One of the biggest perks of working with associations is as a rule association professionals are nice people. At conferences, on social media and during projects I’m often struck by how welcoming, friendly and generous association professionals are. Some industries are so very competitive that those who work for them become standoffish and distant in the name of concealing perceived valuable intellectual property. That doesn’t seem to be the way with association professionals. In fact the opposite seems to be true, the more we all share the more the association industry gains.
There is a drawback to all this niceness however and that is, also as a rule, association professionals are doing too much. We dash from meeting to meeting. We try to keep up but often find ourselves hundreds of emails behind. We come in early and stay late and still the mile long list continues to be well, a mile long. The problem is we are doing to much and often when we are doing too much it is hard, no impossible, to start doing more things we should be doing.
If you are charge of change management or innovation for your association you may be frustrated by the slow pace of change. If change in your association is slow (and it is for most organizations) here are a few things that may be working against you:
Association professionals cannot say no – association professionals are nice and we have a hard time saying no. We don’t want to disappoint. Sometimes board members or committee members request big time commitments of us that may not contribute to the mission but we usually will dive in. We would rather not say no. The antidote to this is keeping everyone, staff and members alike, moving toward a few clearly defined goals. This keeps us all on track and gives staff permission to redirect when off-mission requests are made.
Association professionals want to do a great job – and we have equated busy with dedication. Yes, action does move things forward but to a point. At some point we pass right by good busy into frantic busy and it seems frantic busy is where most of us live most of the time. Frantic busy means we are not thinking much about the impact we are having instead we just do and we may be doing the wrong things. If we want to cure this very prevalent issue we need to stop equating being busy with being effective. The tactics will be different organization by organization but reducing the administrative load can help as can culture change around what is really important to organizational success, i.e. employee engagement vs. employee overtime.
Association professionals do not want to throw colleagues under the bus. Ask association staff what we should stop doing, to make room for new innovations, and they may say “nothing”. Stopping something may mean that someone loses their job. This is a tricky topic and perhaps the answer is not requiring the staff to make decisions like this. Instead allow member opinions to determine what low-value benefits will be discontinued and at the same time wherever possible train existing staff to take on new opportunities.
Focus the organization on a few goals, create an environment to think and give each person the power to re-prioritize to achieve innovation and project new product development goals. Association professionals are nice and they want to have an impact, we just need to enable them to do it!
Talk to members and they will give you a list of problems that they would like the association to solve. But doing so requires that the association changes. Which is hard. Find more articles like this, by Amanda Kaiser, on her blog for association professionals or follow her on Twitter @SmoothThePath. Amanda is a qualitative member researcher who helps associations develop member informed strategies and innovations.