Your Choice: Change or Irrelevance

organizational changesOne of my favorite quotes was when Eric Shinseki, then the Army Chief of Staff, now Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, said “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

I love that.

But boy, is it tough for a lot of associations to heed this advice.  Many organizations are well on their way to irrelevance.

If you’re a leader of an organization that feels like it is headed that way, here are a few ideas:

  1. Revamp your Board.   This means dropping the dead wood and looking for some people who will come on the Board and shake things up.  If your Board isn’t future looking, the organization won’t be either.
  2. Look outside your space.   As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane heading to the TED conference.  I went last year, thinking I’d be excited to hear the technologists and organizational gurus.  But here I learned the most was from poets and gardeners.  Sometimes lessons come from unlikely places—open your experiences.
  3. Stop doing something.  You’ll never get to the items on your “to do” list unless you have a “to don’t” list.  Spend some time at your next Board meeting talking about what you can stop.  You make discover it leads to a new beginning.

advisory boardWell,  for many Board members, “fading away” means unceremoniously dropping them off the Board.  That’s why former Board members are often a trouble spot for organizations—someone goes from being “in the know” to “out in the cold.”   The result:  a one time key member—and often still influential one—becomes disenfranchised.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

One thing many organizations do is create a separate “advisory board” of past Board members or past chairs.   A simple meeting a few times a year with the lead staff executive and current chair can keep the group informed enough to feel like their input matters.

A more formal role is to create an Emeritus Board seat.  These seats are typically reserved for Board members who performed exceptionally well while on the Board.  If you’re considering this option, be sure to have some hard and fast rules, such as:

  • Limiting the number of Emeritus Directors from each class
  • Limiting the total number of Emeritus Directors that can serve at one time
  • Spelling whether Emeritus Directors can vote or count towards quorum (I vote no on both of these)
  • Establishing what information they do and don’t receive

One last place that many organizations involve former Board members is on the nominating committee.   I understand the rational of this, but be sure to have some limits on this one.  Make sure your nominating committee reflects your organization’s future, not its past.

At the Ready

Ready to produce resultYesterday I went underwear shopping.

This isn’t usually blog-worthy, but it actually tells you a bit of what we try to do here at Virtual.

One of our clients was due to testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.  Due to a massive 4-inch snowstorm that Washington isn’t terribly adept at clearing, his testimony was delayed until Thursday.   Since he was a precise packer, this meant he was out of underwear.

So I went to Macy’s and bought him some.

There’s a lesson here for associations.   Sometimes your members need complicated things…help on Capitol Hill, advice on a key issue.  Sometimes they need the basics.   And sometimes you can’t deliver on the complex items without the basics.   Are you paying attention to what your member’s really need?

Because no one should go commando to Capitol Hill.

Find Talent Association Management CompanyNew York Yankees pitcher, Mariano Rivera, retired at the end of this baseball season.  After all the years Rivera he’s spent in the league—he’s retiring at age 43—it’s easy to forget where he came from.   But I won’t make you look it up.  Rivera is a product of the New York Yankees farm system.   (If you’re not a baseball fan, the farm system is a network of minor league teams that supports the major league teams—it’s where talent is developed).

What does baseball have to do with association membership? Great baseball teams have great farm systems.  And they take talent development seriously.

Great associations need to follow baseball’s example.  Talent development doesn’t happen by accident—your organization needs a member management strategy, to develop talent systematically.

Here are three questions to consider as you do:

1.   Is there a meaningful way for young talent to participate in your organization?

Many organizations ask members to ‘pay their dues’ before they can participate in meaningful ways. Members ascend from volunteer roles, to committee chair roles, to Board member roles, and through a rotation of officer positions.  In some groups, this means the path from first volunteering to leadership can be measured in decades.

For the WWII generation, which was hardwired for loyalty and organizational longevity, this made good sense.  But for Millennials, who are hardwired for 140-character tweets and frequent job changes, can you be confident that a path this long will attract the best talent?

2.   Do you regularly scan your association membership for stars?

Your future association chair may be sitting as a volunteer on a subcommittee.  Or she might be the person standing up to ask a hard question at a meeting.  Or, sometimes, he has nominated himself for the Board. Regardless of the source, the reality is the same: unless you create a focused effort to identify talent, you’re going to miss out.

Here’s a practical way to do so—a pyramid scheme.  Ask your officers to identify the top two or three Board members.   Ask the Board members to identify the top two or three committee chairs.  Ask the committee chairs to identify the top two or three volunteers.  Before you know it, you have a talent bank on your hands.

3.  Is talent development a part of your association’s member management strategy?

Once you’ve identified your stars, be sure you’ve created ways to develop their talent.  Per the first question, this doesn’t have to be a decades-long apprenticeship. Something as simple as assigning a mentor can go a long way toward turning young members into longstanding members—ones with tremendous leadership potential.