine how success is measured.

And the report is equally valuable to suppliers.

Whether you’re representing a CVB, a hotel, a consulting firm or a product/service provider, you’re bound to find the report – and its data, trends, tables and figures – incredibly helpful. Key findings and statistics include annual budgets, meeting revenue, fiscal year comparisons, meeting types, exhibits and cancellations, outsourcing, speaker bureaus, decision-making, contracting, room pick-up, funds/contracts, site selection and much more.

A copy of the report may be ordered via MSAE’s website. This invaluable resource is free to contributors, $59 for MSAE members and $99 for non-members.

Additionally, I’ll be speaking about the five key recommendations precipitating from this research throughout 2013. Following are select dates in February and March representing the launch of this series:

Feb. 13
The Meetings Report Seminar
9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Okemos, MI

Become one of the first to hear the results from the first-ever meeting practices research conducted in Michigan. Core content with include report findings, organizational and meeting professional demographics, professional and industry speaker best practices, and evaluation trends. Expect a highly engaging and discussion-filled seminar that drills down into each key recommendation. Register here.

Feb. 20
The Meetings Report: Five Game-changing Tactics Redefining Education Strategy & Success
12 – 1:30 p.m.
Atlanta, GA

Join me as I reveal each of the five game-changing recommendations guaranteed to transform your organization’s programs and events into dynamic (and profitable) professional development experiences your members will value. Register here.

Feb. 20
From Theory to Practice: Applying Game-changing Tactics to Your Association’s Education Strategy
1:45 – 3:30 p.m.
Atlanta, GA

In this highly interactive follow-on session, evaluate your organization’s current education strategies and develop actionable next steps to operationalize The Meeting Report’s key recommendations. Focus on ways your association can elevate the quality and sophistication of its events, build the reputation of its meetings department and improve the association’s bottom line. Register here.

March 19
The Next Generation of Meetings
9:15  10:45 a.m.
Troy, NY

Learn about the five game-changing recommendations guaranteed to transform organization programs and events into dynamic (and profitable) professional development experiences. Likewise, evaluate current education strategies and develop actionable next steps designed to operationalize the report’s findings. Register here.

In the meantime, you’re ready for that list – aren’t you? Following are the five key recommendations discussed in this report:

  • Tactic 1: Diversify revenue
  • Tactic 2: Reward difference
  • Tactic 3: Value context
  • Tactic 4: Maximize opportunities
  • Tactic 5: Prioritize learning

Together, these key recommendations are intended to provide the executive summary for this study’s research findings. Should your organization wish to further explore the intricacies of this study’s data, including the application of these game-changing tactics to your organization’s current practices, I recommend purchasing the report, attending a program (or two) and exploring one-on-one consultation.

So, my question to you is this: Which of these five key recommendations represents the single-most important action your organization could take in 2013 to make your education department even more successful?




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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