Associations Forum 2016 - Learning Labs | Association Scary Words
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Picture it—a creaky floor, lightning flashing in a shadowy room, and from the darkness comes the whispered words: "strategic plans." Ok, perhaps that is a bit on the dramatic side, but in our association world today there are a number of words that, for some association executives, can make them take pause, retract, and do everything in their power to schedule a conflicting meeting so they can avoid the topic. Do any of these "scary words" ring true for you?
They want what they want, when they want it, how they want it. Guess what? So do we all. The newest members of the work force bring with them a desire to make an impact; they want their voices, heard and opinions honored; and they need to feel invested in by their employer. Having to shift internal culture and structure isn’t easy, but can actually bring improvements for all generations.
There is such a focus on the younger generation entering the work force that we like to turn a blind eye to those who are leaving. Retirees take with them decades of knowledge, historical perspective, a loyalty to the industry, and an abundance of time, treasure, and talent that could be dedicated back to the organization—if we are willing to take the plunge and create new models of inclusion that don’t demand the same dues and value structures as full professionals.
When is the last time you came to your association website as a mock-customer and purchased a product? Or joined as a member? Or tried to volunteer? We create our processes, and often only return to the user experience the next time we upgrade our system—not prioritizing what is often a key factor in member involvement, member engagement, and transactions—it is easy? You could create the highest quality, 5-star value opportunities for your member—if it is hard to access them, your member will never know.
Wait, budgeting isn’t your favorite time of year? Many staff finalize their budgets and then try to look at them and ongoing financials as little as possible. Swimming in the sea of revenue and expenditures is not only the job of the C-suite. Financials are an amazing thermometer, sharing the day to day health of the association—building staff mastery in how to pull the narrative of how things are looking out of the numbers should be a commitment every organization makes.
Fill in the blank—visioning, plan, execution—though there is often some excitement in working in the world of strategy, marrying the results to the operational reality of an organization can often be an uphill battle. When you already have 60 hours of work for your 40-hour work week, strategy can easily become a nice to have instead of a need to have. Yet, when we lose sight of our why in the forest of our what or our how, we also lose touch with the reason we are making our efforts in the first place.
I propose: go back to your staff, and ask them for their association scary word—what would be on the list? And then, what could you do to start to transition that scary feeling to a feeling of possibility and excitement? Overcome the fear, embrace the needed conversation, and build solutions from a place of strength and confidence.
About Lowell Aplebaum
Lowell Aplebaum is a Certified Association Executive, working with associations on value-focused approaches to membership and volunteer management as a consultant for the Avenue M group. He recently authored the chapter on emerging trends in ASAE’s Membership Essentials 2nd edition, and served as the co-Executive Editor and Contributing Author for the Component Relations Handbook 2nd edition. He currently serves on the overseeing commission for the Certified Association Execution certification, and Chaired ASAE’s Task Force on CEO Pathways. He is the creator of a master-level learning series called Through the CEO Lens. His work on global efforts for associations has included experience across five continents, hundreds of volunteer groups, and all 50 states in the U.S.