Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Board Guidelines for Creating an Effective Global Strategy

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

It is common to find that boards of directors and their staff are out of step with each other on the topic of globalization. Here are two ways in which this happens.

Should a board’s responsibility stop at the national border? While the staff is usually the first to see market growth opportunities, boards rightfully see themselves as custodians of their association’s resources and representative of the interests of current members. As such it is sometimes difficult for boards of directors to allow association resources to be spent on developing markets outside the home base of most of their members. How can they justify to themselves, much less their members, a decision to spend time and money developing markets in other countries that may be their own rivals? In these times of chronic high unemployment this concern has to weigh heavy on everyone’s mind.

When a board makes globalization a priority, as many do, resources can be stretched to the breaking point! How does an organization with limited resources expand to meet the needs of a market that could literally encompass the globe? Some organizations have consciously made the decision to embrace globalization by creating a board of directors from different parts of the world who then feel obliged to include global expansion opportunities in everything that they do. And if this is not done in a business-like manner, the organizational stresses that this can create can lead to a whole host of problems, including high staff turnover, strained budgets, and weakened brands.

These complex issues can be rendered manageable if volunteer and professional leadership remember to focus first and foremost on meeting the needs and understanding the trends of the market(s) they serve. Here are some guidelines based on the hard-won experience of others!

  • Meeting the current needs of your members is absolutely a prerequisite—but don’t jump to conclusions, you might be surprised at how globally-attuned your “domestic” membership might actually be. Time and again associations with “national” or “American” in their name make the mistake of assuming that their base of operations should be confined to the home soil only to find their membership drifting away in favor of organizations that are more attuned to their growing global market needs. People, organizations and nations as a rule do best when they are free to interact with others like themselves. Confinement is not a natural state. So do your homework, study the interests of your members on a regular basis, track their trends, and be sure to be there where and when they need you.
  • There are over 190 countries in the world today and the number is growing. So where are the opportunities? Where should you be, if you can’t be everywhere at once? It is amazing how haphazardly some organizations make their decisions as to which markets they choose to expand into—their globalization “plan” is purely opportunistic, and as such is a recipe for failure! Here are seven measurements you should be making of each and every international market opportunity:
  1. The absolute size of the market
  2. Presence of competitors who are fulfilling the market needs as well or better than you could
  3. Presence of potential strategic partners who might be interested in collaboration
  4. Affinity with your home market in terms of culture, language, and trade relations
  5. Growth trends in your sector of their market
  6. Success of similar organizations in entering the market
  7. Expected ROI within a three-year time frame
Rank each of these seven criteria for each market on a scale of one to four and then average the whole (weighting those points that you deem are more important than others) and see how various national markets compare with each other. From this exercise you can prioritize markets and thereby ensure you are focusing your organization’s resources effectively.

  • Finally, think like a businessperson. Demand hard market data and make your decisions accordingly. Give your investments time to pay off but ensure that they do. If your organization is providing valuable resources to meet market need you will find buyers willing to pay fair market prices—a rule that is as true anywhere else in the world as it is in your home market.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Governance: A Source of Energy--or Dead Weight?

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Does your volunteer leadership see its duty primarily to represent the interests of groups within your membership? Or does a significant portion of your leadership see their responsibility as ensuring the organization does not stray from its historic roots? I have been part of organizations where one or both have applied--perhaps you have too? When such tendencies dominate, it can be an energy-draining experience…..

This is not to say that governance bodies should not be representative—they should. Nor is it to say organizations should not be mindful of their origins and founding philosophies—this indeed can be a source of strength. But I have observed that organizations that are not called to achieve something that is greater than the sum of their parts can find themselves bogged down in numbing meetings rehashing and replaying roles from the past.

“Form follows function” of course; restructuring your governance apparatus (including sometimes sacrosanct committee structures) does not make sense unless you have a consensus on what your organization is all about and that this purpose is worthy of the time and energy and resources that are going into it. It is only when you have found or re-found this energizing purpose that you should ask if you have the proper structures for achieving it; and if you find they are no longer suitable, you should be merciless in changing them!

Too often organizations die of wounds inflicted by their own structures and mind-sets that were suitable for another time and other circumstances perhaps but not so much for the present. Economist Joseph Alois Schumpeter won the Noble Prize for his theory of “creative destruction”—that organizations that are ill-suited to a changing environment are inevitably destroyed, to be replaced by ones that are better able to respond to these new challenges and opportunities. But it is generally sad to see things die—particularly when you are on the inside!

Like people, some organizations are prematurely old while other organizations that may be a hundred years old or more are as vigorous and fresh as if they were created yesterday. In which category does your organization fall?

Monday, December 22, 2014


By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Virtually every association membership survey our firm has undertaken over the past 17 years has shown that members most appreciate the local contacts they have with their association--as opposed to their relationship with the more distant national headquarters or even more distant international headquarters operations, if they have one. “Out of sight, out of mind” certainly holds true at this level. This means that in gathering and keeping members organizations that have an existing chapter network usually have a built-in advantage over organizations that do not.

But, having said this, we also know of many instances where either unruly or dormant chapters can cause mangers back in headquarters to pull their hair out in frustration. So which is it?—are chapters useful, or are they a management pain-in-the-neck?

The truthful answer is “both.” Chapters are an incredibly good tool for mobilizing the grassroots, and finding and keeping new members; but they are far from being maintenance-free. Those organizations that have the best chapter networks have understood that they are dependent on fallible, time-strapped, volunteers who mean well but who often lack the experience, knowledge and resources to do lead their chapters the way they might like; so headquarters has a big role to play if these well-meaning volunteers are not to end up embarrassed, harassed and bitter at their experience.

Well-run chapter networks have the following:

  • A team or at least a person back at headquarters dedicated to working with the chapters
  • A leadership recruitment plan for identifying and cultivating future chapter leaders
  • A leadership training program designed to equip chapter leaders with the skills and knowledge they will need to do their jobs effectively
  • A tracking mechanism through which chapters can compare their performance 
  • A list-serve through which chapter leaders can learn from each other
  • A “chapter starter’s kit” that includes “best practices” and answers to frequently asked questions as well as a list of dos and don’ts
  • Products and services developed at headquarters but offered through the chapters. (This might include ways in which distant chapters can participate remotely in association meetings and conferences in other parts of the globe.) 
Successful chapters have the additional advantage of keeping headquarters on their toes. It is not uncommon to see large and successful chapters out-shine headquarters on occasion!—but this is a good problem to have.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Stand-Alone or AMC? Or is there a third way?

By Douglas M. Kleine, CAE, Plexus Senior Advisor (this blog is a reprint from 2010 when Douglas was a Plexus client)

A 2010 study by the AMC Institute indicated that AMCs produce higher net income for their clients than staff-managed associations of similar size. The findings seem to hold for association budgets of up to $5 million. The study attributes the difference to what is called pride of independence on the part of staff-managed associations, and that independence coming with a hefty price tag, due to the inefficiencies and overhead burdens of smaller associations.

But is the choice really just between staff-managed stand-alone versus an association management company? Can overhead be reduced and inefficiencies be eliminated another way? Any association that has been a subtenant knows the savings of shared pubic spaces, mail/copy room and kitchen. Plexus Consulting has taken the simple concept of subleasing and enhanced it with the plusses of outsourcing, shared staff, and internal shared phone, data, and accounting systems. Those are the plusses of an AMC, with out the minuses of an AMC, which often entail diminishment of identity, fitting into schedules that have to accommodate other (bigger?) clients, and the enormous loss of institutional memory, relationship history and operational continuity that comes with the elimination of staff in the transition to AMC service.

Plexus’ Incubator Model, retains key association staff as association staff, so the organization can move seamlessly back out on its own with ease and at its own timing. During the incubation period, association employees are assisted by Plexus staff as needed. There need be no database conversion, phone line conversion or new personnel system. If financial management is needed, Plexus can operate in any of the major software systems from Quick Books to ??(Solomon?). Plexus can also step in on activities that are seasonally stressful to staff, such as conferences, calendar membership billings, annual reports and elections.

Stand-alone or AMC is a false choice when associations can choose a third way through the Plexus Incubator Model.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Association Guide to Going Global: An Introduction

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC


You know when you are global when:

  • Your organization feels as “at-home” in any one culture or in any one part of the globe as in another;
  • Your customers and stakeholders view your organization as “a local organization” wherever they and you may be in the world;
  • Your organization is able to sift through local trends and ways of doing things to identify what has potential on a global scale, and is able to apply global trends and strategies effectively at the local level everywhere in the world;
  • As markets rise and fall, you are able to shift resources fluently from one to another so that your overall organization continues to thrive and produce intellectual property that is wanted and needed throughout the world.

In other words, being global assures you act as and are perceived to be a citizen in every community of the world, that you are able to bring resources to bear when and where there are opportunities, and that you are adept at recognizing and addressing trends in customer needs and wants on a local as well as a global scale. Isn’t this the formula for any successful organization?

These qualities most certainly characterize successful organizations at the local or national level; so in one regard, globalization is mostly just a matter of scope--but what scope it is! When the world’s cultural, ethnic, linguistic, legal, and political differences are all thrown together on one playing board we have a game with moving parts that is more complex than playing three dimensional chess. Then, just to make it interesting, throw into the mix the differences in financial, educational, and technological means from one country to another—not to mention the challenges of distance and sheer geographical differences—and you have a very intimidating picture indeed!

Is anyone able to win at such a complex game? Yes, every day. In fact these are the organizations that touch every aspect of our lives, from the products we use and consume to the healthcare treatment we receive, the global flow of products and services and the ideas they contain are all the result of organizations that have been conceived to satisfy our wants and needs. If they are not global themselves they are linked in to organizations that are.

The global sharing of ideas and competition among people and organizations on a global scale can and do result in discoveries—including new cures for old diseases, and better products at less cost. Few energy sources are greater than those that can successfully harness the minds and creativity of the six billion human souls that inhabit our planet—or a portion thereof! But of course, globalization is not all sunshine and roses. If your particular product or service is not among the best then globalization can be a painful experience—as news about plant closings and business failures tell us every day. So the trek toward becoming a global organization can be seen to be as much defensive as it is progressive. If your organization does not find and fill its global niche then the chances are good that someone else, somewhere else will!

Textbooks typically point out that there are three types of transnational organizations: “International” organizations that operate across national boundaries because they buy or sell internationally, have international meetings or alliances, and/or serve stakeholders/members from other countries. In international organizations, there is little customization of goods and services for global customers, and the organization’s business and governance structures are highly concentrated on the domestic market. Customers, whether local or global are treated the same.

“Multinational” organizations that have a sustainable and on-going presence in more than one national market simultaneously. Goods and services may often be customized for a country by country market., and the operational and governance structures may be distributed among and within these targeted countries. Local customers, regardless of location, are the priority, but global customers outside of these markets may only be supported with difficulty. And “Global” organizations that fulfill all four of the characteristics noted above. Goods and services allow for major customization. The business and governance structures are highly networked and distributed. Customers are supported both locally and globally. Unless you have merged your organization into another to become global instantaneously, for most, becoming global is a gradual, stepby-step process in which a domestic organization becomes international, then multinational then global. It is a time-consuming, difficult process, but it is a challenge that this generation cannot refuse. Globalization is something this generation and every generation after us will have to incorporate into their education, mindset and day-to-day living. It is the trend that most defines our times. Those people and organizations that adapt to it best are the ones that will reap the most rewards.

Organizations based in smaller countries with advanced economies have a special advantage in that they are used to dealing with foreign languages and cultures. Cross border transactions are a daily occurrence for them. It is no wonder then that managers from the Netherlands who seem to be multilingual at birth are in much demand as managers in global organizations.

The old joke, told mostly by Europeans, that a person who speaks three languages is called trilingual, a person who speaks two languages is called bilingual and a person who speaks one language is called, you guessed it--an American—contains a sharp bit of truth. When one is born on a continent where well over 300 million people speak the same language and which constitutes the largest economic market in the world, it is easy to be parochial without seeming to be undereducated! Nevertheless for this reason Americans are at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding and operating successfully in a global environment. It is for this reason that this book focuses particularly on the challenges faced by US managers as they grapple with globalization.

This book of course also focuses on associations. While the management tactics and strategies that are discussed here could be and are applied to all sorts of organizations, associations have a particularly important role in globalization, for two reasons. First, associations—and that includes trade associations and professional societies (and other individual membership organizations) as well as chambers of commerce—have played a particularly important role by providing the networking contacts and market intelligence small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) have needed in order to expand as rapidly as they have into global markets. As is discussed in the first chapter SMEs have been the surprise winners in globalization, snatching the prize out from under the noses of the giant but lumbering multinational companies that have not been as nimble in taking advantage of new opportunities in new markets, and associations have a lot to do with this. The second reason why associations deserve special attention is because of the critical role they can and do play in addressing issues of social responsibility that all too often fall in the cracks between the secular interests of national governments and for profit undertakings. To a large extent associations are just now coming into their own; and their effectiveness in this current and future role will be largely defined by how well they have learned to navigate in a global environment.

This book is divided into eight chapters that correspond to those issues or problem areas that naturally crop up whenever a conversation turns to globalization. While sticking to the facts, I also attempt to use personal anecdotes and stories to liven up what some textbooks have turned into a dry topic. Globalization deserves better. It is about flesh and blood, dreams that have been dashed as well as dreams that have resulted in fabulous success. More importantly, it is about a topic that affects all of us. It defines our time, and how we cope with it will determine the quality of our future.

Here is how we will take this journey:

Chapter One: Why Go Global?
This chapter addresses the trends, opportunities and threats of globalization for associations and how successful associations have responded. It also addresses the emerging opportunities that are unique to the association community and what associations need to do to ready themselves for these roles.

Chapter Two: Common Problems that are Encountered
There is enough of a track record now to be able to learn from the successes and failures of others. This chapter attempts to catalogue the lessons that have bee learned so that others may build on them.

Chapter Three: The Structure of the Globalized Association
This chapter addresses the different stages in cross border transactions from international to multinational to global. It also addresses the different structures that have found to be suitable for organizations of varying means and missions. There are as many variations in globalization as there are organizations, but there are some broad models and lessons that have been learned that might serve to structure and inspire others that have faced or are facing similar challenges.

Chapter Four: Funding and Financing
Even the most altruistic associations need funding to fuel global operations. This chapter focuses on those considerations and how successful associations have addressed them.

Chapter Five: Language and Culture
These are the most obvious differences among international markets, yet language and cultural differences continue to be stumbling blocks for individuals and organizations operating across national borders. This chapter discusses some of the gaffs that can happen and how successful managers avoid making them!

Chapter Six: Endeavors in Specific Countries
This chapter discusses the differences between lesser developed, developing and developed economies and how each pose a different set of challenges and opportunities. It also discusses BEMS (Big Emerging Markets) and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the dos and don’ts of entering those markets.

Chapter Seven: Successes and Failures—Other Case Studies
This chapter discusses successful strategies and models that have been used by associations that have expanded globally.

Chapter Eight: Some Final Thoughts on Truly Becoming “Global”
This chapter discusses the nature of the globalization challenge for association managers and why it is a challenge that no manager can ignore.

Monday, December 1, 2014

How to Get your Nonprofit through the Recession: A Checklist for Managers

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Sometimes when in a storm it is useful to have a checklist at hand that serves as a reminder not to forget certain fundamentals. With information overload and all your senses screaming at you, it is easy to lose track of things that in normal circumstances would be “no-brainers” for veteran managers. So to that end I have this handy check list that is divided between “strategic” and “operational” things that a manager needs to keep in mind in the midst of this “Great Recession.”

Re-check your bearings—focus--The world in 2008 when the Great Recession first hit. Maybe you saw it coming, but if so you were pretty much on your own. Few saw the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression coming before it hit. And then, like a tsunami, it just kept hitting. Every quarter that has gone by has brought more bad news…..

So, why is it so many organizations are using strategic business plans from before all this happened? This is like using a map of Washington, DC to find your way around the streets of Paris! Alright, maybe not quite that bad, but still. If you have not done strategic planning in the past year then it is high time to do so. Assess the changes in your strategic environment and adapt your organization’s course accordingly. The direction you were headed in may not be where you should be headed now. Or, at the very least, the ways in which you will get there will have changed. 

Wouldn’t it be nice for you and your stakeholders all to know what that is before you bump into something? Are you operating effectively? Are you hitting your benchmarks—or has your market changed so fundamentally that you need to rethink your approaches? Think of it as aiming at moving targets. Check and recheck and ask yourself fundamental questions—are we doing what we need to do in the most effective way possible? Are we aiming at where the target will be or are we aiming at where it used to be?

Are you operating efficiently? Resources are scarce in the best of times. Waste is always a luxury that no one can afford, but this is particularly true now. Test out your operations, where can you squeeze out more efficiency? Be prepared to see things in a different way—maybe there is a whole new way of doing things that you have never before tried. If so, try it. Now is the time. Too many managers assume a death grip on the steering wheel…staying the course, afraid to try anything new. Try it.

Internal and external communications. Probably the single most important operational function in times of a crisis is communications. Are you communicating effectively with all those shareholders and stakeholders who are critical to you? This includes prospective members and members as well as your board. And it especially includes your staff and any consultants and partners you may have. Don’t assume that just because you are sending them a newsletter that they are receiving the message that you think they are. Communications is a two way street—it takes listeners at both ends, not just one person talking, to achieve it. Communications can be turned into intelligence, and this is always a good thing to have in a crisis.

Reducing expenses
The two biggest items in your budget are salaries and rent. Which activities can be outsourced and which must be handled by staff? Outsourcing almost always reduces expenses while accessing greater expertise. It also provides greater flexibility if you think you may need to change course later. Office rent is a particularly grievous problem now that commercial real estate has actually declined in value this past year. So if you are stuck with a costly pre-recessionary lease—work with a reputable realtor to find ways to reduce this cost.

Are you spending your marketing dollars in the best way possible? Have you trained your staff in the things they could be doing to help market through their own personal and professional networking? DO NOT consider marketing to be an expendable overhead item. It is your organization’s oxygen. Cut that off and you slowly suffocate!

Are there items on your checklist that you think should be included here?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Green – Is it in your Business or Career Plan?

By Nancy Najarian

Whether you are a government contractor looking for new sources of income, an association looking for ways to guide your members, or a frustrated job seeker wondering how to apply your skills to a new type of job, now is a good time to think about green.

The US, state and local governments are moving toward supporting renewable and alternative energy, and energy efficiency through a series of grants, government contracts, and tax credits to individuals and companies. Educational and training opportunities available at community colleges and from associations are becoming more prevalent and accessible. The goal is to prepare a workforce, including displaced housing construction workers and those working in the fossil fuel industries, to take the helm in a green economy. Navigating the opportunities, whether to find a government grant, contract, or retrain your workforce or self can be confusing. Here are a few guidelines with which to begin.

Green Mandate

Green is a mandate for the US government. The General Service Administration’s (GSA) first Chief Greening Officer Eleni Reed told Federal News Radio in an interview on June 15, 2010, "the ultimate goal is to enhance the environmental performance of the GSA portfolio."
- The entire portfolio of public buildings owned and leased by the US government is nearly 10.000 buildings or 361 million square feet.
President Obama’s Executive Order of October 5, 2009 set the stage for the GSA and other federal agencies to implement energy efficiency. Ms. Reed explained that the order, "…sets out specific goals for federal agencies to really drive environmental performance…such as:
- reducing greenhouse gas emissions,
- increasing energy efficiency,
- reducing water consumption, and
- looking at preventing and reducing waste to name only a few.”
How are the GSA, the US military, and other federal entities going to implement these goals? Are there enough manufacturers, installers, and service companies to do the work? How can you capture a portion of this market in the coming years?

Next Step: Grants to Support R&D, and Commercialization of New Technology and Practices

Currently, the federal, state, and local governments are providing grant money to spur the development of renewable and alternative energy sources, and develop energy efficient practices. These grants are available whether you are an individual, educational institution, or for-profit company. A bigger challenge is to bring the results of R&D to the marketplace, and make the US competitive with foreign sources of renewable energy technology and energy efficient practices. To help accomplish this, Congressman Ed Markey introduced an amendment to HR 2454, American Clean Energy and Security Act, passed in June, 2009. Section 171 of the bill proposed Energy Innovation Centers, “to…ensure that the United States maintains a technological lead in developing and deploying state-of-the-art energy technologies.” Despite differences on Cap and Trade voiced during this month’s Senate debate on Climate Change, the need for “a comprehensive energy plan to address a whole host of issues… incentivizing businesses, providing grants and loans to our businesses…” was recognized. (Senator Brown, The Hill, June 16, 2010).
State grant money flowing from the Department of Energy was at first focused on R&D.
However, these grants are increasingly including an element of commercialization.
Foundations and other organizations with grant money are seeking applications to support the start up, incubation, and commercialization of green services, technology, and products. Grant funds are beginning to flow with the intent of bringing into mainstream business energy efficient practices, renewable energy technologies, and companies and trained workers prepared to support green industries.

Government Contracting, Where the Business Is

The US government wants to set an example of green. A mandate to make energy efficient all the federal buildings in the next five years has tasked the General Services Administration, Armed Forces, and other agencies with sourcing and using green contractors to renovate and retrofit their buildings and operations. Fulfilling this mandate with a nascent US green industry will require a workforce and manufacturing sector that is synonymous with all hands on deck. How do you get on board?
- Begin brainstorming as to how your company, association, or individual expertise can be applied to a government contracting company that needs to branch out into this area.
- For a nominal fee begin courses to learn how to transfer your company’s design, construction and/or renovation experience to retrofitting and renovating government owned and leased properties.
- Investigate online the building associations, both national and local, that are offering green certification programs. These programs train individuals in methods, materials, and designs for creating energy savings, using energy efficient practices, and incorporating renewable energy technology into residential and commercial facilities.
- If you are a resourceful person who has advised companies on other managerial, financial, tax, and operational matters consider transferring your skills to advising on green. Companies large and small are seeking ways to reap the benefits from tax credits, federal and state grants, commercial rebates, and green certifications.
One word of caution when embarking on this new venture, do conduct due diligence on any person, company, or educational organization offering you knowledge, licensing, or technology labeled green. Just as in any new industry, you can have good, bad, and so-so experiences. Make yours a good one.
It looks like green, both the color and concept, may help brighten the future for us all.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Helping Your Board to Be More Effective: Five keys for high-level governance

By Virgil R. Carter

Despite the great diversity among non-profit organizations, we all seek effective governance by our boards.

A critical starting point is to recognize what a vital resource time is. Recruiting new board members is challenging because volunteers are concerned about drains on their time. Governing well is critical because a board’s time together is limited. Thus, how you and your board use your time matters.

No one wants to be associated with a governing board that is unsure of its role, unproductive, boring, or contentious. Effective (and enjoyable) governing boards tend to be forward-looking, and provide the maximum effective (and enjoyable) leadership, especially when time is limited. Effective boards tend to focus on the one role that they, and no one else, can fulfill: organizational strategy and priorities designed to fulfill the organization’s mission. What are strategic boards? Strategic boards spend the majority of their time identifying broadly important outcomes, setting priorities, ensuring needed resources and monitoring the way the staff and other volunteers implement major initiatives designed to achieve the desired strategic outcomes.

Here are five steps volunteers may take for an effective, productive, and rewarding governing board.

1. Define success. Establish and practice a shared definition of organizational success. No matter how well an organization may perform in any 12-month period, if it can’t perform effectively year in and year out, it can’t really be called a successful organization. Thus, success has a lot to do with organizational consistency and continuity over time.

2. Understand your core assets. Every organization has core assets. Typically they include: 1) knowledge, 2) community, and 3) advocacy. These are the resources for an organization’s accomplishment of its mission. Volunteers and staff must be strategically focused on the welfare of core assets that cause members and customers to value the organization.

3. Think the unthinkable. Ours is a rapidly changing world in which we face unprecedented competition. To remain both up-to-date and competitive, focus on and prepare for the unthinkable—both opportunities and threats. Effective boards consider the one thing that would most revolutionize their organization and the one thing that would most jeopardize it. Thereafter, boards focus strategically to realize the opportunity and head off the threat.

4. Set priorities and monitor them. Resources are always finite—there are never enough. So develop strategic priorities and communicate what is truly important. To maintain a strategic perspective, boards must think in terms of what is important, not how to achieve results. The staff and others of the organization’s operational side are the ones to be held responsible for executing the action.

5. Establish a respectful staff partnership. The professional staff of an organization offer important resources—so important that it may be impossible for a board to be truly strategic without them. For example, staff members may have access to knowledge, contacts, and resources that may be unknown to a board. The staff is uniquely positioned to help develop and implement a definition of organizational success that’s built upon consistent performance, year after year.

Effective boards are both enjoyable and productive where it matters most: achieving the organization’s mission.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Associations as Investments

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

There’s a saying coined by the French — "the more things change, the more they stay the same." It’s a phrase that, until recently, didn’t apply much to the association world. Outside of perhaps the church, associations were among the only dependable islands of stability in a sea of social and economic change. Association members were loyal and leadership turnover was slight. Associations were, to paraphrase the theme song from "Cheers," places you could go where everyone knew your name.

Those days started to fade during the merger and acquisition frenzy of the 1980s and were definitely relegated to the history books with the arrival of the global economy a decade later. A few years ago, a roundtable conference was held entitled, "Evaluating Trade Association Membership." Executives from major corporations compared notes on how each determined which associations their companies joined. It was fascinating!

All had a similar story. Their budgets had been cut, forcing them to reduce the size of their staffs. And their budgets for association memberships had been cut as well. One executive of a very large corporation reported that her budget had been cut by 30 percent, so she simply told all the associations her company belonged to that they would be cutting their membership dues contributions by the same amount.

Another executive had a different approach. Five years ago, he had a staff of 15. Now that number is reduced to three, yet his company expects him to do the same job he did before with a staff that was five times as large. He saw the company’s association membership, which he controlled, as a way to help him do his job. In fact, he had constructed an "association report card" that helped him evaluate how well an association served his and his company’s needs. Those associations that "failed" were simply cut from the list. Those that "passed" received an additional infusion of funds — depending on how well they scored.

This executive said he used the report card he had invented as a tool for evaluating his company’s "investments" in trade associations. In this era of highly publicized, lean, innovative start-up companies that are aggressively seeking and creating new markets around the world, even those of us who don’t have a dollar invested in the stock market are beginning to know the difference between a good and bad investment.

As nonprofits, associations have long held that they "do well by doing good." Now even this truism has changed. More than ever before associations are not only being compared to for-profit companies, they are competing with them as well.

What association has not had to adapt to some or all of the following trends? For-profit corporations increasingly contributing to and participating in cultural, environmental, and civic causes — subjects that were once the exclusive domains of nonprofits. For-profits attracting away the employees of nonprofits with salaries and benefits packages that are many times more generous. And, for-profits making in-roads into education, training, and certification that all used to be reserved for nonprofit organizations.

Companies, like individuals, are increasingly reluctant to pay dues to a membership organization. They will pay to attend conferences, to purchase books, and to obtain advice; or they will pay for education, training, and certification — but don’t ask them to pay for something as intangible as "membership." Those associations have done best that have succeeded in increasing the ratio of nondues to dues revenues. Many of those that are struggling have not. Associations are becoming providers and sellers of products and services — just like commercial companies — and this, too, is further blurring the line between for-profits and nonprofits.

Many associations are finding that they need to rethink the very reason that they exist. Indeed they should. Their members are. With our economy making ever increasing demands on us, all of us are having to become more circumspect about where we invest our time and resources. Whether we are conscious of it or not, all of us have our own "report cards" in which we evaluate where we invest and where we cut back our investment.

As an association executive, where would you place your association? Are you a "good" investment?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Opportunities in the Face of Declining Membership How to Survive While Dealing with Industry Consolidation

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Like the animated cartoon figures that keep on running on thin air over and past a cliff, until they suddenly realize there is no longer any ground underneath them, assns often continue functioning in a "business as usual" mode until they realize their traditional membership support is not coming back.

While it is funny watching the expression on cartoon figures' faces change the instant before they drop like rocks, it is not so funny watching the decline and fall of assns. As an assn leader who might be faced with declining membership due to mergers and acquisitions, what, if anything, can you do to avoid this fate?

First you should be reassured that your assn is far from being alone when it comes to declining membership. This nearly universal decline in membership, for trade assns and professional societies alike, is due to four overriding trends:

1. Over the past two decades, a globalizing economy has led to increased levels of mergers and acquisitions in virtually every economic sector. Companies are seeking increased efficiencies and are trying to better position themselves to serve and compete in new markets.

2. Technology is changing at an ever-increasing rate causing whole industries to disappear.
Computer leasing is one industry that was thriving in the 1960s, ¹70s and ¹80s when computers were huge and expensive. Now that computers are pocket-sized and affordable this multimilliondollar subsector of the leasing industry disappeared virtually overnight. However, technology is also creating new industries (such as in healthcare with the MRI and PET scan equipment manufacturers and users).

3. As a communications vehicle, the easy to use, inexpensive, and instantaneous Internet has made networking, education and training, business transactions, marketing, and the exchange of ideas affordable and available to virtually everyone. Faced with this reality it is not unusual that the value and relevance of traditional assn membership should be increasingly called into question.

4. A generational aversion to "joining" borne of watching the upward and downward ties of loyalty dissolve between employer and employee. Many younger staffers believe that loyalty does not pay and financial security is based on networking and having and maintaining the skills set and credentials needed to be relevant in a rapidly changing economy. Among many in the younger generation there is perceived to be no intrinsic value in joining an assn; you buy what you want and move on, even if it means paying a nonmember price.

These trends have certainly created a changed scenario for the assn world, but not a totally bleak one. Despite what is happening to the majority, some assns are actually seeing their membership grow. Some assns have indeed benefited from these trends and increased their membership by pursuing niche strategies. Others seem to have resisted the laws of physics and have grown their programs, publications and finances despite declines in membership.

The niche approach includes growth through acquisition - picking off competing assns that have fallen on hard times - or by creating a new assn to serve the needs of a new growth sector in the economy. This approach is not long-term focused - tactical, not strategic. A strategic perspective is needed if an assn is to enjoy any sort of security beyond the next few years.

Managers must realize that while the four long-term trends present undeniable challenges, each also present "critical opportunities" (I use the word "critical" because, to adapt a phrase from "The Godfather," these are opportunities you can't refuse!):

1. Business consolidation is a reality that will continue for the foreseeable future. Rather than pinning their futures on diminishing membership numbers, assns that are thriving are seeking to make themselves indispensable for what they can do that for-profits cannot.
Assns can serve as liaisons between government or the public-at-large and private sector interests; compile industrywide statistics on business, social, human resource, and other economic trends; design and promote professional and manufacturing credentials; and serve as a resource for continuing education and training.
Some assns, seeing declines in their traditional US market, are designing globalization strategies of their own - taking their considerable store of intellectual and financial resources into fast growth markets abroad where sister societies have yet to take root.

2. The pace of technological change will only continue to increase, as will its impact on business and professions. Assns that have adapted best to this have made the change part of their culture.
They annually undertake top to bottom strategic planning, and identify emerging trends.

3. The Internet's impact simply cannot be underestimated. Assn publications are now available through the Internet. Education and training programs, virtual conferences, and networking through listservers and chat rooms are also important services assns can provide. Online testing and certification services are likely to follow. If your assn is not on this train, it should be!

4. Assns that are growing the fastest are measuring growth by users/consumers of products and services and not members. Rather than trying to fight this trend of declining membership loyalty, successful assns have defined themselves according to the market they serve and taken steps to ensure they serve it well.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

CEO Coaching Program

Select Information Gathering, Benchmarking and Coaching Program Launched for Senior Association Executives

(Washington, DC—28 October 2014) Plexus Consulting Group, LLC (Plexus) has launched a new subscription service through which senior managers of nonprofit and public service organizations can match their performance against their peers in a variety of disciplines to be better able to evaluate and improve their skills.  In addition to comparative information gathering and ranking this flat-rate, subscription service includes a variety of confidential networking, research, and coaching services that can be tailored to the needs of “C-suite” executives.

This service is designed to serve as a kind of personal coach and to provide executives answers to the following sorts of questions:

How am I doing compared to my peers?

What are the ways I can get my new ideas across to the board of directors?

What are some new markets I can enter to increase revenue?

How can I use social media more effectively to engage my members?

What are my competitors doing to increase membership base?

How can I make my presentations more lively and encourage overall discussion?

“Such personalized services have been available to the senior executives of for-profit companies for years but until now have been out of the reach of nonprofit managers” said Plexus President Steven Worth.  “We have priced these services at an affordable rate and have invited a select number of senior association managers whom we know well and whom we think would form a solid initial core for building such a peer leadership networking program.

“We have appointed Mr. Suvo Nandi to manage this program.  Suvo has run a similar program for the CEOs of for-profit companies and is well equipped to adapt these proven methodologies to the needs of the nonprofit and public service sector.”

For further information contact:

Mr. Suvo Nandi, MBA
Tel. 202-785-8940

Monday, October 20, 2014

Going Global for all the Wrong Reasons

Post authored by Marian R. Calvin, Vice President Communications for Experient

As event marketers, we hear all sorts of reasons why people need to boost attendance at their annual event. The event, along with its trade show, is the largest source of non-dues revenue for most non-profit associations and often their primary service delivery mechanism. With attendance being down, flat or showing lackluster growth in recent years due to economic reasons, they want to expand their event marketing database to invite or grow international attendance.

The rationale includes: The village needs to meet. The internet is shrinking the world. We want to be considered an international powerhouse, THE go-to source. Similar organizations are going global and we need to do so as well. We need to expand our community to professionals in other countries.

Agreed. But it’s not so easy. Along with logistical issues surrounding international attendance at events (such as currency exchange for registration, translation services for advance materials and on site, visa requirements and letters of invitation), there are the ongoing needs of an international participant (and new member) that need to be addressed to KEEP that attendee active, engaged and fulfilled.

Is the infrastructure in place within your organization to support international membership?

  • Does your website facilitate multi-lingual communication?
  • Is there a quick-response method for someone contacting you in the middle of the night (during their working hours)?
  • Are live online committee meetings or informational meetings/seminars taking the time zone issue into consideration?
  • Will you be planning meetings in other parts of the world?
How ready are you for global expansion in terms of membership support?

There are a number of experts out there with a thorough understanding of international markets who specialize in consulting with associations who want to enter the global arena.

One such expert is Steven Worth, author and President of Plexus Consulting Group. His expertise centers on helping associations succeed in international business.

Worth has served as interim executive director of four international associations, designed and implemented strategies creating two world federations of nonprofit organizations, and created the Association International Market Development (AIMD)—a program designed to open opportunities within USAID and World Bank projects in developing nations for the education, training and standards development resources of U.S.-based associations.

In fact, you could say that Worth wrote the book on globalized operations. Literally. The Association Guide to Going Global is Worth’s comprehensive guide for associations coping with a global marketplace. Published last July, the book enlightens readers on key issues that have proven to be of concern to associations going global and unveils how to successfully navigate a global environment.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Everybody’s Doing It: Tips for Healthy Nonprofit Collaborations

By Asia Hadley, Training Coordinator, Foundation Center-Atlanta

Do you desire a beneficial partnership? Do you dream of having a partnership that will “get your organization’s name out there” in a good way? Are you looking to collaborate to increase your resources? If you answered yes to these questions, you are not alone.

According to The Power of Partnership by Plexus Consulting Group, 86% of the respondents to their questionnaire said the most important accomplishment of a strategic partnership is ‘to achieve a goal that the association could not achieve alone.” To respondents, that goal most often is to:

• Increase membership
• Increase resources
• Increase revenue
• Enhance visibility and/or brand
• Expand current markets (or develop new markets)
• Minimize the risk inherent in any innovation
• Maximize use of resources

Before you rush to hook-up with an organization, here’s a sobering fact: 50% fail. (I’m not citing divorce statistics either.) That’s according to a study “When to Ally and When to Acquire,” in the Harvard Business Review (July/August 2004) referenced in The Power of Partnership.

Use the following tips to develop a thriving collaborative partnership regardless of economic conditions.

What to do:

Determine your objective: Be clear about why your organization is choosing to partner and what you hope to accomplish. Your objectives should be in alignment with your vision, mission, and strategic goals. Remember to consider what others may possibly gain through the partnership as well.

Assess your readiness: Successful partnerships have committed leadership at both the executive and staff levels. Commitment is demonstrated by staff having dedicated time for meetings and work related to the collaboration. Commitment can also be seen by allocating resources to support the initiative. Does your staff have the time and resources available to fulfill your organization’s role? Have you determined your organization’s strengths and weakness to know what roles you can play within a partnership?

Explore collaboration models: According to the book Wise Decision-Making in Uncertain Times, three levels of collaboration can exist: 1) cooperation (project-specific relationship), 2) coordination (informal relationship), and 3) collaboration (formal relationships, which have separate boards of directors, bylaws, and other organizational structures).

Select an appropriate partner: This is where doing your homework will be crucial. Find out the mission of the other group(s). Are they respected in the community? What do they have to gain? Do they have the time, resources and buy-in to collaborate effectively? Once you select a partner, you may choose to outline an agreement of the responsibilities of each organization. The more formal the collaboration, the more a written agreement is needed.

Evaluate your process: Throughout the collaboration make time to assess what is working and what is not working. Are the meetings productive? Are there too many of them? This allows you to make appropriate changes when needed.

What not to do:

Act contrary to the above tips or ignore them altogether.

How have you collaborated with another organization?

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Sweat, Character and Hard Thinking Behind Success

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

“There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune…” as Shakespeare noted nearly four hundred years ago; and this has been a popular theme throughout the ages in both popular fiction as well as, in recent years, business management books. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell points out the interesting statistics behind most outstanding success stories. His thesis is so compelling that one might be tempted to conclude that “success” is an odds game—the result of being in the right place at the right time and putting in the right amount of prep time—much like the Peter Seller’s movie “Being There” or the Tom Hanks movie ‘Forrest Gump” in which the leading characters of both movies achieve astounding success in life due to well-placed values and being in the right place at the right time. Cinderella-tales are comforting. We see justice rendered in otherwise hopeless situations—the way we rejoice in the news of jackpot lottery winners, imagining that with luck this might one day be us…

We see less of this magic in our work as management consultants. What we see more often is the truism that successful people and organizations are those who do what the less successful don’t do. By this I mean they do market research, they develop strategic partnerships with outside groups and organizations, they take calculated risks and encourage innovative thinking, they retire programs and organizational structures that have outlived their usefulness, and they focus their resources with laser-like intensity on those programs and projects that are designed to meet current and future market needs. We also see the hard work, the agony of failure along with the courage to get up and go at it again, and the humility in knowing that no one can do it all or know it all and that success comes in working in harness with others who share your vision.

What we sometimes fail to see behind the news coverage and trappings of success are what Winston Churchill in another time called the “blood, toil, sweat and tears” of success. This is unfortunate, because so many are ready to throw in the towel at the first sign of an obstacle. The late psychiatrist and best-selling author Scott Peck noted in his book The Road Less Travelled that the majority of his patients were people who felt they were failures, or who built their lives around avoiding failure without realizing how much easier it would be if they just recognized that difficulty and uncertainty are not signs of failure but rather normal and expected challenges on the path of success.

Strategic planning consists in part of recognizing which aspects of your environment you control and which represent external trends over which you have no control but which can present opportunities or threats that you should take into account in your planning processes. As can be seen in our firm’s recent management survey (to be discussed in our two leadership training sessions that we will be offering through CESSE this year), increasing numbers of managers are using strategic planning as a tool for planning their organization’s success—a tool that is only useful if it is fact-based and backed by a business plan that focuses resources and sets long term and short term measurable goals. It works, but it does require work and risk and letting go of preconceived notions. This is the furious peddling that goes on under the graceful swan’s seemingly effortless glide through the water.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Fact-based Decision Making

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

When I was a staffer on Capitol Hill I recall hearing two different stories told quite often during debates on the Senate floor.

One was: There are three types of lies in the world—simple lies; damn lies; and then there are statistics!

The other was: As the Bible says, “Come let us reason together.” We all have our points of view on which we differ, but we should at least be able to agree on the facts—they are what they are. Facts are stubborn things….

Both assertions are true of course. No one needs a course in statistics to know that the gathering and presentation of facts is a serious matter and that a lot of pseudo-science underlies a lot of the “facts” we see cited in advertising that bombards us every day. But it is also true that no rational debate can occur and no sound decision can be made that is not founded on the facts. This is true in all cases and particularly true in board of director meetings—those groups of leaders made up of “type A” personalities, all of whom are quite certain they know the way forward…..

As association managers, we have all had to herd cats on occasion, haven’t we? In this, facts have a way of focusing attention in the right direction. Lacking this compass, we are faced with rule by the most dominant personality, the loudest voice, or the one most skilled in Machiavellian intrigue.

But what are these facts on which your organization makes its decisions? Are they what is true for your board of directors, according to their experience?--your membership, according to their needs and perceptions?—or are they what is true for the market at large? When they differ, which set of facts weigh most heavily on the scales for your organization?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Rising to the Challenge—a need for a new level of nonprofit leadership

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

The world we live in is reeling from problems that the traditional economic and political order seem ill-equipped to handle. It is in fact a situation tailor made to those organizations dedicated to the public good, but can they rise to the challenge?
The primary challenge—
How will historians characterize our times? After the fall of the Soviet Union, Francis Fukuyama famously declared the “end of history.” With western liberal democracy the definitive “winner” nothing more need be said or written!
But it doesn’t feel like we are winners, does it? For the first time in our country’s history we are facing the very real possibility that a succeeding generation will live less well than the preceding one. We are definitely not entering the land of milk and honey; it is more like the land of rising temperatures, pollution, and competition for scarce resources on a global scale. Rather than an ideological struggle, our times will be marked by how we handle what sociologists call the “tragedy of the commons”—a struggle that nonprofit organizations are uniquely qualified to address.
The tragedy of the commons is a social phenomenon characteristic of human activity throughout the world. Its thesis is that individuals take care of what personally belongs to them; but they tend to abuse and rush to exploit resources that are shared in common, in their haste to get what they can for themselves before these resources run out entirely.
This human tendency to see no further than our own limited interest has always existed of course; but, apart from a few sociologists and environmentalists, it did not attract a great deal of attention until relatively recently. Now with global warming reaching a tipping point, global fisheries in full collapse and every other shared global resource in crisis, even ordinary citizens are starting to realize the impact six billion human souls are having on our planet. Something has to give…
It seems a natural fit that nonprofit organizations could be/should be especially involved in all of the critical issues stemming from these “tragedies of the commons.” Nonprofit organizations are by definition enterprises that are intended to benefit society; to this point, they are or should be the antithesis of the tragedy of the commons.
Can human behavior be changed in a democratic society that respects individual rights and free enterprise? There is ample evidence that it can; but in this, historically governments and corporate communities both have ambitions and competencies that are regarded with a certain amount of skepticism by the general public—and perhaps rightfully so. An overly aggressive government—be it local, national or multinational--is sometimes seen as a menace to individual liberties, while unfettered corporations are often seen as rapacious. Only the nonprofit community has the vocation, public trust and competency to fill this role as a catalyst for societal change. Or does it?
The secondary challenge—
The time may be right for the nonprofit community to play an historic role in our society and in the global community at large, but will these organizations be up to the challenge? Traditionally there are three categories of key strategic and organizational issues that challenge the effectiveness of nonprofits. These relate to: relevancy; insightfulness; and efficiency/effectiveness. As volunteer leaders, here are the kinds of questions you should be asking your organization.
Are you responding to market need?
  • If you are a membership organization, are your members representative of the market as a whole
  • How have you segmented your markets and do your products and services match the needs of each?
  • Are your products and services perceived to set the market standard?
  • Are your sales figures matching or exceeding market growth rates year to year, and do your prices more than cover your costs?
Are you preparing for where these needs will have moved in 5, 10, and 15 years? 
  • What percentage of your annual resources--as measured in terms of time and money--are spent in new product development, market surveys, benchmarking and trend analysis? At least once every few years it pays to do some trend analysis and from there to envision what your world will look like in 5, 10 or 15 years. The results can sometimes be heart-stopping or, alternatively, they can produce “eureka” insights. Of course predictions can sometimes be wrong; but it is also true that “surprising” organizational collapses in retrospect generally tend to be not all that surprising.
  • Nonprofit organizations tend to be inward or outward looking--how outward looking is yours? Do you rely on affiliates and/or partnerships or are you more comfortable in employee and vendor relationships? Do you have high turnover in your volunteer leadership positions—are your leadership positions eagerly sought out by newcomers--or do you typically keep the same volunteer leaders for 6 or 10 years or longer? Do you have any board members from outside your industry to provide an outsiders perspective? If you are seeking to change the world—or at least that part of it that relates to your mission—you need, by definition, to be outwardly-focused; and for each and every organization this requires a conscious effort to achieve.
 Are you operating efficiently? 
  • As fast, as efficiently, and as effectively as the best possible?
  • Do you have a clear and recognized brand image/reputation that matches your vision
  • Do you have a memorable and meaningful purpose as perceived by your stakeholders inside and outside your organization?
  • Do you have the market-focused tools and resources you need to achieve your mission?
  • Your challenge in working with volunteer leaders—
How can you expect to change the world if you cannot attract and constantly replenish your supply of volunteer talent?
Volunteering implies three things: a voluntary commitment in which all parties (meaning the nonprofit organization itself as well as the volunteers) bring something to the table that the others cannot as easily do for themselves; that each party’s strategic goals and missions complement the other’s; and that the overriding goal of this voluntary partnership serves a greater purpose. In these respects volunteering is a partnership.
Ideally partnerships carry with them at least five benefits:
1. they allow and encourage a sharing of resources—they permit all partners to do
more than they could on their own;
2. they allow all to expand their networks of professional contacts;
3. nonprofit partnerships (ideally) provide an opportunity to do well by doing good;
4. they are enriching experiences through which all parties can learn from each other
new ways of doing things; and
5. partnerships allow all concerned to gain greater credibility and influence.
Work is hard—even volunteer work, so it may seem counter intuitive to say that having fun is a good litmus test for the effectiveness of your operations. The ancient Greeks defined happiness as the full employment of one’s abilities in endeavors that matter. As serious as the issues are that you and/or your volunteer leaders may be tackling, the work itself should be fun, because you are employing your unique abilities in furtherance of something that matters!

Monday, September 15, 2014

What are Strategic or Organizational Values?

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Strategic values are sometimes defined as the "glue" that holds an organization together. In effect, values act as a sort of constitution that clearly defines what an organization stands for both for those inside as well as outside any given organization.

For example, we all instinctively know what McDonald's Corporation's values are. If we walk into a McDonald's restaurant and see that things are dirty we know immediately that a key value has been violated. Or if we were to order a hamburger and find that it costs $20 we also know something is amiss. In fact it is safe to say that McDonald's employees, shareholders, customers and stakeholders everywhere in the world know that McDonald's values are: cleanliness; affordability; convenience; and family friendliness.

A distinguishing value of Nordstrom's department store is to ensure all customers walking into their stores leave satisfied--even if Nordstrom employees need to refer them to another store for a product that Nordstrom's does not carry. Similarly, a key value around which L.L. Bean built
their success as an outdoor outfitter is that all their customers shall be satisfied with the quality of L.L. Bean's products, or they get their money back. Such values might seem counterintuitive in a business environment. These values cost money! But on the other hand, the confidence they inspire has led to fiercely loyal customers and stakeholders who truly believe in these institutions. Values are not goals but, like goals, they do key off an organization's vision and mission and are in many ways special to that organization.

As can be seen by the McDonald's, Nordstrom's and L.L. Bean's examples values oftentimes serve as an organization's competitive advantage in the marketplace. At the very least, the more successful organizations have a very clearly defined sense of themselves through the values they embrace and incorporate in their day-to-day activities.

So....as planning groups focus on strategic issues, they eventually always need to ask themselves, what does our organization stand for?

What are the values or principles that are or should be incorporated into everything we do? But there is a distinction to be made in all this talk about values. Personal values are often captured in HR policies or documents such as employee manuals. Certainly trust, respect, nondiscrimination (and a long, long list of other values as well) are all part of the personal qualities, ethics and values that make life livable as well as help to make for a pleasant and efficient work environment. But are they strategic? Certainly no organization sees an advantage in fostering distrust, dishonesty, discrimination, etc.

So, if it is a given that all these personal values should be incorporated into every work and personal life environment, then what are the types of organizational values that distinguish one organization from another?

In effect, there are strategic considerations that enter into play that make almost every organization's set of values as unique as a fingerprint. Furthermore these organizational values are not just externally driven; they have internal implications as well, because if they are to be taken seriously then they need to be ingrained into the organization's culture from the time the first employee is hired.

One would hope that parents and schools have done a good job inculcating the personal values that your organization needs and expects of its employees; but your organization's responsibility is to help these same employees understand what makes working at your organization different from working elsewhere. This of course means knowing what these values are in the first place and why they are uniquely important to your organization.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Six Questions for Globalization

By Virgil R. Carter

Is your non-profit organization considering globalization? Or have you already begun efforts towards becoming a global organization, and are wondering what’s next? Last week we looked at three important initial questions about non-profit organizations and globalization. Here’s the second part of six key questions which may help guide your organization’s discussions and decisions about going global.

1. What does success look like?
Has your organization reached agreement on what constitutes success? Establishing and communicating clear, measurable benchmarks for success - strategic and operational - may be one of the single greatest ways of realizing success in globalization, and avoiding the criticism inherent in attempting worldwide leadership. Identifying success measures also supports continuing assessment of whether or not your association has the proper business model and business plans needed for successfully achieving the measures. Success measures and business models go hand in hand. It’s hard to have one without the other.

2. Does your organization offer open and equal leadership opportunities for members, regardless of geography?
Members and customers, regardless of geography, want to have something to say about (and participate in) the direction of the organization they support, and the quality and timeliness of your goods and services. Otherwise, they let their feet do the talking, and walk to another association that is more open and responsive. Global organizations have to find ways to share in leadership opportunities, regardless of geography. When was the last time your board’s chairman was from an emerging market country, or you held a board meeting in an emerging market country?

3. Should dues differ and reflect the annual salaries and earnings of members in emerging market and other nations?
Airline tickets and hotel reservations are no longer are priced at a single rate for all users. World-wide air travelers know that air fares purchased outside the U.S. tend to be cheaper than those of U.S. carriers (thanks to host government subsidies in many cases). Why should association dues be any different, especially when your annual dues in U.S. dollars may represent a host country amount equal to perhaps 20-25% of the annual salary of a potential member? The opposite side of this issue, however, is that expenses to support a new or renewing non-U.S. member generally exceed those of a U.S. member (at least for associations whose major business units reside totally in the U.S, and whose service must originate from the U.S.). What to do? Successful global organizations are likely to be those whose dues recognize the differential abilities to pay, and who can provide needed services and value outside the domestic U.S.

4. Are your globally available goods and services: a) timely; b) affordable; c) culturally and regionally relevant; d) available in the host country language?
The importance of this question is probably self-explanatory, but many nonprofits haven’t made the necessary important investments in their goods and services to ensure that they offer global value in a global market. It is all too common for U. S. nonprofits to believe that because they offer goods and services, there is interest and demand outside the U.S. Goods and services that are accessible in a timely manner, that have regional content, and have opportunity for host country language are among those that clearly bring highest value to the host country markets and customers.

5. Does your association work with, for, against or ignore similar host country

Sooner or later each association must have a policy and a business plan that provides consistent guidance in situations when there are similar associations, providing similar goods and services, elsewhere in the world. Cooperation and mutual respect is always a good goal, but it can be challenging to achieve. An effective approach for building good relations among similar global organizations is to launch annual exchange visits, followed by low-risk, low-threat joint activities. An early atmosphere of camaraderie and mutual purpose goes a long way towards building good long-term working relationships. Once established, these relationships will be immeasurable in maintaining cooperation and mutual respect.

6. Are you patient?
Globalization is a challenge. It’s usually a substantial investment, and it’s generally not a quick return on investment. It’s a challenge to prepare a suitable business plan and to use resources wisely. It’s a challenge to show measurable results. Patience is required (along with sound business planning and processes). Be prepared and prepare your volunteer leaders. You will be tested.

For those who have successful answers to these questions, you will find globalization to be a rewarding way for your association to continue to do business and to provide the leadership that is the basis for your mission. Good luck!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Globalization is Survival: Becoming Global as an Anecdote to Stagnant or Declining Markets

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

The Milwaukee-based American Society for Quality (ASQ) is an individual membership society composed of corporate quality control officers as well as consultants. During the heyday of the total quality management (TQM) frenzy of the 1960s through the 1990s ASQ grew enormously fast. It bought and furnished its own building and filled it with the staff needed to serve a burgeoning membership base. But in the 1990s the novelty and sense of critical urgency of quality control started to wear off throughout the United States as corporations and management consultants turned their attentions elsewhere. This resulted in a gradual decline of ASQ’s membership that continued unabated through 2007. With no end in sight for this decline that persisted over a decade whether the economy was strong or weak, ASQ’s leadership decided that the time had come to look at markets outside the United States, which up to then had been considered as ancillary to their main interests.

ASQ prudently decided to research their options before choosing their path. They started by undertaking qualitative and quantitative market research starting with their overseas members. What they wanted to know was how they were perceived in markets outside the United States. Which products and services were most desired, which other organizations they were competing with in these various markets, and how their governance and operational structures were perceived in terms of their efficacy and relevancy to the needs and concerns of these markets?

What they found out was both good and bad. The good news was that their products and services fit very well with the needs of most overseas markets—particularly those markets in developing countries that traded heavily with the United States. Developed markets such as those in Western Europe and Japan were less enthusiastic as they felt they had their own resources and organizations that suited their needs just fine.

The bad news was that, regardless of market, ASQ was perceived to be a very US-centric organization—one in which foreign cultures and language and needs that were different from those in the United States were simply not understood or appreciated. In other words, although there were clear opportunities in overseas markets for ASQ to become more active, no one familiar with ASQ believed it had the institutional culture or structure to be able to do this effectively. Furthermore, while some liked that the “A” in ASQ stood for American, a significant part of the world believed that this label was restrictive and would hinder ASQ’s growth in their market beyond the limited sphere of US-based multinational companies that had a presence there.

In effect the ASQ realized that it had two markets abroad: one consisting of the employees and customers of U.S. multinational companies or those companies that otherwise traded with the United States; and the other was employees of indigenous companies that had an interest in quality quite apart from anything to do with the United States. While ASQ might have a quick advantage in penetrating the first market, the second market—which was and is much larger—was inaccessible to them unless they shed themselves of their US-centric structure, identity, and approach.

Following this primary research, ASQ undertook comparative market research using widely available secondary sources for the purpose of identifying the best markets for them to target. The best markets were identified as those that met the following criteria: they were large; they were growing quickly; they had a significant trading relationship with the United States; they were open legally and culturally to penetration by international associations; there were no competing organizations present; and ASQ had already identified potential partners and members that could facilitate their market entry.

Using the results of this tiered research, ASQ identified and prioritized the top four markets that they should target: China, India, Brazil, and Korea. Mexico and Canada were added to this list because, although ASQ already had a sizable presence in those two countries, they were treated operationally and in terms of ASQ governance structures as if they were part of the United States. To the extent ASQ knew it would have to restructure itself to accommodate the global opportunities identified in these four countries, they knew they would have to give special care to ensuring that the same principles also applied to the way ASQ worked with Mexico and Canada.

ASQ’s solution was to design operational and governance structures that allowed them to work effectively in the two types of overseas markets that had been identified. In other words, overseas members could continue to have a close relationship to the US side of ASQ if they so wanted; but indigenous markets could opt in favor of a generic ASQ International in which there was no “American” connection in name or in substance in any aspect of the operations or governance structures.

ASQ staffed up the international part of its operations with multilingual and internationally experienced staff, and it created a separate legal entity—ASQ International and a separate international governance body to ensure the direction would remain on track. Ultimately, three-year business plans were drawn up with budgets and measurable goals for each of the targeted markets.

Two years later the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression hit the world’s economies. While ASQ’s US operations declined significantly with the onset of the recession, this decline was offset by the rapid growth of their international programs. In effect ASQ has experienced the same phenomenon as almost every global organization—that during times of economic turmoil, the organizations that do best have the widest market base, with global organizations tending to do better than those that are focused on just one national market.