28 September 2012

Friday Top 5

I'm on the train on my way to Philly AND doing my first post from my shiny new iPad! Number one, please excuse any formatting weirdness. Number two, isn't technology cool?

Top 5 things I love about train travel:

1. No complicated security lines to get through.
2. It seems so civilized! The seats are actually reasonably sized, and there's plenty of room for your legs, no matter how long they are.
3. Living 6 blocks from DC's Union Station as I do, it could scarcely be more convenient.
4. You can bring your own food and, more importantly, beverages. Even adult beverages. Take that, airlines!
5. You NEVER have to turn off any of your electronic devices.

27 September 2012

Down with Budgets!

And I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Example one: a recent discussion on the ASAE Collaborate executive list about trying to balance the annual budget cycle with making room from innovation. 

Example two: this week, Jeff De Cagna did a webinar on his new e-book Associations Unorthodox. It focuses on six radical changes Jeff recommends associations make to position ourselves for the future. Shift #3? "Eliminate budgets."

The problems with budgets (at least as we currently construct them) include:
  • They're mostly backwards looking, based entirely on what happened last year, plus or minus a few percentage points.
  • They're constructed and approved sometimes as much as 18-24 months before the money allocated it actually going to be spent. 
  • They treat estimates like certainties, and then allocate every penny of expected revenue.
  • We use them to evaluate staff, holding our teams to meeting our budgets to the penny, and evaluating them on how well they do. 
Extra revenue or less expense is always OK, of course, but extra expense? Even for an amazing opportunity or really important strategic investment? Well, you'll just have to wait until the next budget cycle comes around. 18 months later, when you can actually spend the money, the opportunity has flown.

Why do we act as if budgets are set in stone? Why don't we treat them as an estimate that's open to revision based on changing circumstances? Or, as Jeff suggested, allocate some buckets of money to be spent on our organizations' top strategic priorities, then leave it up to the staff and volunteer leaders responsible for those priorities to figure out what are the best investments in programs, products and services to meet those priorities?

Of course, that requires that you have ways of measuring the success or failure of what you're doing other than "we met/didn't meet budget this year."

Did I just answer my own question?

Image credit: OppSource

26 September 2012

What I'm Reading

25 September 2012

Unsuck Your Meetings

WAY back on Tuesday, August 1, the weekly #assnchat topic was productivity and time management, a personal favorite.

I didn't exactly do a rigorously scientific poll, but the #1 answer to "biggest productivity killer" was: meetings. Planned meetings, unplanned meetings, drop in meetings, "do you have a few minutes?" meetings - just about everyone hated meetings.

"Of course!", right?

Confession: I have an (earned) reputation as someone who is high-energy, highly productive, never misses a deadline (99% of the time, I deliver early), cranks out the work, usually at above-average quality.

I am about 1000% *more* productive now that I'm working for myself and not spending 25%-50% of each day in meetings.

(Look out, world.)

Given that everyone was sharing the hate for meetings, I pretty quickly posed the question: "how do we unsuck meetings?"

Answers included:
  1. People receive a formal agenda in advance. No agenda = no meeting. After all, if there's nothing you need to cover, why force everyone to sit around a conference table for an hour?
  2. There are defined outcomes. Again, if you're not trying to accomplish anything - or you don't know what you're trying to accomplish - why are you wasting everyone's time?
  3. Collaboration takes place. I'm not so sure about this one (more below).
  4. Clearly defined and communicated action items. This is more of a post-meeting item, but I agree that any decisions that are made need to be documented, any tasks that need to be done need the same, and you must assign responsibility and due dates.
  5. NO standing meetings. Ooooo. This is a tough one. If you have a busy, high-profile group, there's pressure to have standing meetings, or you fear not being able to get them together when you need them. On the other hand, if we dramatically cut down on the number of meetings we have (by, say, killing standing meetings), the problem might itself.
On the whole "collaboration" issue, I agree that TRUE collaboration can bring about better results. But it seems like "working collaboratively" has been dumbed down to "let's have a zillion meetings and include anyone and everyone who's even peripherally related to what's going on." And that demonstrably make us less creative and ultimately, less productive. Turns out, the best way to work in teams is to assign out pieces of the project to individuals, let them go away and do the work on their own, and come back together periodically but briefly to attack problems people need help with, and have ONE person (the project manager?) assigned to do the coordinating.

Finally, a thought exercise: the next time you're in some interminable, agenda-less, all hands on deck type meeting, look around the room. Who's there? Guesstimate her/his hourly rate (annual salary/2 and drop the thousands is close enough, plus about 30% for benefits - so $100K a year = $65 a hour), then add it up around the room and multiple times the number of hour/s you're all stuck there.

Does it still seem worth it?

Image credit: PGi Blog

24 September 2012

Always the Last to Know: Google Scholar

Google Scholar. Seriously, how did I not know about this? Not even playing. Thanks John Chen!

(Now, if I just had access to a research library so I could actually read the full text of all the articles it indexes, we'd really be cooking.)

21 September 2012

Friday Top 5

Hey! Did you know it's 5:15 pm? Where did the day go?

Since I'm obviously running a little behind, I'm going to get all meta on you and do my Top 5 Top 5s:
  1. Top 5 tips for staying organized.
  2. Top 5 cheap date ideas in the DMV.
  3. Top 5 funniest things I've ever read on the Interwebz.
  4. Top 5 things I've learned from Food Lab (next lab goes down tomorrow).
  5. Top 5 tips for NFL players.

20 September 2012

A World Without Boards

A million years ago back in Dallas (actual time: just over a month), Jeff De Cagna, in his unsession on Associations Unorthodox, has asked us to think about radical questions to ask.

Now I love the idea of a radical question. One of the focal points of my consulting work is that asking the right question is as important as getting the right answer, if not more so. Too often, we ask the wrong question, come up with a truly genius answer, and then end up frustrated when it doesn't fix the problem. And then we kick ourselves for coming up with a bad solution, when that wasn't the problem at all. We started in the wrong place, so it was going to be virtually impossible for us to end in the right one.

Anyway, here's what I came up with:

Now, as my wise friend Leslie White, the excellent risk management consultant, points out: assuming your association is formally incorporated (which about 99.876% of us are), you are legally required to have some sort of board.

(Thanks, Leslie.)

So I guess my real question is: why do they operate as they do?

I know not all boards behave badly. But over the years, I've seen personal agendas, ego-based posturing, arrogance, cluelessness, personal aggrandizement, meddling with issues outside their ken, lack of willingness to take appropriate responsibility, and lack of willingness to ask difficult questions, all to an alarming degree.

And I don't just blame the individual board members. We, as association professionals, do a poor job of properly training and preparing them for board service, and then setting and enforcing boundaries. It's no wonder they have a tendency to run wild.

The reason it becomes a big problem is that the board has a lot of power.


It's not for legal reasons.

And I'm not saying that no board should ever fulfill the common responsibilities of financial oversight and planning and managing the chief staff executive. I'm just asking why we act as if they have to.

I don't have an answer to the question of a world without boards - or at least, pace Leslie, where board service is dramatically different.

But if we aren't being well-served by the model (and some of us plainly aren't), why not look for an alternative?

19 September 2012

What I'm Reading

18 September 2012

Teens and the Internet: Myth and Reality

Fascinating presentation from Pew that debunks some myths about what various age groups, particularly teenagers do and don't do online and with various tech devices, including smart phones.

Shout out to Maggie McGary for the link.

17 September 2012

Always the Last to Know: Pearltrees

Have you heard about Pearltrees? It uses same idea as the visual thesaurus and mind-mapping type concepts to help you organize information about any topic of interest.

14 September 2012

Friday Top 5

I had the opportunity to head up to the wilds of Maryland for the Columbia Idea Swap this week (and thanks to Peggy Hoffman for inviting me).  My Top 5 Takeaways include:
  1. Big shout-out for cross generational mentoring: younger members can help older members with technology; older members can help younger members figure out how to navigate the profession/industry. We all *know* this, but how many associations actually *do* it?
  2. People still don't really understand the concept of viral. You can't *make* something go viral. Putting something on YouTube doesn't equal going viral. You can intentionally make a video with viral potential (my favorite example being The Pink Glove Dance, and how awesome is the janitor?), but I guarantee that a talking head board member explaining why she loves your annual conference is not going to cut it.
  3. Visual identity is critical. My spouse and I were talking more about this last night. He's a Cisco geek, and, as you might expect, gets a TON of information from Cisco. But each of their major initiatives has its own name, header, and color palette. So a quick glance can help him identify whether something is technical, educational, a critical update, FYI, etc. It requires enforcement and discipline on the part of the organization, but clear visual cues can make your members' interactions with you far simpler.
  4. Why are we still sending blast emails to unsegmented groups? We complain that members aren't paying attention. You know why? Our own bad behavior. We haven't earned their attention. Think about what you personally do and don't pay attention to. We send too much dull, undifferentiated information to people who don't care and aren't interested, and then we think 30% is a great open rate. Just stop.
  5. "I don't have time to do X - I'm only one person." If "X" is something that members want and that will really help them (for instance, not sending continuing "please register" messages to people who already have), we MUST stop making excuses and start doing the hard work of doing right by our members.

13 September 2012

Welcoming a New Chief Executive

If you've been paying attention to CEO Update, you've probably noticed that announcements of CEO retirements are increasing and, as a result, the listings of CEO openings are picking up.

That means a lot of CEOs are going to be starting new positions soon. I've had the opportunity to be part of the new CEO welcome team in previous associations, and I picked up a few ideas along the way:

First of all, whether you're the new CEO, part of the staff welcome team, part of the rest of the staff, or a board member, I recommend starting with the excellent article Jackie Eder-Van Hook wrote for Associations Now a little over a year ago. It clearly and concisely lays out what the board, the new CEO, and the staff can do to help prepare for and facilitate a smooth transition.

Secondly, I've noticed that your new CEO's background and your internal structure have a major impact on what you need to prepare to help her transition. If your new CEO comes from an association background, she'll know how to run an association, but she'll need to be quickly brought up to speed on your industry or profession, particularly if you have any major advocacy issues in play. And she'll need to be quickly introduced to key players inside and outside the association. She'll need a group of advisors (maybe the board, maybe additional people) who are known and respected in the industry who can teach her about it.

If your CEO comes from the industry or profession, she will know the key players and issues, but she'll have to be educated about thinking about them and relating to people as a representative of the whole industry, not just her own company. And she'll need a primer on how running an association is like and not like running a business. And a solid #2 or senior team to help keep the business of running the association going while she learns.

If your CEO comes from Capitol Hill...well, I don't recommend doing that unless you have a strong internal structure, including a true COO (not just a glorified director of finance) who is responsible for running the association day to day. Because a high-profile lobbyist is just that. You're buying influence, and expecting that person to run the organization as well is a big mistake.

Regardless of where you find your new CEO, she will need:
  • The current full financial and membership picture. And don't even try to hide bad news. If you do, you're setting her and your organization up for failure.
  • A list of the true decision makers in the organization. Which may or may not be the same as the board and/or senior team. If she really can't make a decision without running it by the assistant conference director (for whatever reason), she needs to know.
  • The time and structured opportunities to get to know people. It's hard to do this, because a new CEO will want to hit the ground running with all her great new ideas, and that's good and appropriate (that's why you hired her, right?), but she also needs space to get familiar with the staff and internal dynamics and current culture.
  • Clarity about people's real expectations. Does the board expect her to lead, or to manage process? Is she supposed to be a change agent, or not upset the apple cart? What level of interaction do staff members want and expect? 
  • All your policies, processes, procedures, work plans, strategic plans, audited financials, board books, committee books, schedules, style guides, branding rules, annual reports, etc. But don't dump it all on her in a big pile all at once. Create a clearly labeled library on a shelf in her office so can review and assimilate all the information at her pace.
  • A group of CEO peers she can turn to when she has questions that aren't appropriate for the board or her #2. That's probably something she needs to put together for herself, but you could do worse than suggesting ASAE's CEO membership and symposia and, if appropriate and offered in your area, something like DC SAFE.
CEO transitions are scary for everyone - the new CEO, the outgoing CEO, the board, the staff, the membership - but with some preparation, transparency, and cutting everyone some slack, they can also be a springboard to take your association to even greater heights.

12 September 2012

What I'm Reading

  • Making a mistake is not the same as failing.
  • Which is more important: your org chart or your organization's networks?
  • Want to innovate? Ask a new question.
  • Vendors are not the enemy.
  • Start with the most important thing.
  • Social media, commercialization, dopamine, being creepy and why Facebook may never make the kind of money people were expecting at the IPO.
  • Want to be a lifelong learner? Be curious.
  • Jeff Cobb is talkin' 'bout a revolution in education.
  • We all know that telling a story is important, but we don't all know how to do it well. Copyblogger can help.
  • 10 rules for getting shit done. I particularly love "When in doubt, decide."
  • Knowing who's NOT a prospect is just as important as knowing who IS a prospect. And either way, you need to be able to create personas.
  • After just finishing up the work to set up my office (that's it there on the right), it seemed like a great time to re-read Sheetrock & Shellac and laugh along with someone else's home improvement tales of woe.

11 September 2012

TED Talks: Human-Computer Symbiosis

Turns out, the best results come when we work together. Which means the interface is critical to the overall capacity of the system. (Which is probably good news for Apple.)

10 September 2012

Always the Last to Know: iPad Apps

I finally got an iPad - hey, now it's a business expense, right? - and I need some app tips.

I've loaded the usual social suspects - LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Hootsuite - my favorite productivity apps, the Harvard Business Review, and of course, all my Eagles apps.

What else you got for me, experts, and more importantly, why?

07 September 2012

Friday Top 5

What with this being 2012 NFL season kick off weekend, I thought it might be a nice time to give a shout-out to my Top 5 Favorite Sports Blogs (warning: NFC East-heavy):
  1. IgglesBlitz - Tommy Lawlor is to football writing what Jaws is to football commentary. 
  2. SportsBlogNation, particularly the officially recognized NFC blogs: Bleeding Green Nation, Hogs Haven, Big Blue View, and Blogging the Boys.
  3. Chicks in the Huddle. Chicks! Writing intelligently about football! (disclosure: my football blog is syndicated there)
  4. Blogging the bEast - all things NFC East.
  5. The Bleacher Report - they regularly have fantastic, fun, informative slide shows. Hey! Pictures! In a visual medium! Go figure!
So if you're as obsessed with the pigskin as I am - or if you need some inside scoop to run your fantasy team - check 'em out!

Image credit: my mom! From when we went to the Philadelphia Eagles academy for women in February of 2011.

06 September 2012

The Power of the Beta

One of the reasons we in the association world can be afraid to try new things is that we worry that if it's not perfect, the members will freak out.

And for some of your members, that's probably true.

But it's not true for all of them.

Some of them would LOVE to be invited to sneak preview a new program, product, service, offer, etc. and provide their feedback.

So what are you waiting for? Go find them!

And when you do, make sure you have ONE new thing ready for them to try out right away, get their feedback immediately, let them know how you used it, and be sure to credit them with helping you in the development stage when you actually roll it out to your full membership.

Your new offering will be better for it, and that member? She knows you love her now, and that equals loyalty.

Edited to add: Hey! Innovate on Purpose agrees with me! And, of course, expresses this far more eloquently.

Image credit: Nick J Webb

05 September 2012

What I'm Reading

  • You always have a choice. You might not always like the consequences, but you always have a choice.
  • Innovation is not (or not always, anyway) about the visionary. More often, it's about (say it with me) culture.
  • FOCUS! Here's how.
  • Building a better mousetrap won't help if there are no mice.
  • 4 million unfilled high skill jobs - who's going train people to fill them?
  • Not tweeting at work? It could cost you.
  • Show, don't tell.
  • Our workplaces could be a lot better
  • Acronym's latest edition of Quick Clicks - lots of good stuff on association membership issues. 
  • Association in the eye of a Twitter storm, about APSA's mishaps around an annual meeting scheduled for the week before Labor Day in New Orleans, also known as when Hurricane Isaac made landfall just southeast of the city. My first association job was at APSA, so I was particularly interested in how the furor developed and how APSA responded.
  • Lots of NFL blogs and sites. Did I mention that the 2012 season kicks off TONIGHT?!?!? Happy dance!
  • Finished The Heretic's Daughter and really enjoyed it - well-written historical fiction take on the Salem witch trials. Not sure what's up next yet. Suggestions?

04 September 2012

It's All About Culture

If you haven't reviewed Netflix's amazing slide deck on their culture, what are you waiting for?

(and yes, we all know they don't always live up to it, but at least they're trying)