15 December 2009

Big Idea Month: What if associations decided that sometimes, telling a member 'no' is an acceptable practice?

Post two in my contribution series to Acronym's Big Ideas Month:

What if (perish the thought!), we actually told members NO?

I actually suspect that most associations already do this, but we do it in the wrong way. We say "no" all the time. Only it's called, "That's against association policy." Which, aside from "we're out of bourbon," might be my least favorite four words in the English language.

You know what "that's against association policy" REALLY means?
  • "I'm only line staff - I'm not actually empowered to decide anything."
  • "I don't want to/feel like it."
  • "Member service isn't my job."
  • "Some day, far in the dim, dark past, someone decided that we don't that. I don't know why. Just because."
  • "We have always done it that way." (my least favorite seven words in the English language, other than "by the way, also out of chocolate.")
Members are absolutely not always right - they know the industry/profession, you know how to run your organization - but what if every request was considered on its merits, rather than whether or not it's "against" some random policy that some person put in place some time ago for reasons known only to him? What if ALL levels of staff were allowed, even encouraged, to make decisions? What if we really measured what we're doing on "does this serve the members?" (Not just *this* member, all members - which can help resolve conflicts when a member asks for something that would be bad if universalized.)

Giving every staff person the ability to make decisions implies that sometimes she might say no. Which means it's really important to know how to say no in the right way. "No." "Why?" "Because I said so." Not the right way to handle members. "We can't do X (and there better be a reason other than "Because you were mean to me and I don't feel like helping you"), but we do want to make this right. What about Y instead?" Or "what else can we do to make this right?" Get the member involved in producing a solution, and you'll get her mind off the fact that you just said no to what she asked for and on to the fact that you're working with her to resolve the situation. Detractors can become your most passionate fans/evangelists *if* you handle them right.



1 comment:

Shannon Otto said...

Loving this post, Elizabeth. It's true that "that's against association policy" means many different things - rarely does it actually have a literal meaning. Whether or not a request can actually be granted, I think members deserve to have their requests at least considered, like you said. Saying "no" the right way can make a big difference when it comes to member relations.
(Also, hooray for bourbon and chocolate! ;) )