Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Associations and their Dysfunctional Groups

Prior to doing a presentation yesterday, I sat in on the program immediately prior to mine -- the "Abilene Paradox" -- A DVD program described as "Jump in the car and hit the road to Abilene. What you'll find is a road littered with anger, frustration, blame and failure. It's a journey during which deeply held, logical values fall victim to group dynamics, a road that takes you to group consensus where there is none." It teaches how to "avoid false consensus, overcome the fear of speaking out, encourage effective decision-making within a group."

In the film a family ends up in Abilene for dinner, a long, hot drive away, because no one said they didn't want to go - as they assumed everyone else wanted to go. Then discover when they get home that no one wanted to go.

Roundtables were asked to discuss dysfunctional group buy-in to decisions at their own associations and why it happened. And, no surprise, everyone had examples -- here's a few --

1. Committee afraid to hurt the feelings of the chairman who liked an idea so much, so they met for nearly two years to discuss the idea because they liked him (not the idea);
2. Group agreed with the loudest voice;
3. Immediately called staff "obstructionist" for suggesting negatives - so rallied around that;
4. One committee member talks incessantly so everyone voted yes so he'd stop talking and they could move on to something else;
5. The bigger the group the less likely people are to speak out;
6. Didn't want to make their friend mad, so complained about issue before and after the meeting/vote but said nothing during discussion part of vote;
7. Social events that no one enjoys or attends continue because "we can't be the ones who vote to kill it";
8. Want to be on a committee, but don't want to show up. Like having it for their resume or to get meeting materials - but not the actual participation part;
9. .... and many others.

And we wonder why we can't explain our jobs to anyone? Anyone on their way to Abilene?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Answers to "What's your greatest weakness"

From time to time I help prep someone for an interview: which could be for a job, college entrance, or volunteer position. And always get stuck on the "what's your greatest weakness" question. Unfortunately it's important to plan for that one as it likely will be asked.

Most common given are: "I'm a perfectionist", "I'm a workaholic";

Ones I like: "I'm sometimes too hard on myself when I make mistakes", "Sometimes I care too much", "I wish I had more patience for those who don't work as hard as they could";

Joke answers are risky (in my opinion) - for example, "chocolate", "physics", "kryptonite"; as is trying not to answer - "I'd rather focus on positives";

Today on a flight I found 3 more good responses in the "Cubicle Coach" section of Marie Claire (Aug '08) magazine: "I over research", "I can take on too many projects", "I'm too eager to help my colleagues".

Any good answers not noted?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The life and times of a dues decrease

Something unique happened this week - my association's budget committee voted to recommend decreasing dues significantly. With rising costs and decreasing membership (which rise and fall with economic conditions) what they really wanted to do, before even looking at individual line items, is cut dues.

Years ago a minister made a comment in a sermon that stuck with me, "there's no such thing as a church with too much money, only too little vision." It applies to associations too, as there's an enormous number of things that can be accomplished with more money. But sometimes it's not about more.

These are the discussion points against a dues increase:

1. A dues decrease is a bad precedent as may be expected future years too;
2. The year after a dues decrease is painful as it may mean a dues increase;
3. A dues decrease could send a backfire message that you overcharged them;
4. A dues decrease could give money from prior years to those in future years (that argument can be made with any reserve spending);
5. A dues decrease removes the ability to take available funds and do something "great" with them;

OR ... as happened this week ... the discussion that appealed to the committee (starting the first few minutes of the meeting): If in a bad economy, and everyone is suffering, and everyone has large costs ahead ... the thought was to have focus on cutting member costs and not trying to figure out how to do more with their money at the current level. (Note: depending on organizational cash reserves this is less difficult for some organizations than others.)

They started by reducing dues, and then looked at the line items and other ways that could make it happen.

Should organizations do what they can to reflect the conditions being experienced by their membership? Does that mean doing less with less?

[Note: the recommendation has not yet been considered by the Board of Directors, so only a recommendation at this point]

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Prize philanthropy: Asking everyone to solve problems

One of today's top emailed stories in the New York Times online showcases the use of paid collaboration to solve problems - and everyone in the world is invited to participate. While some say collaboration is not about the money, there just happens to be prize money for solving complex problems in the range of $10,000 - $300 million. The thought is those with one set of skills and expertise may be uniquely qualified to identify a solution to an issue in an entirely unrelated industry. Such as mechanical engineers or computer gamers solving biology questions.

Key quotes in the article entitled "If You Have a Problem, Ask Everyone" ....

* "the further the problem was from the solver’s expertise, the more likely they were to solve it, often by applying specialized knowledge or instruments developed for another purpose ... "

* "Offering prizes for scientific achievements is hardly new. It has been around for centuries ...”

* "One critical element is encouraging organizations to take novel innovation approaches in the first place."

* " .. many nonprofit organizations had difficulty dealing with intellectual property rights and related issues. InnoCentive deals with these issues, in part, by requiring winning solvers to transfer intellectual property rights to the seekers, whose identities are secret, before they can claim an award. "

Application to associations:

* Appoint members to committees outside their area of expertise and watch what happens; (e.g., I was on a MOLD work group once - and was surprised at what I could contribute);

* How insular are requests to solve problems? And why not incentivize solutions to even smaller problems? (e.g., we once needed a particular image for a legislative handout, emailed the membership that evening, offered an incentive, and had what we wanted in the morning - actually many to choose from; or offer gift cards to colleagues to provide creative ideas for something you're working on - post it on a listserve);

The term InnoCentive uses on their site is "prize philanthropy";

* What really matters in associations is outcomes. Like scientists, associations do specific problem-solving, we don't just sit around talking about it. Could we model our approaches after other success-based categories?

And I'll admit that even when given the opportunity. there's a strong chance that I'm not the person who's going to solve either a fossil fuel or amino acid problem.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ay-yi-yi - When the Association didn't want to be on YouTube

An association learned about social media the hard way: Against their will. An attendee taped an event and posted it on YouTube. No one knew they were being taped and there was no ill-will intended, but it caused embarrassment. The person who posted the video took it down upon request - but what if she didn't? How many people might have viewed/saved it before it was removed?

The experience was so negative the association was concerned about using any video for any purpose. And it caused discussion about other social events and what they might reasonably expect in the future - along with what was entirely unreasonable to believe they can control.

For example, consider association events sometimes used for fundraising or entertainment: hypnotists, talent shows, "beauty pageants", karaoke, etc. -- where professional business people agree to participate. If anyone in the room with a camera-enabled cell phone, digital camera or video camera can easily videotape/photograph participants, those moments can land on YouTube. Do attendees consider that others could later watch what they did at that event?

False thoughts:

1. Thought: YouTube is so big, the video won't be found. False. Because of the way tags are used, and ease of searching, if the association has its own videos on YouTube, then the "unauthorized" videos may also show up for viewers too (as "similar").

2. Thought: Announcing that no one is allowed to tape any portion of the event means that no portion of the event will be taped. False. Absent scanning attendees for electronic devices AND taking them away, not exactly clear how any association can stop it from happening.

3. Thought: That attendees know (or care) they should not "report" certain information on YouTube, blogs, Twitter or any other mass-posting method. False. Those engaged in social media sometimes forget (or don't care) that everyone else in the world may not want something reported just because something happens. There may be increased use of confidentiality agreements at meetings - just to remind attendees about expectations of confidentiality. But, a quick chat with the association attorney may make it clear if those are wishful documents or ones that have a real repercussion.

Should associations make decisions about our events, functions and meetings in the future realizing anything that happens could be minutes away from YouTube?

Monday, July 21, 2008

And the reason we care about the weather is .. ?

Have you noticed that when there's dead time waiting for people to show up on a conference call that everyone automatically starts talking about the weather?

There's a need for universal guidance on ways to sound engaging or charming during the conference call wait (which can turn into the very extended conference call wait). Surely there's an alternative to everyone greeting the new arrival call with a hello: "hi bob, hi bob, hi bob, hi bob, hi gail, hi gail, hi gail, hi gail" - or the dreaded "so what's the weather in (fill in city)?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Scoble, Cuban, Trump ... and Me

My blog is among nonprofit blogs on Alltop.com, but started noticing the frequency of when the referring site to my blog is egos.alltop.com versus nonprofit.alltop.com ..... So WHAT is Egos? It's an aggregation of sites on Alltop.com "featuring the mouths, minds and egos of folks like Scoble, Cuban, Trump and Winer" .... um, and Cindy Butts? Apparently I'm right up there in "mouth, mind and ego" with Seth Godin, Ann Coulter and Rosie O'Donnell too.

So I hunted around on the headlines for my fellow ego blog notables, and found these random recent posts that may be of interest to you:

1. Scott Adams (who writes Dilbert) writes about his recent surgery to correct an unexpected problem with his vocal cords/speaking voice;

2. Seth Godin suggests anyone who sends out an email needs to have a way for the person who gets the email to comment or respond back. I entirely agree with that. Hate those "do not respond to this" emails that give no option whatsoever for contact;

3. Chris Brogan has 50 blog topics marketers can write for their companies. Good topics for association articles too. Examples: "6. Some tricks that may keep you from needing support; 14. What goes into our decision process; 24. Sometimes, we have to say no."

4. Jason Kottke links to a "New Yorker" article: "14 Passive-Aggressive Appetizers". OH MY GOD - a hilarious must read. Here's the first 3: "1. Top thick slices of country bread with fresh goat cheese. Sprinkle with herbs and bake until crusty; serve to everyone but Jeff.
2. Vegetarian friends? Try veggie rumaki: wrap a strip of imitation bacon around a water chestnut, spear with a toothpick, and broil—but instead of imitation bacon use real bacon, and instead of a water chestnut use veal.
3. Steal Cheryl’s famous potato-salad recipe. When Cheryl asks, 'Why did you steal my recipe?,' say, 'I don’t know, Cheryl, why did you break my heart?' Then laugh so she knows you’re just kidding."

I am absolutely going to do something with this related to association management - either passive-aggressive techniques used by association execs or how to spot passive-aggressive techniques used by volunteers.

5. Robert Scoble points to a tool to help you calculate "how much time you're wasting on Twitter";

6. Mark Cuban discusses the importance of balancing paid and free, especially in digital age. Entitled, "Free is only good if someone else is paying for it."

Since our profession covers such a wide array of topics, there's a wide array of places to look for and find info. And it's not all about social media this and social media that (thank goodness.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Find the person who makes you say yes

A fundraiser for a major political program said something today that I believe sums up how we can effectively recruit the best volunteers; and how we can effectively raise money: Find the person who makes them say yes. That's the one who needs to ask.

We all have those people in our lives and in our careers. We don't say no to them because we don't want to say no to them. Whatever the ask is.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Word of the Day: Duende

OK, who knows what the word "duende" means? I was reading an article about Greg Norman shooting an even-par round of 70 in the British Open golf tournament and it includes this: "... but Norman at 53 still has a presence — a duende, if you will — that is hard to put into words. So you simply must watch, and when the viewing is as splendid as it was on a demanding day for golf ... "

A duende? So I looked it up: "a person with a sense of flamenco in their artistic soul", and "Duende is a difficult-to-define phrase used in the Spanish arts, including performing arts."

I'm not entirely clear that I will recognize it if someone has duende; but I'm sure going to tell whoever that if I do find it.

It's nothing personal. Um, yes it is.

Have you ever noticed that anything that starts with "it's nothing personal" almost always follows with something that absolutely is personal?

The phrase "it's nothing personal" is meaningless. If it wasn't personal why would someone think to need to note it's not personal? The reason: because it is. They know it, and you know it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

CNN: Lessons from reflection

While working in a hotel room noticed that CNN was showing a replay of an interview with the 3 American hostages who had been rescued after more than 5 years of captivity in Columbia. It instantly got my attention not only because of the storytelling skills of the men but also in the profound lessons they communicate, and the evidence of genuine friendship exhibited through their body language.

Since they had years to reflect, this is what they learned:

* Before capture, had been moving through life too fast, at full speed - know family is most important;

Here's the full quote: "Before this [I] was a guy that was kind of a typical American guy that was working, busy working, running through a life full-speed. I had a little boy when we crashed that was 5 years old, another one 15. Had a wife who was back in the States; we just got a house. I had 12 nights in the house of my dreams in the States. And suddenly, we drop off the face of the Earth. When you're in our situation, we realize what's important. We know. The three of us know better than any of you guys out there, it's the family. And I'd like everyone to listen very closely to that."

* Appreciation for small things (even a glass of water);
* Desire to make real a dream of going across this country, slowly -- and seeing/appeciating America;
* Remembrance that there are other people who give us freedom and safety.

Watch the 20-minute interview (it's absolutely worth the time.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Team building exercise: One to cheer about

In a very daring move as a facilitator I decided to try a new team building exercise with a group today: Cheering. (... just in the mood to try something new ... )

I divided the group of 25 into 5 groups of 5. Gave each group a different message. Told them they had to create a 4-6 line CHEER related to the topic - and then they had to DO the cheer. And I said if anyone was an introvert they had to at least clap or move their head or something with the rest of their group. They had 8-10 minutes to create. Big success. Very creative, very funny - only used minimal amount of time - and the entire room had a monumental amount of positive energy for the start of the strategic planning session.

For example, these are messages I had them cheer about:
1. What the members really want
2. Ending member apathy
3. Now's a great time to buy real estate
4. Give to the political action committee

It was very fun.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Least fun way to increase membership meeting attendance

There's a new blog in town: Ryan Tucholski, a Gen Y REALTOR Association Executive. In this post he discovers an age-old truth: the best way to significantly increase attendance at a membership meeting is to propose a bylaws change. Crazy, but true. And always true.

So check out Ryan's blog; and/or subscribe to it. And kudos to Ryan for his work on the National Association of REALTORS Generation AE Group (he co-chairs with AE Terry Penza.)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Committees: Using Open Calls

Tried an open call for a committee meeting where everyone in membership was informed they were welcome to participate - and given the date, time and location. Got a very knowledgeable group who made excellent recommendations; and participants included those we would not have thought to invite. However, it was a really small group.

If we ask 10 specific people to participate in a live meeting, typically about 8 are able to do it. If we openly invite 4700 we get less than that? Although I'm not sure if we had invited 10 specific people if they would have done a better job than the ones who self-identified for participation.

If you've tried it, did you get similar or different results?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Useful Google Shortcuts

Found these Google tips on BlogWell, and now use routinely.

In the Google search bar ....

1. Weather: type the word weather followed by a city name or zip code, such as weather paris

2. Basic calculator: type the formula right in, such as 12 + 80 or 12% of 90

3. Measurements and conversions: type the word in to differentiate, such as for currency 80EURO in USD

4. Package tracking: type provider acronym first (FedEx, UPS, USPS), reference number second. Such as FedEx 987655112

5. Flight status: type airline and flight number, such as Delta 1212

6. Definitions: type define: then the word, such as define: wistful

They're so easy!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The big turn-off ...

Today at an out of state advisory meeting, the conference table had many laptops, cell phones and blackberries of attendees (including mine). The organizer asked us to turn everything off saying, "I don't want to sit up here talking and watch all of you working all day." And I'm sure most if not all of us actually did plan to work throughout the meeting. But we didn't. And everyone did seem more engaged in the conversation; and there wasn't the continuous running out of the room to "take a call" that seems to happen now.

It wasn't that long ago when we were able to routinely have discussions without distractions.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Can we be as good as Zappos?

While watching Nightline, I actually found myself getting depressed about a story on how good Zappos (mainly online shoes) is as a company. Would it be easy to operate like that, or hard?

Imagine being so customer-focused that you'd intentionally send your customers to a competitor if you didn't have a product; offer new employees cash to leave (to test their commitment); ensure that every single phone call is handled with techniques from the best customer service training; and be able to give employees 100% knowing that it can pay off in the long run? Well that's what Zappos apparently does.

Here's a few things I wrote down while watching the report:

1. Brand is customer service;
2. If don't have a product, find on other site and direct customer to competitor;
3. Expose employees to every part of the business (e.g., how warehouse works);
4. 4-week telephone training class for all employees, even if don't use phone much;
5. Provide 100% coverage for health and dental - and free food;
6. Don't outsource to other countries;
7. Offer trainees $2000 to leave - because only want to keep those with passion.

Reminded me that it was the same company Seth Godin wrote about where employees are kind just to be kind; such as this story where a woman was grieving and to make her life easier Zappos arranged for UPS to come pick up the shoes (they don't charge for shipping either direction). Also sent her a bouquet of flowers. And she burst into tears being a "sucker for kindness" and told everyone to order shoes from them.

Can we be as good as Zappos? Or even sort of as good?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Feeling mean? Try a little happiness.

Feeling mean? Try a little happiness ...

1. Work nice with co-workers. ASAE has a stressful case study (online and in their magazine) of staff who snipe at each other all day - to the point it's even obvious to the officers and volunteers. Who could stand working someplace like that, or volunteering with that kind of attitude around them? I find when staff becomes mean there's typically something personal going on in their lives and they take that out on other people; or they believe that someone else is making too many mistakes or not working hard enough and it's how they try to draw attention to it. And those situations do need to be addressed. There is nothing that drains the energy of everyone as an office culture of open conflict. It's fine to allow varying opinion on specific projects as to how to proceed, but not nasty comments to each other.

2. Play nice with others. This quote from a really good article on the Inman real estate blog, "I am uncomfortable being on the receiving end of mean, and not just because sticks and stones hurt like a son of a gun. My generation was a generation of Eddie Haskells. We were taught to feign niceness even when we were ornery to the core. Now we seem to think nothing of confrontation; it is simply a communicative tool, one used to reinforce a pecking order. Except, I personally have never felt better for having made another feel worse." I agree that even if you have to pretend to be nice, that it's better than an outcome of being mean. Unfortunately there will be volunteers who make a sport of being mean, always looking for something to criticize - but that's not something that can be changed by being mean back. A tip: if you smile before you pick up the phone it changes your voice.

3. Find ways to remember even little things that make you happy. It is sometimes difficult when too busy, too many negative calls, a bad economy to focus on happy things. I joined a cairn terrier group on Facebook and added a live mini-webcam of the Eiffel Tower to my iGoogle page. Sometimes just seconds of an image can snap you back into happiness.

Try a little happiness ...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Excellent Social Media Case Study: Sea World

Was thrilled to find a case study post where an organization (Sea World San Antonio) reviews what they did with social media and their Return on Investment. Objective was to increase public interest and visits in a new land/water theme park roller coaster, Journey to Atlantis.

1. Identified influential blogs and forums in coaster community;
2. Treated them as a VIP audience, and accepted idea of negative posts;
3. Developed content-rich destination site, and expandable URL;
4. Created 11 videos, 45 pictures - utilized creative commons, sharing sites, and made easy for bloggers;
5. Invited bloggers to media launch, and among first to ride it;
6. Identified ways to measure relationships;
7. Conducted surveys and other measurements to develop cost of social media (22 cents cost per impression vs. $1 per impression with television);
8. Quantified the value social media brought (in this case, $2.6M in revenue).

A separate link gives these ideas about continued relationships with enthusiasts: "What could they do better? Sea World should involve the coaster enthusiasts to help design, build, and promote the next generation coaster. Sea World could also sponsor their site, hold an event for them, and figure out other ways to make them brand ambassadors."

There is plenty in here for associations to think about, and use.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Never forget these 6 words ...

It's their association and their money.

From Carolyn G's presentation

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The East Coast Advantage

Last night I remembered I needed to call a French Consulate, but it was already 7PM so I figured too late for Boston. So I called the consulate in San Francisco as still business hours there. And got what I needed.

When it's after business hours on the East Coast, you can still find people in their offices in other parts of the country (such as, Federal agencies, department stores, real airport ticket offices, etc.) Even called Hawaii once because too late for California office hours.

Feel really smart when I think to do that. Maybe everyone on the East Coast does?