November 26, 2010

Two Great Fast Company Pieces Worth Checking Out

If you don't read Fast Company magazine, what are you waiting for? It's a magazine that I have read since the early 2000s, and every issue has made me think about something I am doing in my life and career. In the November 2010 issue, which was the magazine's 150th issue, there were two really great stories that I think all association professionals should read.

1. Chip & Dan Heath's monthly Made to Stick column focuses on ensuring that you're focusing on what consumers (or members in our case) feel they need, not on what you might think they need. One paragraph captures the crux of their argument:

If entrepreneurs want to succeed, as venture capitalists like to say, they'd better be selling aspirin rather than vitamins. Vitamins are nice; they're healthy. But aspirin cures your pain; it's not a nice-to-have, it's a must-have.

An example: you might create an on demand education program series for your members, which is a great use of new technology that you think would be good for the members. However, what the members really feel they need is an in person meeting that would satisfy their desire to network with their fellow members, etc.

Is what you're providing a vitamin or aspirin for your members?

2. Nancy Lublin, who serves as the CEO of the non-profit Do Something, wrote a fantastic and timely piece about the importance of two little words - thank you. The reason I like this column so much is because she reminds us that it's important to remember to thank the people we often forget - the delivery drivers, mail carriers, interns, the repairmen, etc. that we interact with on a daily basis in our offices.

I think this is all too often forgotten, as we are so concerned with thanking our members and the people who bring in the revenue for our organizations. I found it interesting in her piece that in her organization, they did a test about the names of some of the people who regularly interact with their staff, and the average result from the staff was only 50%... I wonder what the results would be if we were to do the same in our organizations.

Giving thanks is important, and sometimes getting thanks encourages people to go above and beyond the next time they're giving you service. Think about that the next time the repairman comes in and fixes something in your office. Those two small words could go a long way the next time something breaks.

November 23, 2010

Giving Thanks...

It's that time of year again, and in today's Association Twitter Chat (#assnchat) some of the time was devoted to talking about giving thanks and recognition to volunteers and members.

For me, giving thanks to volunteers should be an ongoing process, not a once a year project. How can we best do it? Here are my guidelines for giving thanks to members and volunteers:
  • Make it personal - don't just give them a certificate or something... Make it something they're really going to enjoy. If you don't know what your volunteers are going to enjoy, you're not working closely enough with them (or you haven't documented enough)...
  • Make it regular - Don't wait until the end of their service to thank them or give them something to show them how much you appreciate them. Send regular notes... Send regular updates about something you know they are passionate about within the organization... Etc.
  • Make it wide ranging - I try to send a regular annual thank you around Thanksgiving to everyone who has made an impact on my work throughout the year. I use a template but personalize each person's note for something specific they've done to help make my job easier or how they've made an impact on the organization. That list sometimes becomes more than 100 people that I personally recognize. Imagine if everyone on our staff did the same thing what kind of impact we could make...
As we think about thanking and recognizing our members and volunteers, we (and our bosses) need to realize it takes time and dedication. We MUST devote time and energy to keeping track of those who need/deserve praise and thanks, and our organizations must embrace that. If they don't, they won't see the positive things and continued engagement that comes from really energized volunteers - those who feel the love and want to give it back...

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to the readers of this blog. You have all made me a better professional with your comments and kind words of encouragement. Be safe!

When Passion Goes Overboard

I was watching the Texas A&M vs. Nebraska football game this past Saturday evening, and I witnessed someone being probably as passionate about something as I have ever seen - Nebraska coach Bo Pelini... He was running up and down the field, screaming at referees and players, just showing his passion and exuberance throughout the entire game.

Problem was: he was penalized for his actions in chastising a referee over and over again, he nearly had one of his players quit because he screamed at him so much, and his team ended up losing the game after committing 16 penalties.

Here's the point - passion is important, but too much passion sometimes hurts a team or organization...

Have you ever witnessed an association volunteer or staffer show too much passion, which ended up hurting the overall effort? I'd love to hear some examples in the comments...

November 22, 2010

The Importance of Taking Advice from People You Trust

An old boss of mine wisely once told me that there would always be a reason NOT to take a new position, and that it was always easier to stay in the comfy and stable place where I was.

His advice has always been that I need to be willing to take a chance, and take the not-so-stable course. A few years ago, I told him that I needed to stay in my position because I was getting married and needed the stability. I recall him telling me that the next thing that would keep me in my job was buying a house (which happened), then it would be a baby (which also happened)... He is a wise, wise man...

I'm happy to report that in the last few weeks, after over four years of staying in my stable position, I decided to FINALLY take his advice. I accepted a new position literally in the most unstable time of my life - a mere two weeks before my wife's due date with our first child.

I chose between stability and the unknown, and I am happy with my choice... I start on Monday, and am ready for what the unknown will bring. I'm sure this new position will feel stable at some point a number of years into the future. That's precisely when I'll take my trusted old boss' advice again.

October 26, 2010

Say Yes to Everything? No thanks.

I'm back today after a little hiatus from this blog to take opposition to something you hear a lot of people say in terms of getting ahead - say yes to every opportunity that comes your way... I've heard it over and over and agreed with it for a long time. It got so bad that contrary to most people where "THE" is their most used word, I sometimes think that "YES" is mine...

Now, in certain instances, I think saying yes to everything makes sense. To someone who's just getting out of school and needs to make an impression on their new boss, saying yes to every opportunity to make that impression makes sense. In fact, in a story that we did in our about to be released magazine at my organization, one of our members who is giving advice to our undergraduates says, "Say “Yes” to everything, no matter how menial the task. If you complete it quicker than expected and better than expected, the requests from others will increase and your credibility will rise."

I agree for the most part to his analysis.

But here's where I disagree: what if you say yes to so many things that you don't get things done quicker and better than expected? What if by saying yes to everything, you actually stretch yourself too thin and aren't able to be the best professional you can be?

Not only that, but as someone who is now pretty established in my career and who is craving work-life balance, I think this advice to say yes to everything is flawed. As I said earlier, I have been saying yes to just about everything for a long time.

Because of this, I'm now serving on four committees for professional development and volunteer organizations, each with its own conference call and other responsibilities. I'm someone who likes to be involved and be seen as a leader in a lot of different things, and I don't want this to seem like I don't appreciate the opportunities to lead. However, saying yes to all of these things has really cramped my ability to be the best volunteer, employee, husband, and soon-to-be father that I can be... It's time for me to step back and learn how to say no.

So I guess if an undergraduate asked me what my advice would be to them, I'd say "Don't be afraid to say yes often, but learn how to say no, now. You can thank me later."

Thanks as always for reading. I hope you'll add your thoughts to the comments...

August 26, 2010

The Most Regular Question I Got at the ASAE Annual Meeting...

I got back earlier this week from a fantastic 2010 ASAE Annual Meeting in LA - my third consecutive Annual Meeting. It was memorable for a number of reasons, some of which I will talk about in a future post. Today, I wanted to talk about the most regular question I received from fellow attendees who didn't know me at the event:

Why is a Fraternity attending ASAE?

My snarky response in my head has always been the Fraternity isn't here... I, a staff member who feels professional development is important, am... However, I have never had the nerve to say it to anyone!!

My real response has been - fraternities and associations are not very different. In fact, if my organization had the word "Association" instead of "Fraternity" at the end of it, people likely wouldn't even think of asking me about it. However, it doesn't, and I have answered the question for the last three years, often asked by someone who followed the initial question up with Do you manage the keg parties? I often give a chuckle, knowing the person likely just doesn't understand how similar our organizations really are...

So, I thought I'd use this blog to educate some folks who either have, or will in the future, ask me these questions...

The fact is that fraternities are complex membership organizations, just like associations.
  • We have engaged members ranging in age from 18 to 80 or 90, who work in various professional areas.
  • Our organizations hold events, many times with many hundreds of people attending.
  • We have member education programs like most associations do - many groups are beginning to host online education in a wide variety of topics for members from many different backgrounds, like any of the major associations.
  • We have print publications, use the web to communicate through social media tools, and have robust communications strategies oftentimes led by a single staffer.
  • We provide opportunities for our members to connect and network, again much like associations do...
Oh, and I forgot to mention that both my boss and I have volunteered for ASAE & The Center for the last three years - him serving as the Executive Management Section Chairman for 2010-11, and me serving for the third consecutive year on the Communication Section Council.

While I understand why I receive the question, I hope I can educate enough people, both through this blog and in my experience at the events moving forward, about why it makes complete sense for myself and my fellow Greek-letter organization professionals are attending the ASAE Annual Meeting.

August 13, 2010

Three Things I'm Looking Forward to at the 2010 ASAE Annual Meeting

So the 2010 ASAE Annual Meeting is happening in just over a week, and there are really three things I am looking forward to most about the event.

Collaboration - The first thing I'm doing when I get to LA is attending our Communication Section Council in-person meeting, which will be an excellent opportunity for all of the new and old members of the council to collaborate on a shared vision for the year. Each and every time I am involved with these folks, all of whom are excellent communicators, I take something away that I can utilize personally or professionally. The collaboration that takes place in these meetings is always a highlight for me, and I'd recommend any Communication Section member to either attend the meeting on Saturday afternoon, or connect with one of us throughout the conference. We'll have ribbons on our nametags.

- One of the greatest things about ASAE as a whole is the community of like-minded (and sometimes non like-minded) people with whom you come into contact. I'm very much looking forward to meeting a number of folks I have yet to, as well as reconnecting with a whole host of great association leaders that I have met at past events. You all know who you are!! It's going to be fun!

In addition, this year myself and my boss are welcoming three new people into the ASAE Annual Meeting community - three of our co-workers who have never been to an Annual Meeting (or any other ASAE event) before. We're very excited for them to get a taste of the outstanding programming and community that is created at the event. They are all great, and will hopefully make a very positive impact on the sessions they choose to attend. I hope you'll take a moment to make them feel welcome if you meet any of them.

Content - As usual, the content that will be presented at the Annual Meeting is diverse and compelling, and at some time slots there are like four sessions I wish I could attend. It's amazing that there is so much good content that comes out of one event.

This year, I'm particularly looking forward to attending some of the meetings and events sessions to help round out my knowledge in that area. I think I have some things to learn in that discipline, and I'm looking forward to hearing the content leaders discuss their best practices there.

Lastly, I'm looking forward to the FUN! The crowd that attends the Annual Meeting is always such a fun and outgoing group, and I am looking forward to the many opportunities there will be to connect with my fellow association leaders in the down time.

I think I'm going to blog from the event much like I did last year (here, here, and here), so check back once the event starts for some of my random ramblings about what is sure to be a great event!

July 28, 2010

Traditions Can Change if You Lead

Who woulda thunk it... Dez Bryant is a leader.

If you haven't been keeping up with what's happening in the Dallas Cowboys training camp right now, it goes like this... A rookie wide receiver on the team, Dez Bryant, refused to carry a veteran player's shoulder pads off the field after practice, taking a stand against the decades old professional sports tradition of rookie hazing. In reading the stories surrounding it this week, many people are saying that Bryant should have just gone with the tradition and dealt with it because "it's the way it's always been done".

As someone who works for an organization that has a lot of tradition (we've been around for over 110 years), my experience is that not every tradition is one that should be embraced or continued. Whether it's hazing of new members, an event that has worn out its welcome at an annual meeting, or even something as small as printing out membership forms when they come in online - some may call it tradition, but in reality, people are in the "it's always been done this way, and we don't want to change" mindset...

What people often don't realize is that just because something is a tradition today doesn't mean it will be in a few years... If you are willing to lead NOW and put a stop to some of the outdated traditions from the past, a few years down the road there will be all new traditions for your members/staff to embrace. In my organization specifically, where we work with college students, our turnover rate is four years (i.e. if something hasn't happened in the past four years, the undergraduate members we serve don't necessarily realize it ever did because their tradition is only what they've witnessed in the last four years...)

I don't claim that changing tradition or the "we've always done it that way" culture is easy or popular every time, but by thinking about the 'why' of something (i.e. what's the purpose of this tradition) before thinking about the what or how, it seems as though you might be on the right track.

Will you be the next Dez Bryant in your organization - standing up to the tradition that has lost its purpose? Here's to the leaders who are willing to lead change to make our organizations/associations better.

Do you agree with me, disagree with me, or have additional thoughts to share? I certainly hope you'll share in the comments (particularly if you have had success in changing traditions that no longer make sense)...

July 20, 2010

Social Media ROI

I've heard a lot of talk about ROI on social media recently, and it seems as though a whole heck of a lot of executives are worried about whether the staff time being spent (or more accurately "invested") managing a Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. presence is wise.

I've heard people say that there are a lot of things that associations do where executives don't necessarily monitor the ROI regularly, so why are they so concerned with the ROI of social media? To me, those people are missing the point and aren't looking at the big picture. Executives are paid to measure how the resources of the association can best be put to use. They should be concerned that the time their staff is investing in social media makes sense for the association. However, I believe there needs to be a long-term view of the investment, rather than a short-term view.

When I hear people ask about the ROI of social media, I always say that they should ask the same question: Would our organization be better off if we were NOT engaged in social media? In most cases, I'd guess the answer most associations would give is no. While the return is hard to quantify, we MUST have a presence to meet our members where they're already engaging in conversations.

Case in point, in some recent statistics I read, Nielsen said that people spent 22% of their internet time on social media sites during April. More than 1/5 of the time spent on the web is spent on social media sites... That's a powerful statistic in my opinion, and speaks directly to the reason why having a presence is so important - they're there, we need to be as well...

Getting back to ROI, I personally believe in most cases, engaging with members on social media sites is more like investing in a retirement account (steady returns that yield a very positive result later on) than a highly volatile stock (you might see amazing immediate success that might not be sustained). Thinking long-term on your investment in social media is the right way to go about it.

Also, in my opinion, determining ROI by how many followers or fans your organization has doesn't make a lot of sense. Yes, it's quantifiable, but it takes someone two seconds to become a Fan (or to be more accurate and current "Liker") of your Facebook Page. Does getting someone to say they're a fan really create the return? I don't think so. The return comes with continued and regular interaction and engagement through these channels, creating opportunities for your followers and fans to help your organization succeed.

Social media is a set of powerful tools that help you create a return by utilizing them to help engage and inspire your association's members to action. How you measure that return is up to your own organization, but remember that it's tremendously hard today to engage and inspire members to act without having a presence in social media...

ROI is a hot topic that is sure to be continued at the ASAE Annual Meeting later this summer. I'm looking forward to the conversations that will happen there to hear what others have to say. In the meantime, what do you think?

July 19, 2010

It's an Investment

I think I have investments on the brain tonight...

I was just sitting here VERY excitedly thinking about the fact that I'm about to pay off my student loans from college!! Only one more payment, and the large investment in the outstanding education I received at my alma mater will be fully paid for. It was a great investment, and one that really has helped me become the man and professional I am today.

As I think back to my time in college and in joining the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter on campus, I recall our advisor continuously mentioning that joining the organization was an investment in our future. He was right, and that statement had really stuck with me...

It's interesting, because I often forget that when our members are joining and volunteering, they're actually not only investing in their future success, but that they're also investing in the future success of our organization, much like my investment to join PRSSA back in college.

Do you sometimes forget about that investment that your members are making? I'm challenging myself to think in those terms as I think about our members and volunteers, and will challenge you to do the same. How can we more effectively and personally recognize the investment our members are making? I think that's a key in continued engagement and involvement of our members. If they're not feeling enriched, or that they're enriching the organization, their investment will not be seen in their eyes as a good one.

As I have gotten more and more involved in the association community, and with ASAE, I continue feeling as though the investment has already, and will continue to pay off in the future. I'd like to thank all of you who have made that investment a good one, and who continue to make it more and more enriching for me...