Monday, February 20, 2012

You've Got to Know When to Hold 'Em

I was recently reading a great post on the Mizz Information blog (thanks Maggie!) on Why Having Staff be Facebook Emissaries is a Bad Idea when I came across this comment: "My advice?  Hold steady with your Facebook page."  Good advice - except do associations really excel at deciding to 'hold steady?'

Waiting May Not Easily Compute in the Association World

Evaluating the professional environment, assessing resources, opportunities and risks and deciding to wait for a period of time before making a change is an oft-found foundational business practice.  The real estate industry, the stock market - inaction has to be an acceptable action decision if profit and benefits are to be maximized.  For a number of reasons, I think this concept is harder for associations to digest.

1. Volunteer Leadership Position Terms - For many volunteers, especially board members, there is an inherent need to 'get something done' during their term in office.  While this drive is to be applauded and we certainly don't want leaders that take office solely for the title or line on their resume, the desire to 'do' can often conflict with logical arguments to pause and let plans in action run their course.

2. "Me too! Me too!" - Another association or two are piloting a program or approach shift.  Well, if they are doing it, don't we have to do it as well?  Maybe the association will also take a similar course, but to do so simply because someone else is without taking the time to evaluate if it is a good fit with your association is a mistake.

3. The ROI of Waiting - While choosing to hold back on an action should be a researched/informed decision, ultimately it is still difficult to prove the ROI of waiting.  Whether it comes to the explanation of financial statements at the end of the fiscal year or if it makes an annual review a more difficult conversation, the return on avoiding loss is a much more complicated discussion and explanation.

Inaction - a Calculated Decision 

When we are talking about choosing temporary inaction, there should be extra emphasis on the word 'choosing.'  Not taking action based on missed communication, ineffective time management or forgetting is not a calculated decision.  A decision to wait needs to be based on an action - a decision made after surveying the environment and resources at hand that leads to the conclusion that waiting will produce better results in the long term.  Here are just a few reasons why an association may decide to wait:

1. Prioritizing Resources - If there are only 2 million things that an association can do at a time, and do them all well, then there should be careful evaluation when project 2 million and one arises. Is it more important that any of the other agenda items, and if so what is going to be put on hold until there is more time?  Choosing to hold off on a lower-priority program rather than continually adding to-do's when resources are already maxxed out is a good decision.

2. Short Term Only Success - A new shiny model arises, and a number of other associations jump right into the mix.  There is a fine line with being behind the curve, and waiting to see how an experimental model is going to work out beyond the initial start period.  An example of this is the concept of free membership.  Could this be the way that the association world goes eventually?  Maybe.  Is it a viable choice now - yes, if you can demonstrate that the revenue loss from membership dues is found in non-dues income and a larger membership participation.  From what it sounds like at this moment, many organizations that have been trying this option have not found this success just yet - so while we may all need to look at alternate membership models, if an association chose to wait a little longer to implement this one, they would certainly have good reason to do so.

3. Lack of Volunteer Leadership Support - Ultimately, we are volunteer-led associations that exists for the professionals we serve.  If association staff move forward on major initiatives that are in conflict with what the majority of the volunteer leadership feels is the right way to go, that will damage the important relationship that exists between the two.  Hopefully, if staff feel that a certain program is to the benefit of the association and is needed for continual improvement and growth, they can work with those volunteer leaders to get a lay-leader voice and champion and eventual approval.  Choosing to wait to make sure that you have volunteer support for initiatives is one way to ensure an ongoing relationship of cooperation and respect.

Waiting may not be easy, but in the right situation it can be the best choice at hand.  We should not dismiss choosing to pause if it will benefit our associations in the long run - we should just be able to explain if and when we are going to hit play again.


  1. Lowell, I like your points about the difference between inaction and choosing to wait. You have built a well-formulated case.

  2. Thanks Jay - I appreciate the feedback!

  3. The philosophy here is a very common philosophy in business. In fact, I really started out my career learning from the retail billionaire, Les Wexner, who founded Limited Brands. I worked in investor and government relations there and his philosophy was always to crawl, walk, run - and that’s an excellent approach in the association world as well. Sometimes you’ve got to start slowly and wait until it’s time to take action. I think there is great pressure for associations to always show its members that they are providing value. I also believe that sometimes, people confuse activity with results. So, while I love the concept here, ‘Knowing when to hold them,’ associations also have to make sure that they communicate why that’s part of the strategy. One of the best ways to do that is make sure that they have a current and dynamic strategic planning process and that they get everyone involved