Monday, April 21, 2014

Listening Is Hard Work

By Steven Worth
President, Plexus Consulting Group

How many of us as children remember our parents pointing out that there was a reason we had two ears and only one mouth — could we please just listen? Apart from our parents wanting peace of mind, there is a lot of wisdom in this advice. But the temptation to follow one’s own ideas at the expense of what someone else may be trying to say does not stop in childhood. Many an association has followed strong leaders with more vision than wisdom down the wrong path, making mistakes that could have been avoided had more importance been placed on listening.

Do any of the following scenarios seem familiar?
  • Mindful that his term of office was coming to a close, the chairman of the board of a major professional society pushed for his fellow board members to ignore market research findings which pointed to the need for the association to form strategic alliances with other associations in the industry as they developed and introduced a new professional certification. Such an ally-building process would be too time-consuming and would necessarily compromise his vision of what should be done.
  • The board of directors of another association is persuaded that the time had come for the organization to merge with a much larger association. The association simply didn’t have the clout its members needed to have its voice heard in Washington. The association had no desire to survey its membership on this since the need seemed so obvious.
  • Concerned about the motives of some of the members of his board of directors, an executive director of a large foundation took great care to select a strategic planning facilitator whom he knew and had confidence in. He wanted to assure that no policy initiatives were going to come out of this strategic planning exercise that he did not want.
In each of these examples either the board of directors or the executive director made a decision to limit outside influence in a predetermined policy direction. This decisiveness guaranteed speedy action — but was it in the right direction?

The association community across the country has never known greater turmoil. The number of associations being formed, merged, or downsized is at record levels. In such a highly charged environment decisive leadership is welcome. But it is also true that what one does not know can often prove fatal.

The distinguished British statesman Benjamin Disraeli once noted, "As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information…." The same is true for associations. But is it possible for an association to act decisively while still allowing for a thorough gathering of information? Some associations do. They do so by:
  • Making time and resources available for thorough strategic planning on a regular basis. Market conditions are changing so rapidly that most associations now undertake strategic planning exercises once every two years.
  • Starting the process with factual research into your members’ market — chances are you are sitting on the answers to key problems or opportunities. You just need to find them. Such research also lessens the degree of subjectivity that inevitably creeps into policy discussions.
  • Limiting the instinct to "control." Use respected outside consultants who have a demonstrated understanding of your association to provide the objectivity that is needed — then let go. Know that you are only doing yourself and your association a disservice if you try to predetermine the results.
Of these three points, the last is without doubt the hardest. We all know associations are great lumbering things that require dynamic and focused individuals to get them to move in any direction. But sometimes these very leadership qualities interfere with the "listening" process that is needed if the right decisions are to be made.

The hardest part of association management is dealing with the many differing points of view, personalities, and interests that are involved in every association. This can be a frustrating experience for those coming from the military-like decision-making structures of most for-profit corporations. But there are two ways of viewing this flat decision-making environment: one is as an obstacle to overcome; the other is as an information-rich environment in which new opportunities and creative solutions to old problems are waiting to be discovered. The key is to foster a culture in which listening is valued.

It’s been said that President John F. Kennedy was such an avid and alert listener that it was exhausting to talk with him. Viewed in this light, listening is far from being a passive state. It is active, exhaustive, and methodical. And it might just be the key to your association’s future.

Monday, April 14, 2014


By Ann W. Rosser

There is an over abundance of managers and a huge lack of leaders. This situation clearly has a negative impact on an organization's ability to grow and compete. 

A leader combines the vision and curiosity of a dreamer with the practical engineering of a builder. A leader is goal directed, looking forward with anticipation toward the attainment of measurable outcome goals. A leader is a person who sets goals and achieves results. Goals give an effective leader meaning and purpose and serve as a continuous source of motivation in pursuit of organizational individual success. 

While many books have been written about leadership, it remains for many a misunderstood and elusive quality. The capacity for leadership exists in everyone, but most people never take the time to develop it. Leadership is determination, courage, confidence and the ability to get results!

Positive leadership assumes that goals can be accomplished, the job can be done, the problem can be solved, and the obstacles will be overcome. A leader creates his or her own future and drives the future success of an organization. 

The Process

This leadership development process is a structured, open-ended pragmatic approach to leadership growth. It is a process designed to help individuals develop the attitudes, skills, and qualities necessary for personal and organizational leadership.

Three Essential Elements

Attitude Development:

In order to create an environment of positive attitudes and possibility thinking, it is important for a leader to understand where and how attitudes can be changed.

Interpersonal Skills:

Much of what a leader is involved in, and therefore accomplishes, involves other people. To be effective in this continuous challenge it is important to learn, understand, and use interpersonal skills effectively.

Goal Setting:

Leadership among other things, is the process of providing organizational direction and accomplishing necessary objectives. The goal accomplishment model provides the tools and process necessary to achieve more goals, more often, in order to maximize results and outcomes.

Critical Issues Covered Within this Process:
  • Leadership and You
  • Tapping You Hidden Potential
  • Motivation
  • Behavior and Conditioning
  • Attitude Development
  • Personal and Organizational Goal Setting
  • Roadblocks to Success
  • Creative Power and Visualization
  • Managing Your Time
  • Communication
  • Delegation
  • Decision Making and Problem Solving
The Results are Measurable:
  • Being More in Control of Your Future
  • Increased Revenue
  • Increased Profitability
  • More Personal Time and Freedom
  • A Clear, Focused Direction
  • Enhanced Leadership Ability
  • Results-Oriented Attitudes
  • Developing Your Team
  • Creating a Vision for Personal Direction and Decision Making

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Fee-for-Service Model Migration

By Steven M. Worth

Twenty to thirty years ago the majority of associations derived up to 80 percent of theirrevenues from membership dues (from ASAE sources). However, this scenario began to change inthe past two decades. Younger people ceased joining organizations with the same enthusiasm astheir parents, and when they did join, it grew harder to keep them. As a result, many membership organizations began to experience a graying of their membership base.

Associations have responded in part by seeking out revenue streams beyond membership and havebeen forced to do some self-reflection on the value of membership itself. For many associations,nondues revenue coming from nonmembers will grow increasingly important in the future.

Associations that recognized changes in the nation's socio-economic structure-such as the factthat most people change jobs several times in their career-were quick to develop and promotethose products and services the market was demanding. Certification and accreditation programsthat help enhance employability and guarantee quality, for example, are now in demand. Also ofpremium value are the education and training programs that support them. Many of theassociations that have done the best financially over the past twenty years have transformedthemselves into centers of professional learning or places where industry and professionalstandards are defined.

Following are some trends in today's association landscape, each of which bears heavily onmembership and revenue.

Networking means something different nowadays. Potential members are more than ever 
looking to associations as opportunities for networking. While networking has always been a drawfor associations, it now often is valued as a job search tool first and foremost, whereas for priorgenerations networking simply meant meeting and forming bonds with people with similar valuesand interests. ASAE's Career Headquarters is a good example of a career network service thatincreasing numbers of associations are offering.

Associations have become more specialized. The International Institute for Real Estate Finance 
is a spin-off of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America; the National Coalition for Quality Diagnostic Imaging Services was created to represent a niche group: the manufacturers and users of magnetic resonance imaging.

Revenue flows have changed. As much as 80 percent of a successful association's revenues now 
come from the sale of products and services. The Institute of Internal Auditors gets only 25percent of its revenue come from dues.

Associations have had to learn to cultivate, promote, and protect their name brands in the same way as for-profit corporations. The American Association of Snowboard Instructors was created as a brand within the Professional Ski Instructors of America for the simple reason that snowboarders have historically considered themselves a separate breed from skiers. Associations,in fact, have even had to compete increasingly with for-profit corporations entering fields that have been usually the reserve of nonprofit organizations. Organizations that have failed to adapt to this new environment have either become "clubs" of like-minded friends who meet for social purposes, or they have ceased to exist altogether. Following are some tips to can help your organization succeed in this new climate.

Consider membership a gateway-not an end unto itself. Membership in AARP-the largest membership organization-costs $12.50 a year in dues. Their principal interest is to provide valuedproducts and services to their target market. In effect the American Association of RetiredPersons, Washington, D.C., charges only enough in membership dues to maintain members onmailing lists. The real revenues-and the fulfillment of the organization's mission-come from thekind and quality of products and services the organization delivers.

Revisit your strategy. Review your strategic positioning in the market and your organization's relevance annually. In a survey of Washington, DC-based associations conducted 10 years ago,Plexus Consulting Group, Washington, D.C., found that most associations were doing a top tobottom strategic analysis of their operations every four to five years. A 1999 survey found thatmore than half of the associations had begun doing this strategic planning annually.

Create value for your name brand. As membership loyalty declines people make their buying choices based on what they know and hear about name brands. This means that successfulassociations are much more attuned to the need for building and maintaining brand awareness-inmuch the same way as the for-profit world operates. The CPA of The American Institute ofCertified Public Accountants is a good example of a certification "product" that has developedremarkable brand recognition in this country and around the world.

Define your target audience and know their needs and concerns. Many associations make more sales to people and organizations that are not members than those who are-even when there is afinancial advantage to being a member. For example, the Project Management Institute, NewtownSquare, Pennsylvania, one of the nation's fastest growing associations in terms of revenue, derivesas much of its product and service revenue from nonmembers as from members.

With membership loyalty largely being a thing of the past, associations must develop cutting-edgeproducts and services that can compete in increasingly crowded markets. Levels of both nonduesrevenue and sales to nonmembers can serve as an indication of your association's future relevance.