Sunday, December 23, 2007

How to Break 6 Association Habits

A local AE told me something I found shocking: she and her husband don't have their own side of the bed. Any given night either might sleep on either side. Are they the only couple in history with this approach? Is the only reason some of us can sleep at night because of habits, including the ones in our own associations? Or is a reason some can't sleep at night because of habits?

Many association activities, programs and schedules are not driven by bylaws or policies, but rather driven by habit and culture. Officers, members and particularly staff can get very accustomed to the same routines, without thought to value or alternatives.

6 Association Habits to break and how to do it:

1. Don't allow any speaker to speak beyond a scheduled time. I tell all speakers in advance we're strict with time schedules. Then literally move to the front of room 3 minutes before deadline and will end it on time, period. The audience is grateful. No one attending a program should have to suffer with an extended program because speaker doesn't manage time correctly.

2. Eliminate the personnel committee if you have volunteers "helping" you manage or evaluate staff. I believe this is one of the top two issues that determines if you really are a CEO or not. Do you go to their office and evaluate their support staff? That's the reason to give. I would not have accepted my position if I didn't have full authority for staff decisions. That committee is not one of those things that has to continue forever because it's always been there. And the truth is the only reason they may be doing it is because it started years ago, and no one ever suggested stopping it -- not because the officers necessarily think it's the best system either.

3. Look at how much time you give to governance and see if you're meeting anyone's needs with it. Try filed reports instead of verbal reports, and if you file a report for god's sake don't give it verbally too. Time commitment a key reason some of the most talented will not participate. Try emailing the entire membership updates, rather than require those attending live meetings to hear reports. Historically, my association had an annual membership meeting during our annual convention that took more than an hour - mainly due to numerous verbal reports. I learned other associations had that same meeting in 15 minutes by consolidating into written reports or adding bullets to a sole president's report. We tried it and then surveyed attendees. 98% liked the shorter format. We could have gone to eternity scheduling the same long meeting the same way.

4. Stop forcing president to be spokesperson on every association topic. Reporters call all the time on many topics and never once have they insisted "I must talk with the president of the association", they just want SOMEONE to talk with who knows the topic. The president as spokesperson is not media driven, it's internal association driven. One thing we've learned from media consultants is the public doesn't know what "association president" means but it doesn't sound like a practitioner. Consider giving president the option to interact with the media or not - and identify issues spokespeople, regional spokespeople, and those excellent in front of a camera/microphone to speak. Is the intent to have message delivered best manner possible or to help build skills of one person in front of everyone?

5. Have more doing than planning. Last year I facilitated a strategic planning meeting where the entire association staff was exhausted and the volunteers frustrated. One thing I found was there were 4 staff and 240 meetings - mostly monthly committee meetings. One committee reviewed several hundred awards applications but no one wanted to show up for the awards ceremony except the recipients. Serious meetings mania. Of course staff had no time to implement, they were constantly involved with committee meetings. Try changing monthly meetings to quarterly meetings, replace multi-month deliberations for "one day" deliberations. Reasons to try it: gasoline prices, many volunteers don't want to commit that kind of time so will never attract a portion of membership, better decisions, there needs to be time to implement.

6. If attendance at meetings is dropping, start reducing frequency. Number of meetings scheduled may be driven by the need to secure facility space in advance so rather than discuss if there's a different way to do something, or eliminate entirely, the facility contract is already signed and it's a go without thought. Before you sign all those contracts, try removing one ... then maybe two ... then maybe three. If your members want those meetings, they'll be there and you wouldn't be discussing how to get them there. If they're not showing up they're not going to miss the meeting you never hold. And you'll have time to implement things the members MIGHT care about.

How many habits are never broken because no one thinks to change or desire to avoid the potential discomfort change brings?

If afraid to try any of the above, here's an assurance you can give: if it doesn't work out, we can always change back. Because you can.

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1 comment:

jdecagna said...

Cindy, I'm going push back a little bit on #1. As someone who has been on both sides of the challenge you're describing, I think a more flexible approach is in the best interest of the learner.

With short breaks, unrealistic travel times and in-room announcements, sessions often end up shortened through no fault of the speaker. And, if a session goes five minutes beyond the appointed time because the participants are engaged in a good conversation, I don't see anything wrong that.

I agree that speakers who allow sessions to drag far beyond scheduled end times aren't doing their jobs. But the goal of our meetings is (or should be) to support learning, and that is not an outcome that conforms to our preset schedules.