June 27, 2010

Communicating about the Elimination of Programs or Services

So my wife and I were planning to go to a movie on Friday night... I went online to find out the time of the movie at our favorite theater, and was met with a number of dead ends. I couldn't figure out what the issue was, and finally after calling the phone number found out that the theater was closed.

I couldn't believe it... The theater was never less than full when we went, so why in the world was it closed? I guess I hadn't been paying attention to the local news closely enough... We still wanted to see the movie, so we decided to go to a competitor and see it.

This experience immediately made me think about our work in associations... Often, decisions are made to "sunset" a program or offering that isn't measuring up... However, do our members get the message? If not, when they try to go get the product or take advantage of the service the next time, they have a similar situation to mine...

I think it's imperative as we make decisions on our offerings, that we also think about how we're communicating about them to help members understand what's happening... I think we need to answer (at least) the following questions in our communication:

- What the reasons are for removing the product/service...
- When it's happening...
- What our plans are to take the product or service's place...
- Where members can provide their input/reaction...

The fact is that we won't be able to ensure everyone gets the message, but we really need to be very strategic in how we plan to ensure that the most people know as possible.

I think the communication needs to start with the association's volunteers and the members who have already decided to take advantage of the product/service... Additionally, another important group is the segment of members who you've already marketed it to. Finally, the membership at large... There are probably more segments of the membership who are important, but these are just a few.

What it comes down to is that communicating openly and effectively the reasons why and what the future plans are will hopefully help alleviate members' frustration when they're trying to find a product you have decided to take away...

June 21, 2010

Embrace Those Who Are Good at Executing Big Plans

So here's how wild and crazy my Friday nights are these days - I spent last Friday night watching PBS' Newshour with Jim Lehrer... Wild? Probably not. Instructive and interesting? Absolutely. This past Friday night especially...

Newshour's regular columnists, Shields and Brooks, who spar with one another each night, were discussing the disgustingly sad situation happening at Arlington National Cemetery... Brooks, who's also a New York Times columnist, said the following (at 11:29 of the video here):

"...Vision's important. But actually executing properly, getting the proper computer system there, even after millions have been spent, executing in the Gulf, executing on an oil platform, that is underplayed in a society that likes something fancy, something oratorical, but actually executing is tremendously important, upon which everything else exists. And we have a failure of execution on BP, a failure of execution I think now in the Gulf, and certainly at Arlington."

While it's not perfect grammatically, I agree with Brooks' comments wholeheartedly. To me, execution is an oft overlooked aspect of our work in associations as well. We can have many great ideas, a bold new vision or a shiny new plan, but if we don't execute those things very well, they're worth nothing more than the paper upon which they were written.

An example: The organization for which I work has a bold vision for what we're going to be in 2025. It talks about how large we're going to be, what kinds of offerings we're going to have, etc. Essentially, it's a number of bold aspirations that will guide our path as we move toward it. However, unless we execute the intermediate sets of metrics and goals that will help us get there, that bold vision will be a nice thing to point to, but won't accomplish much. That's why execution is so important...

Now, I don't want you to get the wrong idea - I do believe that big things can be accomplished by thinking bigger than the status quo. I respect the big thinkers out there who are leading our associations to new heights, and hope to be someone who does so someday.

At the same time, there are a lot of staffers out there executing the big plans that are being developed by those big thinkers. Embrace those people! They are as important to the success of our associations as we move forward as those who are coming up with the ideas themselves.

Now, back to my regular Monday night ritual - watching Shields and Brooks battle it out again... Maybe I'll gain another tidbit that I can use here soon!

June 10, 2010

Becoming a Championship Association

Blackhawks WIN! Blackhawks WIN!

If you follow me on Twitter, or are a friend of mine on Facebook, you probably saw me LEAP onto the 'Hawks bandwagon as they entered the NHL Playoffs. Who watches the NHL regular season anyway?!?!

Anyway, while watching a team in the town where I live win a world championship was AMAZING, and I actually took away a few lessons that we can take from the Blackhawks' run as we strive to become championship associations...

1. Having the right organizational leadership means the world - Four or five years ago, the Chicago Blackhawks franchise was in shambles. People were not going to the games and the team was a joke in the city... The leadership team was failing miserably. Then came Rocky Wirtz, the current chairman/owner of the team who vowed to bring winning back to one of the original six NHL franchises... He developed a plan, hired the right management team (including a successful team President who came from one of the city's baseball franchises), and made his vision well known - he was going to bring a championship back to the city. In just a few years, his vision became a reality... As we think about becoming a championship association, having the right leaders in place (both on staff and on the Board) is extremely important.

2. Don't overlook young leaders - When Wirtz first took over, the first two players he brought in were Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who were the young guns he was going to build the new transition around. In associations, we often have young members who are interested in getting involved and engaging in leadership positions early on, and we need to be willing to let them take the lead and bring a different kind of leadership to the table.

3. But don't forget about your old leaders - One of the greatest things about the Blackhawks' run was how they embraced their leaders from years past... Men like Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito, all of whom were leaders on the last team that won the Stanley Cup, were front and center throughout the team's championship run... The lesson for associations here is while it's important to embrace young leaders, keeping high profile past leaders in the loop and visible is extremely important...

4. Your fans love to cheer for a winner - When things weren't going well, the fans went away from the 'Hawks... When they started winning again, the fans came back in droves... Being a championship association means keeping your fans engaged and empowered at all times. How can they help you reach your vision/mission? How can they help you get your message out further? If they can see your vision, they'll be invaluable!

It took the Blackhawks a long time (49 years to be exact) to once again become the Stanley Cup Champions. It might take your association some time, but by keeping some of the tips in mind directly from this year's NHL champions will help you focus on some things to get you back to championship-caliber!

Oh, and GO 'Hawks!

June 3, 2010

The Future of Magazines?

So I happened to be going through my tweets, and happened upon one by Chris Uschan from OmniPress sharing the video below.

It got me thinking - is this how magazine content will be widely consumed in the coming years, and if so, how can we get in on the bottom floor now in creating this kind of interactivity and user defined experience?

Many of us are using Nxtbook and other products like it to move our magazines to online platforms, and that's a step in the right direction. However, what's shown in the video below seems more like a giant leap from where many of us in associations are right now. Can we develop this kind of product for our members? Should we?

I think now is the time we begin thinking like Wired and Time (which also has an amazingly interactive iPad app for their magazine), and get ahead of the curve in our publishing capabilities, because Lord knows that our members and readers are only becoming more technologically savvy the more time goes on...

June 1, 2010

Quitters Never Win...

We all heard this line growing up from our parents when we decided we no longer wanted to play the clarinet (or whatever geeky thing you decided you wanted to quit)... Well, there were a few things that I almost quit recently, but I decided to heed my Mom's advice and stick with them - this blog and Facebook.

As you might be able to tell, my last post to this blog was in March. Throughout my hiatus I had thoughts to share, but just didn't sit down and actually write them into posts... I always found something else to do instead, but I have decided that I really need to rethink that and get back to writing. So, get ready for more regular posts and thoughts about everything from blogs I have read to things I've seen that I can relate to associations somehow...

The other thing that I alomost quit was Facebook, and I almost decided to do it yesterday on Quit Facebook Day. I had friends who decided to quit for their own reasons, but I decided to stick with it... My reasoning - I think if you want to create change within a company (or even an association), quitting isn't the way to do it. I think that building your coalition from within and going to the leadership with sound reasoning is the better way to create the change you desire.

I understand that there are concerns about privacy. I understand that there are concerns about Facebook selling your information to advertisers who then use it... If you feel as though these are things you cannot deal with, then by all means, quit. Make your small statement that doesn't help fix the problem.

To me, the bigger statement that you can make is working with the company/association/organization to craft a more meaningful policy from within to create the change you desire. By quitting, you're giving up. By working to create the change you seek, you are making the culture better for everyone, thus creating a HUGE statement that is worthwhile to everyone.

Now, some people are probably going to say that those who quit Facebook were the ones who caused them to change their privacy settings last week. I don't think that's true. I think the ones who helped convince them were users who were not happy with what they saw, and decided to let Facebook know about it.

Now all of those who quit seem to have lost, while all of us who stuck it out seem to have won with the new privacy settings. Who says parents aren't right?