September 30, 2008

Where's the Leadership?

I'm sure you all remember the Wendy's commercials from the 80s with the old woman asking "Where's the beef?" If she were still alive today seeing what's happening on Capitol Hill, she'd likely be asking "Where's the Leadership?"

I know, I know... This blog has mainly focused on association topics in the past. Don't worry, I'll tie this post back to associations at the end...

Back to leadership... In watching this whole "bailout" episode unfold, I have had a number of questions... How in the world did we get to this point in the first place? How in the world did the Secretary of the Treasury do such a BAD job in communicating about the plan to Congress and the American people to get consensus? How could Congress not understand that there is a big problem, and without swift action, there could be major economic issues?

I guess my answer to all of these questions is that there is a tremendous lack of leadership in Washington - from all parties. At the beginning of Congress getting involved, each and every one of them said that politics would be put aside and that a deal would get done. I don't believe that ever happened. In fact, immediately after the bill failed yesterday in the House, rather than getting back into a room to work on negotiating a new bill, each side went on television and blamed the other for the bill's failure. That's not leadership.

Then, with an economic crisis looming, the Congress took time off to go back to their districts for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. No offense to all of my Jewish friends, but our leaders should not have left. Heck, I would expect my leaders to be in session even on Christmas if an economic crisis like this was looming. It's not about what holiday it is, it's about being leaders and making something work to avoid what many people are calling a disaster.

I also find it interesting that the bill failed one day before they all were heading back to their districts, where they will likely campaign (since many Congressmen are up for re-election.) Those who voted against it could tell their constituents that they were listening to them, and that they should be re-elected. Those who voted for it can talk about how they were trying to do what's right for America in getting something passed, even though it's not the ideal bill... Using this bill as leverage in their re-election campaigns is not leadership.

Don't forget about the Secretary of the Treasury, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the current President, and the Presidential candidates... Their lack of leadership also helped to get to where we are today. Paulson and Bernanke failed to convince the Congress that this was the right thing to do by showing them how this will not only affect Wall Street, but also Main Street. They also failed to put provisions within the bill to account for that. Our current president has been nearly mute throughout this, aside from his two or three speeches that he has made. Lastly, the Presidential candidates have both said that Congress needs to get something done. Guess what Obama and McCain? YOU ARE IN CONGRESS!! Go back and be the leaders that you're going to need to be when one of you becomes the president-elect in a little over 35 days!

Ok, so now I'm tying this back to associations... I think that we as association leaders need to realize that we need to be able to do a lot of things well - consensus-building, communicating, persuading, working when it's necessary, etc. In addition, we need to realize that something that is proposed might not be perfect, but if it is something that needs to get done to avoid a crisis, we need to have the guts to act. There are leadership lessons to be learned in this whole "bailout" situation, and if we as association leaders don't think about and understand them, our Boards might just step in and say, "Where's the Leadership?" and we'll be out the door...

Am I wrong on this? What do you think?

September 24, 2008

I'm a PC: Part 2

Saw this on Fast Company's web site today relating to the "I'm a PC" effort by Microsoft. Looks like most people don't think they recaptured the tag line from Mac...

This relates to my last blog post, on which Lindy Dreyer had a great comment about the reason that Microsoft waited to launch this. I still think they waited too long, and am still wrestling with how we in associations can make sure that innovation is top of mind as we are moving forward!

September 20, 2008

I'm a PC...

As you may have guessed from some of my posts on this blog, I am an avid television viewer. I have a lot of favorite shows, and try to catch most of them each week. Last night, I was watching a re-run of one of my favorites, The Office, when it went to a commercial.

At that point, I saw a clever new Microsoft ad called with the theme "I'm a PC", an obvious play on the Apple ads that are already out.

When I first saw it, I said to my wife, "what a great ad! Very clever!" She immediately shot back, "Yeah, it's great, but it's two years late!"

In thinking about her comment, I realized that she was right. We have been seeing Apple inundate the airwaves with their great ads with the two guys saying "I'm a Mac" and I'm a PC" for at least a year or two. The Mac always seems to win in those little duels. Apparently Microsoft finally had enough of it, and came back with this ad to counteract it. Why now? Why did it take so long?

It got me thinking about our work in associations and how many times there are great ideas that are developed on the staff or volunteer levels that just take so long to get off the ground because of the approval process or bureaucracies that are evident within our associations. I'm sure you know what I am talking about - the great non-dues revenue ideas that are developed, the new volunteer structure that would streamline the organization's work, etc.

How can we as leaders help to move the process for innovation forward so it doesn't take so long? Do we have processes or bureaucracies in place that limit the creativity and innovative ideas from our staff because the process takes so long? Do we have policies in place that hinder our abilities to move things forward quickly to respond to the needs of members?

For two years, Microsoft has let a competitor take market share while they seemed to be just sitting there. Now, they have come up with a creative and innovative campaign to get that back, but is it too late? I guess time will tell...

September 19, 2008

Succeeding a Legend

So Associations Now had a story in August about Succeeding a Legend, which was a very interesting read. I think it could be a difficult thing to have to succeed someone who was extremely successful in a position. That has become evident in something I have been watching unfold outside the association community.

As a devoted viewer of NBC's Sunday morning public affairs show Meet the Press, I was deeply saddened when Tim Russert passed away. Russert was a leader who asked the right questions even if they were uncomfortable for his guests, was completely down the middle never showing his own biases, and was altogether well respected for his preparation for each show.

Since Russert's passing, the show has been led by Tom Brokaw, well respected himself for his excellent career as a television journalist. However, as the leader of Meet the Press, he is struggling mightily to replace Russert. The show has lost its hard edge. It's as if Brokaw is lobbing in slow pitch softballs and allowing his guests to hit them out of the park. He doesn't ask the hard questions like Russert did. He doesn't push the guests when they stick to their talking points without answering his questions. In essence, I just think he's struggling to fill the shoes of the last leader of the show, a man who was the face of it and gave the show its reputation.

Perhaps my opinion of Brokaw's struggles is because Russert WAS Meet the Press... I think it's a good lesson for us as leaders to not allow our associations to become that dependent on one person. It is bigger than just us, and we need to be stewards of it while in leadership roles - leaving it better than how we found it.

The story referenced above gets it right for legacy leaders - make a succession plan before it becomes necessary, be welcoming but not overbearing to your successor, and leave gracefully without causing issues. You have given the association much over the years - make sure you're not handcuffing your successor in continuing to move it forward!

By the way, I still will watch Tom Brokaw, and I hope he will begin to be more like his predecessor in how he handles the show. At the same time, I realize that he shouldn't be tied to those expectations. I guess I need to work on my expectations, just as some of our Boards and members need to work on their expectations of leaders in their associations succeeding legacy leaders!

September 18, 2008

Working Remotely – The Positives and Negatives

In the September 2008 issue of Associations Now, Keith Skillman wrote a story about Successful Telecommuting, and did an excellent job writing about some of the things associated with working remotely.

As someone who has been doing so for the past two years, I wanted to add a few things to Keith's excellent story:

1. Handle the Four D's of Telecommuting
  • Discipline – The first ‘D’, discipline, is essentially knowing what needs done. If you can have good discipline and understand what needs to be done at which time, you are on the right track to having a successful situation. Discipline and time management go hand in hand to ensuring you're able to get your work done.
  • Diligence – This relates to getting your work done no matter what comes your way. If you work diligently, with all of the distractions that sometimes are there while working at home, you're all set.
  • Determination – If you are determined to work hard to complete the work, you are going to be able to effectively work remotely with little problem.
  • Distractions – As was discussed in the "diligence" point, there are going to be distractions while working remotely. It is all about limiting and managing the distractions that come your way to get your job done.

2. Be Sure the Folks at Home Support Your Telecommuting

  • Make sure expectations are set up front with not only the office, but also your roommates, spouses, kids, etc. Certain hours are your work hours, and laundry, dishes, and other household chores are not going to be done during those hours. The expectations need to be there so it's as if you are actually in an office as opposed to being in your home.

3. Leave Work at Work

  • As Keith mentions, it's important to have a designated place to do your work. After you're done working, leave that room and don't return! It's very tempting to continue to go back into the "office" to finish something up after the workday is over. Are your non-remote fellow employees doing this? Not likely, so it's not something you should be expected to do, nor should it be something you do regularly.

If you're thinking about telecommuting, and your organization allows it, think before you jump. After reading Keith's story and these few additional thoughts, be sure that you are someone who will thrive in this experience.

Remember, at the end of the day, it's YOU who has to be able to get the job done effectively no matter where you are working.

September 17, 2008

Born After 1980? If so, You're Not Dumb!

An interesting follow up to my late-August blog relating to Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants, and my Gamers Galore post from yesterday following up Jeffrey Cufaude's. Check out the video below from

In the video, Palfrey talks about a web site with a wiki where you can help to shape the discussion on this topic, and a blog talking about it as well.

Gamers Galore

I read an interesting post today on Jeffrey Cufaude's blog about the research he had read about kids and gaming. Apparently, according to Pew, nearly every teen and adolescent aged 12-17 are playing some sort of game - whether it be on the computer, on a console, or on their cell phone.

Jeffrey pointed out that because of this, there is some definite need to examine how we're providing the training and development experience to members in this age group.

At my organization, people of this age group are very close to many of our newest members, and are getting to the very close to age range of our potential members. Over 4,500 of our members are collegiate members, so this is something we really need to be paying attention to. As I see it, there are five major questions to think about:

1. How can we use the knowledge in this research to enhance our opportunities at reaching these potential members? 
2. After recruiting the members, how can we continue to engage them in the same way to provide them the value that they're looking for? 
3. How does our current experience translate to these needs that are incredibly evident with this research?
4. How will engaging this strategy work with other members who aren't in this age range? 
5. How will we evaluate the effectiveness of engaging in this strategy of recruiting members?

These are questions with which we're going to need to grapple sooner rather than later. I'm game...


September 16, 2008

Providing Exellent Customer Service

You may remember me writing recently about employees who seem to sometimes be handcuffed by the policies that are in place at their place of employment. If they were empowered to be able to handle a situation as it arises instead of being bound to the policies in place, the customer experience would many times become much better. However, policies are necessary in certain cases - I just wish people would know how to articulate them!

I had a situation today with my apartment complex, where I called to have service completed on my place. I told the woman who answered the phone that I needed to make a service appointment, and that I was leaving right then, and needed them to come this afternoon instead because I preferred to be there while they were working. I was told "I'll make sure they call before the come, no problem."

Well, as you may have guessed, 5 pm came and not a soul had come to my apartment to work on it. I went to the office to talk to them to be sure that the service appointment was made, and the woman said "our policy is 24 hours for a service call, and I never told you that they would be there this afternoon." I gently told her that I was under the impression that they would be since she said they would call before coming, since I specifically said I needed them to come this afternoon instead of in the morning. She essentially said "I put in the appointment." and stopped talking...

How could this situation have been avoided? All the woman had to do was tell me the policy when I called originally. Sometimes, policies are in place for very good reasons. I get it - if they didn't have a 24-hour policy for the service calls, everyone would expect their work to be done right then. However, this situation did not need to happen. All she needed to do was react to my comment about leaving and that it would be better if they came this afternoon. She could have made the point to say "I'll make sure they call before they come, and by the way, our policy is 24 hours for service calls, so they'll be there sometime tomorrow."

That would have satisfied me. Instead, I'm now hoping they stand by the 24-hour policy she told me today, which would mean someone will be here by 9:30 am tomorrow. Perhaps I'll have another post about that tomorrow!

Are there times when we in our associations don't articulate our policies effectively, and thus cause more hardship than there needs to be? Is there a policy in your association relating to good customer service? How do you assure that your employees are doing well?

September 12, 2008

The Emergence of Self Forming Groups

So I was reading an interesting post today on Maddie Grant's blog about whether ASAE is dying. 

In a nutshell, Maddie quoted someone who said that they were getting more value in reading blogs and using Twitter than they were getting from ASAE, due to all of the vendor-related e-mails that they are getting from ASAE. I don't personally agree, and I guess I really haven't seen THAT many vendor-related e-mails from them. Perhaps I am missing them though.

In answering Maddie's question, personally I don't think ASAE is dying at all. 

I actually think that the fact that people are willing to express their displeasure about what they're seeing means that ASAE is actually something they care enough about to talk about what they think (positive or negative.) It would probably be more constructive to tell ASAE what they like or dislike, but either way, it shows that they are invested in the organization.

Maddie also talked about YAP. For me, YAP doesn't take the place of ASAE. It is an added opportunity to engage with association professionals, but it is a different engagement opportunity with people in a similar age and experience range. It's a great supplement to what ASAE offers, and having it I think helps ASAE members get more for their money... (I'm guessing you aren't finding too many YAPstars who aren't members of ASAE also.) I think ASAE also gets a great deal from the unofficial relationship.

I also hate to point this out, but I would guess that the majority of people who are ASAE members are not like the person who was quoted in the original post... Most association executives who are ASAE members likely are not reading these blogs on a daily basis, nor are they using Twitter religiously. Heck, in looking at Principled Innovation's AST Executive Summary, only 51% of associations have any monitoring or some involvement in the blogosphere... That is a relatively small number, which I would guess correlates to the number of ASAE members who are engaged in the actual reading and monitoring of blogs regularly. Perhaps I am wrong, but that's my guess. 

While I say that, I do think that associations like ASAE need to be looking at what may happen in the future and prepare for it. More of us younger professionals are monitoring blogs more often, using Twitter, and engaging in different ways. We want to be able to easily comment and provide feedback on stories that we read. We also are not necessarily excited about being inundated with vendor-related e-mails and solicitations. ASAE needs to take this into account as they determine the future of how they are providing service.

As Maddie said, I am a big fan of ASAE. I don't want to see it go away, die, be swallowed up by self forming groups, etc. I also am not going to sit here and bad mouth it on this blog. It's something from which I find value, and I hope that you do as well! 

September 10, 2008

Newest Volunteer Gig

Check out the description of my newest volunteer gig...

Check out the roster of fellow professionals...

How Policies are Perceived...

Am at our office this week, and had an interesting conversation at the lunch table about one of our staff members' dealings at the dreaded DMV. All of us have these stories of going there to get new plates and having to sit there for hours and hours...

The story that I was told went a little something like this:

He went in to renew his antique plates for his old car that he owns. He had the registration and everything he is required to have to get it taken care of, but when he gets to the counter, he is told that a State Patrolman needs to go to his house to "make sure it is actually a 1963"... He told them that he had never had this happen, and that all she had to do was look up the registration that he had in his hand that THEY PROVIDED in the first place, to make sure it was a 1963. However, she said that her hands were tied by the policy. Now, is it just me, or in this case, does the policy not seem to make sense, especially when the woman could easily figure out that it is in fact a 1963 that they have already registered and are just renewing? Seems like a faulty policy to me, and gives the impression of bad customer service...

So, being the good aspiring association executive that I am (ah hem), I said to everyone sitting around the table "makes you think if any of our members think some of our policies are as ludicrous as we think the DMV's are..." It got people talking, and we identified a few that are likely in this situation, and we thought and talked a little bit about how the members feel about them. The consensus was that the ones we came up with are really constitutional issues and things that would need to be changed by our Convention, but I think the conversation was good to have and identified a few things that might make for good topics as we head into our Convention.

I think a lot of times, in the case of the DMV and in our own situations, there are policies in place to help the workflow and for other reasons that outsiders don't understand. So my question is, why aren't we trying to help them understand so they do feel empowered, and so they do understand the reasons that we have them? Why aren't we communicating about our policies so there isn't the negative feelings and connotation out there about them?

My questions to you are: do you have situations like this where the policy says something that in some instances just needs to not be followed? If you do, how have you decided to handle them or change them? Are your employees bound by the policies, or do they have the opportunity to do as they see fit to provide excellent customer/member service?

September 5, 2008

Transparency in Association Work

Personally, I believe that continually providing value to members and unabashed transparency are two areas that are EXTREMELY important in association work.

Does any association do a good enough job at either or both? I don't know the answer to that question. However, I do know that as I try to work my way up the ladder for a future career as an association executive, these are two areas that I would insist upon moving forward, while continuing to enhance and move forward the strategic plan of the association...

Speaking about transparency specifically, I once interviewed the president of a college in North Carolina who is a member of my current organization, and he had a tremendous answer to a question about his leadership style:

"I don’t believe in hiding the ball. My philosophy is, if you’re not open with the data, people are going to start speculating, and usually speculations are worse than the reality. They always think that if they’re not in a meeting that they think is important “I wonder what goes on there…” For example, in senior staff, we deal with the annual budget, the strategic plan, feedback from parents and students, what we’re going to have for lunch that day, and whole variety of big and little issues. A lot of what we discuss is boring, but folks on the outside don’t know it until they can see it. The other reason I do it is that, if I am make a decision after looking at a certain set of data or facts, and if I let those facts out to everyone else, people on campus should come to the same conclusion I did. And, if they don’t, I think there needs to be a discussion, because I could be wrong, or they could be wrong."

If you didn't know that it was a college president making that statement, you might think it was an association executive. It is so applicable to our work, that I think it is worthy of putting some thought into. In many instances I think that we aren't as transparent as we ought to be because we think of what the negative consequences of something will be as opposed to thinking in terms of what is best for the members that we're trying to serve. In the quote above, he is looking at the decision from the eyes of his constituents - what will they think? How do these decisions affect them?

Transparency is important, and by being open with the data and information, we are allowing our members to be involved in the process - a very positive way of doing business.

Anyone have different thoughts?
Have you seen or worked in associations that are completely transparent with their work? What has been the result?

September 4, 2008

Salary Requirements/Human Resources Question

I was reading another blog recently, Newly Corporate (for new professionals in business), and they had a post about salary negotiations, and when it's appropriate to bring up salary in the interviewing process. I have always found this to be an interesting topic.

One of the questions in the comments that arose was "what do you do when a company says that you MUST submit your salary requirements with your resume?" An interesting question indeed that talks about a recruiting practice that puts the applicant at an immediate disadvantage by having to be the first to name a number...

I find it interesting that many times when an organization or company puts that in their position description, they will not provide a salary range within it so the applicants know whether they're in the same ballpark. To me, that is not a good practice due to the fact that in some instances, the applicant will put in a lot of time honing their message for their cover letter and tailoring their resume to the position (if they're smart), and it will end up being a waste of time because they didn't know that they were nowhere near the range of the position to which they were applying...

I posted in a comment to the post that if a company or organization is requiring you to provide your salary requirements, they should also be willing to provide you the salary range for the position if you ask.

Now the questions that will hopefully bring it back to associations:
  • Am I right?
  • Has anyone recently pursued a position in which you were required to provide a salary requirement in your application materials but didn't know the salary range of the position?
  • What did you do?
  • Is this practice appropriate?
  • Does your association or organization use this practice in recruiting talent, and if so, how does it work?

September 3, 2008

When is Too Much Social Media Too Much?

I read an interesting post on a cool blog called Blogclump asking where people draw the line on social media. Like the post's author, Matt, I sometimes feel like my blogging, Twittering (@brucehammond), Facebooking, MySpacing, LinkedIning, and commenting on other blogs that I like, get to be a lot...

My personal answer to his question is that for the most part, I go to places and am engaged on tools where I know someone, or tools that I have heard will be beneficial to me. Since most of my friends are not on Friendfeed, or since they aren't using Digg or StumbleUpon, I just don't use them... I haven't figured out how they will benefit me, so I have yet to take the leap. My guess is that a lot of people feel the same way.

I have met people on Twitter, and that's the reason that I am engaged on that tool. As for Facebook and MySpace, all of my friends are there and we are able to easily keep in touch. As for LinkedIn, I am professionally networking with many people, some of whom I already knew.

As to Matt's final question about how to get out - I'd say don't, unless you aren't finding value in the tools you're using... If the tools, as Lisa points out in her comment, don't enhance your capability to act or give you value, they're not worth your time. Why feel as though you're behind, when you aren't necessarily getting value from the tools you're concerned about? If you were finding value, you'd find time to keep up with them.

As we in associations talk about often, stick to what gives you value and you'll be alright!

Your Association's Messaging and Channels

I was watching HGTV the other day, and notcied an inordinate amount of commercials for Lowe's. I found it interesting that I hadn't really noticed that before - that Lowe's is being extremely smart in getting its message out on the appropriate channels where the people most likely to shop there are...

It's the same reason that the companies who exhibited at the ASAE Annual Meeting did so - they had a captive audience of the people who are the MOST likely to utilize their services.

I think this relates well to what we're doing in recruitment of members to our associations and how we are communicating with them.

When recruiting members, how are we developing our messages to get the most out of them, and are they being put on the right channels to get the most out of them? For recruiting newer young members, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and other social media tools might be the best channels to utilize. 

For older members, perhaps hard copy brochures and ads in print publications are the most appropriate channels to recruit members. 

My question - is there enough thought being put into the channels our associations are using to recruit and communicate with our members and potential members? If not, why? If so, who took the proactive steps to develop these messages and determine the channels that they would be "broadcasted" on?

It certainly seems to me that the Lowe's Corporation has it right in targeting their messages to the people who have the BEST chance of acting on the messages they're trying to get across. 

September 2, 2008

Handling Today's "Right This Second" Culture

So with technology, we all live in the "right this second" culture. In the September issue of ASAE's magazine, Associations Now, Amy Blagriff talks about handling this culture in the A Day in the Life column.

Specifically, she asks the question: How do you handle this "everybody wants it right this second" culture, while at the same time moving forward on projects and programs that your board and members want to do?

As someone who in my early career used to be completely affected by hearing the "ding" of Outlook when a message appeared, I now turn off my sound and Outlook as a whole for much of my days when I am working on specific projects that don't require me to be utilzing e-mail. I have decided to use e-mail right when I get into the office to clean up my box from the night before, as I am preparing for lunch to clean it up from the morning, and for at least a half hour before leaving for the day to clean it up from the afternoon. If it takes longer than that, I stay at work a little longer...

My opinion - I have a job to do just like everyone else, and if someone needs something urgently, someone should give me a call. I have let my boss know that it is important for me to do this so I can get my work done, and he is fine with it. I have also let others know my way of working as they e-mail me and need something.

I LOVE Amy's idea that if an e-mail is going to take longer than 5 minutes to write, she picks up the phone. I plan on using this idea as I move forward since likely, if it takes more than five minutes to write, it is too complicated to put in an e-mail anyway...

Just as an aside, one of the most interesting blog posts I have ever seen relating to e-mail is this one from Seth Godin. He gives 36 ideas on e-mail, and thoughts to consider when writing your e-mails... Very good ideas...

Anyway, that's how I would answer her question... How would you?

September 1, 2008

The CAE Designation - The Journey Begins

I know I am a little late to the game in talking about the ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting, but it's better to be late than to never show up!!

For any of you who attended the Volunteer Breakfast on Saturday morning, did you feel the air kinda go out of the room and the blood begin to boil when the guy stood up who said he was a member of the committee who writes the questions for the CAE Exam? He stood up and talked about that committee's accomplishments, and I just couldn't help but hear a few people cursing that committee under their breath!

It wasn't me... yet!

However, it very well could be a year from now, because I am beginning to develop my study plan for sitting for the CAE Exam next year. I attended an event put on by the Association Forum of Chicagoland that talked about the CAE, and gave some background and tips to help us pass the exam. I have to be honest, it scared me a little...

The exam seems very thorough, which is a good thing to command the respect that a professional accreditation deserves, but perhaps not for someone who has only a little over five years' experience. They recommend reading a number of books to get the primer that you need to understand some of the topics you'll be tested on. One of them, The Association Law Handbook, is 592 pages... That's not a typo... 592 is the correct number... I have not read a book that has 592 pages perhaps ever. (Don't comment on what that says about me please :-)) It's a huge assignment, one that will take a lot of dedication, and a lot of money.

However, I personally feel as though professional accreditations are essential to showing your dedication to your chosen profession, and help you develop and retain your knowledge in many different facets of that profession. That's why neither the time reading and studying, nor the money that I'm going to have to spend, are going to get me down.

I am ready to begin this prepartion - wish me luck (and give me any advice you can)!!!