Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Job Transition: A Bittersweet Symphony

Every end may be a beginning, but when you are in the end part it still feels odd.

Today is my last day of work at my current association.  I am lucky enough to have found a new opportunity for professional growth at another association, and have worked over the past three weeks to tie up loose ends, and set things in place where hopefully everything will be smooth in the transition to finding a new Director.  I leave behind colleagues that have become friends, a solid plan for the year to come, and hopefully new avenues for growth that did not exist before I was here.  I could not picture a more positive departure....

...but it still feels weird.

There is something that gnaws at you that you have laid out great plans and potential, but will not be present to execute and evaluate.  As much as you can try to transition all responsibilities, leaving behind a strong team is still a feeling of loss.  You become an outsider to the insiders. 

Of course, there will be a new team and new projects.  From what you leave behind, someone will step in and take up the mantle of continued growth and improvement.  In between those two moments - of leaving and starting - there is this moment of bittersweet finality.  Reflecting on what you were able to do, what obstacles you could not overcome and the legacy you leave behind.

I know many blog posts ask provocative questions, give a top # list of things to implement or consider, or describe upcoming trends.  Though this post does none of those, I wanted to capture this feeling of in-between since, in truth, how many of these days do we have in our life? 

Tomorrow will bring a new start - new mentors and partners, new strategy and possibility, new community and commitment.

For today, I will simply be open to feeling the loss of my team and the end of my efforts here.  I will take my name plate down, turn off the light in my office, and, as I leave, look back one more time at what was another great stage in my professional life.

Here's to a wonderful new year and new beginnings, and to the endings that have brought us here today.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2012 Resolutions

One of my favorite posts this week is from Shelly Alcorn on Association Subculture - Five Terms for 2012.  We each make New Year's resolutions, and joke before the clock strikes midnight about just how long they will last.  I love the idea of focusing on five terms, hanging them above your workspace, and allowing them to serve as guideposts for your efforts.  Following Shelly's lead, here are my 5 for 2012:

1. Give Half the Fridge to Failure - From finger painting masterpieces to report cards, the fridge always served as the wall of fame in our house growing up.  It was a place to show off a job well done - a reminder of success.  In 2012 I want half of what I (symbolically) hang to be reminders of where things did not turn out as planned.  I believe that, while not ideal, failure in itself is not bad - failing to learn from failure is the downfall.  Failure is often swept under the rug - and in the coming year, if I am going to learn more from the times I do not succeed, then I need those times to remain fresh in my memory.

2. Better Technology, NOT More - I am a sucker for new gizmos and gadgets.  I love to window shop at Best Buy (without the windows) and it is not unusual for me to have multiple tabs open at once with item upgrades and devices that are awesome, but I do not need.  For 2012 I am going to concentrate my dollars and cents on purchasing those items that I will really use and that will (hopefully) truly improve my quality of life, and not just be a shiny toy.

3. LISTEN to answers of "How are you" - Asking how someone is has become an unconscious part of just about every conversation I have, yet too often I find that the answer sails right by as I move on to the real reason that I am talking to the person.  I want to hit myself upside the head at this one - this is a rude, thoughtless and stupid thing to do.  If we really listen to how someone is, not only will we have greater insight into the experience they are bringing in that moment to the conversation, but we make tighter relationship bonds that go beyond the interaction.  In 2012, 'How are you' is going to become a point of personal investment, and not rote repetition.

4. Smile when Crafting - Emails, chats, blog posts, phone conversation - words can make an intellectual memory, but your tone can make an emotional one.  Whether I want it to or not, I know when I am smiling that my attitude takes a swing towards the positive.  Therefore, if I smile more when communicating I think I will be able to imbue those words with a greater happiness.  Maybe I will just look like silly with a grin on my face (note: get webcam to see if I stick to this one), but if I can get you to have one on yours too, mission accomplished.

5. Celebrate - Everything - There are so many things that beat us up and tear us down - we need to celebrate more.  Not just birthdays, holidays or the big accomplishments - those are the easy ones.  In 2012, I am going to acknowledge, be thankful for, and celebrate the smaller positives as well.   Lunch with a friend I haven't seen in a long time, safe travels, looking at my phone contact list and realizing that I have a whole bunch of people in my life who make me a better me - they may not come with all the bells and whistles, but without any of them my life was be radically different.  Times of sorry and pain can't be avoided - let's celebrate life and all the joy in it all we can in 2012. 

What's your five?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Working in the Association World - Love It.

High unemployment rates, graduating from school with way too much debt - it is not easy to enter the workforce right now, that's for sure.  Most graduates want more than a paycheck - they are looking for a job that is fulfilling, and serves a higher purpose (in truth, aren't we all??).  My answer?  Check out the Association World!

Anyone who is working for an association is contributing to making the world a better place by making professionals better in their profession.  Providing opportunities for engineers to meet to work on new green initiatives, continuing education so that regulators produce safer pharmaceuticals, certification so that companies know their new employees have the knowledge to do their job safely and well - association help with all of this and more.

These is just one of the reasons why I think working for an association is a great professional decision - for more thought check out my guest post on the millenial chat blog!

Want to find out more for yourself?  ASAE is running a free Introduction to Association Careers Day in Washington, DC on December 14, 2011 if you are in town - check it out!  You may just find that you love the association world too!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Member Orientation: A Personal Connection

If we are going to welcome our members, whether new or returning, that welcome has to be....well, welcoming.  This means that a form letter of greeting simply formatted with their name on top does not cut it.  Deirdre Reid posts on this (both part 1 and part 2 ) are right on target with how we should be approaching this important opportunity.

One of the main projects that I have on tap for 2012 is to start a monthly orientation webinar (one of the new approaches that Deirdre mentions).  After some dialogue on the topic on the ASAE Membership Listserve, I am sharing my outline below for what will be included, and hope that you will comment on what I am missing, anything that seems superfluous or boring, and if you are running one - what you have seen work.

Basic Premise: Members who are new to an association often are only aware of their subjective point of entry.  If they joined through certification, they may not be aware of conference opportunities.  If they joined through a chapter/component they may not be aware of virtual education opportunities.  If members are going to maximize the value inherent to their membership they do not need a listing of benefits as much as an orientation and welcome to all the aspects of the organization/community to which they now belong.

Once a month we are going to run a live webinar to give a tour of the landscape and opportunities that members have at any time.  While every new member will be directly invited to attend one of these webinars, it will also be offered to current members.  The broad appeal of this approach became apparent at the last annual conference when, upon hearing the premise of the webinars, a number of board members asked if they would be allowed to attend to refresh their knowledge on all the association has to offer.

General Welcome: Ideally, this would be an opportunity for interactive introductions.  While in a later phase 2 rollout I would love to integrate an optional video conferencing component to the webinar (think skype/google+ hangout), to start with there will be at least the following components:

        1.  All attendees will be encouraged to arrive a few minutes early for introductions.  While I am a strong believer that we need to deliver on the timing we promise and not run late, I have also found that many people are willing to come a little early with little negative impact.
        2. Anyone who will be presenting during the webinar will have their picture, name, title, contact info displayed on a rotating slide show before the webinar starts.  Being able to put a face with a name and more so a voice will hopefully encourage a personal connection between staff/board members and attendees
        3. Before they start each session of their great virtual learning sessions, attendees at the Higher Logic Learning Series use the open chat box to introduce themselves, adding a feeling of community between attendees rather than participating in isolation.  These introductions can encourage attendees to voice their questions along the way since they have already broken the silence barrier

Content Outline: Each department within the association (conferences, certification, education, publications, etc.) has been asked to construct a 3-5 minute orientation and tour of their subject area highlighting the value members can gain through greater interaction, portals for involvement, and simply how to navigate the website and private social media platform for maximum output.  These presentations are specifically NOT supposed to be sales pitches, or lists of discounts.  If at all possible departments have been asked to approach this project with a narrative framing - how can they tell the story of the vital nature of their work to the professional.

In addition, every month each department will have the option of having one of their team members lead their part of the tour.  Rotating around who is orienting members both ensures that all staff have the chance to share with members while allowing members to meet staff they may otherwise only see in a signature line.

Finally, this will be an opportunity for departments to also use lightening polls in a live context.  With a maximum of 2 or 3 integrated polls each month, during the webinar a department can ask a top question on their mind - What is the next webcast topic members would like to see?  What session should be at conference that would make it impossible to not attend?

Testimonials: Each month a different board member will be invited to attend the webinar and share, in brief, their own story of involvement and the value they have realized in their ongoing relationship with the association.  Q&A directly with a board member will also hopefully break down some of the hierarchy barriers  between new members and established leaders.  This is also a great chance for board members to be directly involved in a way that does not require a committee or budgetary decisions.

Community: Members may have joined, but if they do not feel like they belong they will never become part of the community.  A chunk of orientation will concentrate on how to join the conversation and meet colleagues through the micro-communities that make up the association family.  This includes how to navigate the private social media platform, where the association can be found on public social media platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc), and an introduction and invitation to participate in any local chapter activities that may take place near the new member.  This is the perfect opportunity to encourage two immediate actions:

            1. If they see a local event that looks interesting, encourage the member to sign up right then and there.  After the webinar, check to see who signed up for the events and pass the information to the local chapter leader to make sure they personally greet them and help them feel welcome.
            2.  When reviewing the private social network platform take a minute break and encourage everyone to friend/connect someone else that is on the webinar.  They will make a new connection, have a chance to use the software and have a new colleague with whom they continue the conversation after the webinar.

Involvement: Perhaps the most important part - the call to action.  If the above sections are successful in sharing the value of membership, paths of activity and a welcoming community many participants will hopefully want to know how to get involved.  Minimally, this is where the association can share a top 5 next steps - free downloads of content, conversations to join, magazine articles to explore, etc.  Giving no-cost ways for members to immediately interact with the association will make it that much more likely that they will continue interacting going forward with both products and personal involvement.  Maximally, this is also where volunteer opportunities and sign-ups can be shared.  For this to ideally work there should be a range of possibilities, from content contribution to micro-volunteering options.

Q&A: What else do they want to know?  What questions did we answer that led to more questions?

Thank you and invitation to continue the conversation: At the conclusion it is important to acknowledge how vital their involvement is not only to the association but also to the profession.  For the main staff contacts, their pictures and information will be displayed once again with an invitation to connect with them immediately on social media, and at any time in the future.

And that's it for now - What is missing?  What else do you do?  Please comment below with feedback!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Associations Should Start Making Music Videos

(Disclaimer: Gloomy, rainy Mondays cause me to play spotify in the office all day.  This is post is a little tongue in cheek and serves as a chance to play some music that I like - most of the links are to songs.  So, if clicking, adjust volume as appropriate and enjoy the show)

Last week I was reading a great post by Jay Daughtry about what the association world can learn from Regis Philbin as he retired from television.  Jay's insights stuck in my mind throughout the weekend, along with Regis' voice.  I commented to Jay that one of the lessons we could learn from Regis was the power of voice recognition amongst our members - and as I continued to sound it out, I realize that is only the first of a number of goals associations could have for making an impression on their constituents...

1. The Voice - When associations talk about their members recognizing them, it is often a matter of having a unique and clear voice.  For Regis, it only takes hearing his distinctive voice to know who is behind whatever message is being expressed.  Regis is often impersonated because of this recognition - a recognition not tied to a brand or a product, but to the speaker.  Ultimately, this inherent connection is what associations are looking for when they talk about branding or becoming part of their members' vocabulary.  If upon reading a professional article or news item, attending a meeting or learning in a continuing education setting a professional automatically thinks in terms of their association, then innate branding, or 'the voice' has been established.

2. The Song - Of course, words and voice are just the beginning - they can lose meaning without context or a point of connection for a listener.  In our running metaphor, this would be taking the voice that is recognized, and letting it tell a story or sing a song to connect to listeners, who then become fans.  We all have songs that evoke memories and emotions.  From a good Monday morning wake up song (which for me lately has either been Foo Fighters or LMFAO ) to that song that tells a story that you want to know what happens (Tim McGraw excels at this) or a singer who can take another artist's song and give it a very different feeling (late great Johnny Cash stands out to me), each tune works because it elicits an emotional reaction.  If associations can not only be recognized for their voice, but with that voice produce a feeling of confidence and community in its members, that is an even greater success.  Perhaps this is done by focusing an association's messaging away from product sales and instead creating a narrative of the life of a professional.  Each member is a character in that story, intertwined with the offering/products/services/community that are discovered along the way.  What is more emotionally compelling than our own story?

3. The Video - And finally, what if we can provide a multi-sensory experience?  In a world of facebook, twitter, private social networks, google+ hangouts, skype and more - are we really still limiting our interactions to blast, one-way messaging?  What if we can tie the story we are telling to a member by including them as an active, and not passive character - essentially making them the author.  Engage in conversation with what they need, and what they would like to see.  Transform customer service from a general 1-800 number to a specific person assigned to each member, with a picture next to their contact information.  Change the narrative the association is singing into a music video - invoking sound, sight and thought can make a much deeper impression.  Some may do this for novelty, just to grab attention (OK GO is #1  at this whether on treadmills or being painted) while others use it to better engage you in their story (Lady Antebellum with a happy ending, Foo Fighters with a different one).  And then there are those that take on a life unto themselves and change paradigms (MJ - Thriller).  Whether trying to grab attention, create a compelling narrative or shift expectations, combining sight, sound and narrative is a recipe for maximizing communication involvement.

So should associations put marketing funds into a music video?  Probably not.  Should we start to shape our message to be memorable, personal and interactive?  Yes.  It's time to start being a little more fun.  It's time to be interesting.  It's time that associations start to rock out.  Maybe they won't win an astronaut trophy, but they can win over the commitment, enthusiasm and loyalty of their professionals.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mission: Volunteer Leader Training Part 2: Growing the Leader

It is time we shift our focus from the position a volunteer is fulfilling to the person who is actually volunteering.

Often, our M.O. is to welcome a new volunteer by explaining the responsibilities of the position they have agreed to fulfill.  Time permitting, we will share some historical background of what the previous volunteers have accomplished in the role, and what roadblocks they encountered.  As the volunteer starts to explore their job staff may also answer any requests for tools or resources needed to succeed in their efforts.  In short, staff efforts are focused on the transition of the position from one volunteer to the next.

But what if we took a different approach.  When a new volunteer is selected, what if we took the time to explore more about the new person raising their hand instead of jumping into what they will be doing.  In short, what if we invested in the volunteer?

While leadership training programs and educational opportunities for volunteers remain outside of budgetary scope for many associations, there are a number of steps we could take that only require our own time, commitment, and caring.

When someone volunteers, we can take the time to elicit personal insights.  Why were the interested?  What do they hope to get out of the position?  What new skills would they like to learn or get that will help them in their career or future volunteer positions?  These questions should be less of an interview and more of a conversation.

Rarely are we asked, by someone who truly is listening, what we want and how we would like to see ourselves grow.  Answering these questions may be initially a little stop and go, but can become a smooth conversation as the volunteer realizes there is someone on the other side who not only wants to hear the answers, but wants to help them get there.  If they are not sure of what they want, staff can describe general attribute growth opportunities that arise from volunteering, as well as how the volunteer work that someone does almost always gives transferable skills to their professional life.

As they feel that the association is investing in them, this volunteer will become not just committed to their current position, but likely to have continued leadership involvement.  Key to this is for the volunteer to hear reflections from and milestones of their achievements.  This could be regular check ins with staff or even when there is an opportunity for an in person cup of coffee at a meeting.  Heck, use an online goal tracking system if you like (check this out for one) - but help reflect back to them in the ongoing months how they are indeed building the skills they intended.

This process of volunteer investment and development, though perhaps potentially low cost in dollars and cents, is one that is a heavy commitment for staff to make - it is not something that can be checked off the list, but an action that is ongoing as the volunteer continues to serve.  Yet, done properly it can build a ever growing group of committed volunteers that in themselves could strengthen the foundation of the association.  A number of them may even be willing to take on the responsibility of investing in fellow volunteers in the same manner.

Can we learn that when it comes to volunteers we have to both plan with our logic AND listen with our heart?  I think we can.

(I know, this is Listen to Your Heart, not Listen WITH your heart - but was too close to pass up)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Stop with the Surveys...No Really...Stop

This post comes in the middle of my series on volunteer leadership development - Part 2 is coming shortly but until then....

Working as a Director of Membership, I understand the benefit of receiving feedback from your customers (or members).  Are we serving you well?  What else do you need?  What path should we take in the future?  There are times that surveys are relevant and helpful to get that information - but in the efforts to know how they are doing, I have reached a tipping point.

The surveys on everything have to stop.

Some surveys I have been asked to take over the past month:

1. How was my flight (yes each leg)?
2. How was the boarding process for my flight?
3. How was the service and food at the restaurant I ate at?
4. How was my shopping experience?
5. How satisfied am I with my online purchase?
6. How was my customer service experience with my cable provider (this one deserves a post unto itself)?
7. How was my recent stay at a hotel?
8. What are my feeling on the service I received at my last oil change?
9. Is the toilet paper we use soft enough?

Ok, maybe not that last one - but you get the point.

This is not an all or nothing premise.  There are certainly asks that I have received where I have enjoyed giving feedback. 

- Yesterday I attended the ProgressU Bloggers Summit - it was a great day, and a way to recharge the 'professional development' batteries.  I was happy to fill out a review.
- I actually have to recognize ASAE twice in this list
  • I recently responded to Peter O'Neil's open call to ASAE members to contribute their thoughts on the direction ASAE should take with the upcoming Volunteer Leadership Retreat.  I appreciate being given the opportunity to share my thoughts on a community I belong to and am invested in, and encourage others to do the same 
  • Earlier this year ASAE used crowd sourcing to help determine a number of session selections for the 2012 Marketing, Membership & Communication Conference.  Again, having a voice in what material is presented not only gives me greater incentive to attend, but is also appreciated as I can hear from a broader association voice on their thoughts as well.
Of course, some of this would be a mute point if I saw any change, or received what was done with my feedback (particularly with the cable experience....1.5 hours of my life I can never get back).  Taking the time to fill out a survey, to have it disappear into the black hole of no response makes any feedback you gave seem meaningless.  The surveys that I do fill out at this point are largely for places where I have personal buy-in, or at least see the results of my input.  In particular, I look forward to hearing how the input we have given ASAE for the Retreat shapes the action and projects for the year to come.

As for the rest of these surveys, I will just continue to ignore or delete them since I plan on still traveling, eating, watching TV, shopping and just living my life - and I know they will still be sent to me. 

Or maybe I will just send each company back a survey asking how satisfied they are with the survey results they are getting.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mission: Volunteer Leader Training Part 1

Where would associations be without volunteer leaders?  I have yet to find an association that is so well staffed that volunteers are not needed, and even if this association exists I would still question eliminating these positions as they help foster engagement, community and general leadership skills useful to a volunteer in all aspects of their professional life.  Volunteers are essential to a successful association.

In a post on the Affiniscape blog, Leslie White says: "Everybody says volunteers are important so isn’t it time for associations to commit more resources to managing this precious asset?"  

Leslie is 100% right - if volunteers are so important, we need to do more to help them succeed.  While it would be ideal if this could translate into whole budget lines for volunteer development, I know this is not possible for most associations. Therefore, in the coming weeks I am going to write a series of 5 posts on some basic volunteer leader development skills and sessions that any association can plan and run without having to spend big bucks.  I am going to explore:

1. Basic Social Media Training
2. Plotting out Personal Leadership Skills
3. Developing Community through Communication
4. Creating Pathways to Leadership: Micro-volunteering and Other Concepts
5. Thinking Ahead: Helping Leaders Look Past Their Term

My first post on Basic Social Media Training can be found on the AssociationTech blog and is called Social Media and the Chapter Leader.

While my work is largely with volunteer leaders of chapters, affiliates and committees, I believe the basic concepts I will cover can be applied to any leadership role. 

Our volunteers may be new to their profession, or senior leaders in their company - but all could benefit by learning skills tailored to leading in an association.  Let's get to it with some Social Media Basics today!

Next up: Plotting out Personal Leadership Skills

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Volunteer Acceleration Curve

I have been tardy in my blogging due to....2012 annual planning.  I know - not the best excuse, but within the plans emerged an idea for a post.

One of the components I am building into my plans for the coming year is a Volunteer Acceleration Curve.  This is built off of the idea that C. David Gammel presents as an Engagement Acceleration Curve.  Gammel's curve constructs a model where associations can incorporate their activities, products, offerings and involvement opportunities in a single measure that runs from low-value/commitment to high-value commitment.  For associations who are trying to connect the dots of offerings and opportunities and the united value they connote, this is a great strategy to take.

One of the goals for the coming year that I am tackling is to help our chapters with their ongoing problem of not enough volunteers, and volunteer burnout.  For many of our chapters their leadership structure looks like this:

A small number of opportunities with the vast majority of responsibilities falling on a few volunteers.  For new volunteers who want to get involved, moving straight into this kind of job is overwhelming - no wonder it is difficult to find new blood!

Instead for the coming year this is what I am presenting to our chapters:

In this model there are a large number of bite sized volunteer opportunities that are always available.  When someone new comes into the chapter, they are asked if they would like help stuff badges, or perhaps they would be willing to help with registration.  A small task - no big commitment, and no previous knowledge needed.  The concept is that once a volunteer has a positive experience with these smaller opportunities they will want to get more involved - perhaps with aspects of planning a program.  From there they can join a committee to take on a larger task and may eventually become an officer or the chair.

Not everyone will go the full length of this path - and that is okay.  The goal here is not to have everyone be chair, but to provide a way that anyone can become involved.  This path gives time for leadership training and to learn more about the community.

We will see how it turns out - but I am confident that it can help with volunteer burnout, and getting more hands on deck to help with leadership roles.