Friday, April 29, 2011

Lexus Innovates by Borrowing a Lesson from Henry Ford

An earlier post, Learning to Create the Future, discussed what Henry Ford called the forced method of investigation. This philosophy is what led Ford to imagine the Model T (a car that would sell for the previously unheard of price of $500) and then figure out a way to manufacture it. In other words, Ford and his colleagues defined the challenge (a low-cost, affordable car) in a way that forced them to develop assembly line automobile production.

As the video shows, Lexus has just used a similar approach. They began by imagining a new kind of chassis that would be lighter and stronger than conventional chasses, one that would require the use of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP). That in turn, forced them to invent a new kind of loom that could weave the carbon fiber directly into the chassis.

Pretty neat, eh?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Two Common Pitfalls of Strategic Planning

What ails your strategy? After all the time and effort - not to mention the costs associated with the ordeal - you end up with a strategic plan that that seems to have little or no impact. What to do? Here are two common pitfalls to avoid that will help you put your strategic plan to work.

Pitfall: Losing Sight of the Member

Because strategy creation is a complex, drawn-out affair, it is distressingly easy to lose sight of what matters most: the member. Discussions about factors such as competition, demographic or social trends, and technology are essential to the process. Unfortunately, many associations fail to link this discussion to the factors that will impact the lives of their members.

The result is often a nice sounding but rather meaningless statement such as, "Our association will be a leader in utilizing Social Media to connect and empower members."  Compare that to a statement such as, "Within the next three years we will connect at least two-thirds of our members via Social Media applications. With this platform in place, we will be able to deliver a greater variety of higher quality education programs at a lower cost. It will also make it possible for prospective members to "test drive" the membership experience (which will directly support our goal of increasing membership levels by 15% in the next four years)..."

The first statement promises nothing of value. The second statement, in contrast, makes a simple, direct, and compelling link to the how and why of getting and keeping members.

Pitfall: Losing Sight of Goals Deserving of One's Time and Commitment

Strategic plans are often greeted with little enthusiasm by staff and volunteers because the long-term benefits are not obvious; it is difficult to see any direct relevance to the day-to-day activities of the organization. Is it any wonder, therefore, that the following scenario is played out in countless associations across the nation? During a meeting someone asks, "How does that relate to the long-range plan? And by the way, what are the main goals of the plan?" Suddenly, everyone else in the room is uncomfortable as they frantically search for a copy of the plan.

The moral? The strategic plan has become an irrelevant, benign document. It has little, if any, impact on  how the staff or the board behaves and ultimately no impact on the lives of the members. The challenge, therefore, is not only to create strategy but to make sure it "sticks" to the organization. Toward that end, a successful strategy must, as noted by the likes of Theodore Levitt and others:
  • express itself simply and clearly in only a few written lines;
  • establish truly worthwhile goals so that people will march to its tune; and
  • set short-term targets that deserve the time and commitment of staff and volunteers.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The "I Need..." Statement: An Engaging Technique for Stating Member Benefits

An earlier post, An Engaging Member Conversation, discussed the challenge of engaging new members and helping them find satisfying ways to participate in the association. 

With that in mind, let's take a look at the "I Need..." statement. Because it expresses, in the first person, what a potential member is seeking, it is a powerful communication technique. Consider the following presentation of member benefits, from the The Entrepreneurs' Organization:

Click on picture for full sized image

Three Simple Sentences!

The beauty of this approach is that, with three simple sentences, EO is able to sum up the value of its many programs and services:
  • I need to find other people like me; those who understand what it's like to own a business.
  • I need to solve business or personal challenges I haven't faced before. I'm walking in the dark here.
  • I need to expand my network, get out there and meet people who can help me grow.
 From a communications standpoint, this is one elegant solution!

The Power of the First-Person

Using the first-person voice echoes what goes on inside a prospective member's mind and engages on two levels. First, it offers the promise of a tangible benefit or solution. Second, it invokes a feeling of belonging, the prospective member is likely to think, "if other people with the same need have joined EO, this is probably the place for me!"

The Bottom-Line: There's an art to communication that engages members and prospects. The next time you examine your member benefits statement, try to boil it down to three simple sentences that begin with "I need..."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Help Your Chapters Solve the Right Problem!

An earlier post, Solve the Right Problem, illustrates how even the smartest of us can get a bit off track in trying to solve a problem. The following example, involving chapters and the issue of membership recruitment & retention, also demonstrates this.
Don’t Talk to Us about Recruitment!

Let’s set the scene: this was an association with approximately three hundred state and local chapters. It was also during the 1980’s, when certain states and regions of the country were in an economic downturn, but others were doing quite well. To encourage struggling chapters with their membership efforts, the Membership Committee decided to offer Recognition Awards to those chapters that had done the best job of recruiting new members.

The response was either underwhelming or negative. Why?

As the executive for the Boston Chapter, which had received an award, noted, “The economy is doing very well in New England; it’s been very easy to recruit new members. We don’t find the Recognition Award to be especially meaningful.”

Meanwhile, down in Texas, the economy was very poor. The executive from the Houston chapter observed, “Our members are moving away from Texas to places like New England. We’re busting our butts, doing everything we can to retain as many members as we can. And then National goes ahead with their silly little awards program…as if that is going to encourage me to work harder or smarter!”

Helping Chapters Solve the Right Problem

To their credit, the Membership Committee listened and scrapped the recognition program. In its place, they created a Chapter Membership Grants program allowing chapters to apply for funds. The chapters submitted proposals detailing the specific membership recruitment or retention issue they faced and their strategy for dealing with it. What's more, a condition of the grant required the chapter to share "lessons learned" with their fellow chapters.

As a result, if a chapter was in a depressed economic region – such as Texas at that time – and needed funds to launch an innovative approach to retention, they could apply for a grant.  In this way, the Membership Committee was responding to the “facts on the ground” and enabling chapters to address their most pressing issues.

The Bottom Line: The Membership Committee was smart to jettison an award problem that solved nothing and replace it with the grant program designed to help chapters solve the right problem!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What Demotivates a Chapter?

What Demotivates a Chapter?

Help me compile a list of "Chapter Demotivators" that will be published in a future issue of ASAE's Component Relations e-newsletter.

I am sure we have all had experiences of trying to do right by our chapters or components and ending up, unintentionally, doing something that made them unhappy. Because of these experiences, we build our personal checklists of things that will annoy or demotivate the chapters.

The goal of the article is to share those experiences. The result, hopefully, will be a handy checklist of things to avoid when dealing with chapters.

Please contribute by sharing your ideas. Any and all examples, big or small, involving any aspect of chapter relations are welcomed. You may contribute to the ASAE Linkedin group discussion, leave a comment on the blog or respond to me at

Thank you. I look forward to an exciting discussion.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Case of the Myopic Association

In a recent report, the Bureau of Labor Standards claims that over the next decade, ten types of industries will be deemed "no longer viable or profitable" and will see a steep decline in the number of people they employ. (Jobs That No Longer Exist: 10 Industries Heading for Extinction).  

Reading that article brought to mind an exercise I developed a number of years ago. It is called, "The Case of the Myopic Association" and was first published in the ASAE Foundation's publication, Embracing the Future. It uses an example from the 1930's involving the New Jersey Retail Grocers Association and their inability to prepare for the future. The exercise is reproduced below. (Click on the picture for a full-sized image).

Click on picture for full-sized image.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Silo Busting Begins Before You Hire!

In an earlier post, I stated that the process of building and motivating teams begins before you hire; it begins with how you describe and advertise the job opening. Going a step further, one of the goals here is the tearing down of silos within the organization; eliminating the barriers to collaboration and information sharing.

Towards that end, one can learn an important lesson from the folks at Grand Circle Travel, a $600 million international tour operator. The trick happens during the interview process. Here's how Alan Lewis, Grand Circle's Chairman, explains the use of group interviews:

You can learn a lot more about a person from watching him or her interact with other job applicants and employees. At Grand Circle, our process includes a group interview, in which multiple candidates interview for various open jobs at the same time. We observe candidates undertaking unique and often quirky challenges, and interacting with each other...To test for risk-taking, for example, candidates role-play how they would deal with a situation in which one colleague has been called out of town and needs a less-experienced coworker to take his or her place in an important presentation. We also engage candidates in a "raw-egg drop exercise," in which they work in teams to design a travel vessel for the egg (using only straws and tape), develop a marketing presentation to "sell" the trip the designed vessel will take the egg on, and then drop the vessel from about 10 feet. From this exercise, we're able to quickly learn which candidates exhibit leadership and teamwork qualities, which ones perform well in unusual situations, and which have done their background research on the company.
(From: How My Company Hires for Culture First, Skills Second)
Compare Grand Circle's group interview process to the hiring process of most organizations, even yours. You can see that silo busting begins, not during orientation for new employees, but during the interview process with job candidates.

'nuff said!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Is This What Happens When I Complete a Survey?

I feel like my survey responses end up in the trash can!

Yesterday, I completed an online survey for one of the supermarkets I frequent. I am asked to do this about three times a year. This is in addition to surveys I have completed for the branch of my bank, my brokerage service as well as various local restaurants.

Why the trash can?

That's my best guess as to what happens to my survey responses. It seems a logical conclusion. Take the supermarket survey, for example. I have completed it multiple times, expressing satisfaction in many areas and dissatisfaction in other areas. However, I have absolutely no evidence that anyone is listening to or acting on the feedback. 

Where's the evidence?

Here is an example of the type of evidence I am looking for: One day I walk into my supermarket and there, in the frozen food aisle, is an expanded selection of oriental foods. There's also a sign that says, "Our customers told us that you wanted more of these kinds of foods." That would be proof someone is paying attention.

You could also send me an email follow-up that says, "Our latest survey shows we need to have more cashiers on duty during the weekend. The next time you visit our store, you will see we have added three extra cashiers for the weekend shift."

Yeah, it would be nice to see that kind of evidence. You know what? I don't think I have ever seen it. Not for the supermarket surveys. Not for the bank surveys. Not for any other customer service survey I have completed.

The Bottom Line: If you are going to survey your members or customers, make sure you do something with the information. Make it significant, tangible and worthwhile. And make sure you get back to the folks who completed the survey and tell them what you did. Let them know it was worth their time to complete the survey.

'nuff said

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Strength & Passion Interview

In a previous post (here), I challenged readers to quit wasting their volunteers' talents. Today I would like share with you a fun and valuable ice-breaker exercise you can use at your next board or committee meeting. It's called the Strengths & Passions Introduction (click here to download)

At first glance, it may seems more fun than substantive. Let me assure you, however, there are two powerful concepts, backed by management research, at work here.

Concept #1: Focus on Intrinsic Motivators: In a classic article from Harvard Business Review, One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?, Frederick Herzberg demonstrates that intrinsic motivators (i.e., work that is interesting and challenging) leads to higher performance.

Concept #1: Capitalize on People's Strengths:  The Gallop Organization (as outlined in What Great Managers Do), studied 80,000 managers in 400 companies to identify the characteristics of a great manager. A key factor: great managers spent time upfront matching specific job roles or projects to the strength of an employee. 

The Strengths & Passions Introduction provides a relaxed way for volunteers to discuss explore what types of roles or projects will be a good fit for them. The discussion that follows from this exercise also provides valuable insights for staff, giving them a better sense of what talents and experiences the volunteers possess, and how best to utilize these.

I created this exercise as a tool to jump start the discussion about the passions and strengths volunteers can bring to the table. I hope you find it valuable.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Want to Make Membership Everyone's Business? Call in the Marketing Subversives!

In two prior posts (What Would Tony Soprano Do? and Don't Tell Me Membership is Everyone's Business!), I discussed how to engage the entire staff of your association in the cause of membership. To further this cause, I will now discuss how to act as a Marketing Subversive.

The term comes from an article of the same name, Marketing Subversives (I highly recommend you download it). The author spent five years interviewing more than 1,000 managers in 30 companies. His goal was to understand how the certain managers were more successful in communicating and collaborating across departments and functions to achieve their marketing goals. Hmmm....seems to me some of these lessons might be useful in furthering an association's overall goal of recruitment, retention and member satisfaction.

Three Things Marketing Subversives Do

What is that subversives do? It comes down to three things:
  • They constantly work at organizing informal contacts among functions and departments?
  • They have a knack (or a charm or simply the persistence) for breaking through territorial defenses and organizational insularity.
  • They are savvy about knowing when and where to bend or break the rules.
The articles notes that "marketing subversives constantly analyze people's motivations" and seem to be constantly asking, "What do they really want?"  In other words, they are using a thinking process similar to that of the "Don't Sell Me ___, Sell Me ___" exercise discussed in Don't Tell Me Membership is Everyone's Business!

Furthermore, subversives build goodwill in their organizations by developing an exchange bank - "by doing favors for others,  they amass credits that can be traded for information or help." This is just another way of stating the principle of  "think cooperation and reciprocity" as outlined in What Would Tony Soprano Do?

The Bottom Line: Are you ready to become a marketing subversive?

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fools' Day Edition - Seven Worst Articles of All Time

We celebrate April Fools with an imaginary list of the seven worst association management articles of all time.

Ignoring Members for Fun and Profit!  This controversial new approach to membership retention is all the rage.  Is it too good to be true?

Chaos Theory versus Roberts Rules of Order: Determining which works best for your board requires both theoretical knowledge and practical experience.

Post Traumatic Consultant Disorder
:  Formerly the scourge of Fortune 500 companies, PTCD now threatens the nonprofit sector and associations. Is Consultants Anonymous the answer?

Pre-completed Surveys:  Using psychics to complete surveys, before they’re mailed, saves time and avoids the hassle of asking members what they think. Are they statistically reliable?
An A“maze”ingly Bad Idea:
In a bold attempt at innovation, the National Association of String Manufacturers designed their exhibit floor using the original maze design from the Greek myth. Unfortunately, a joint venture with the International Association of Minotaur Breeders led to tragedy. A cautionary tale about the dangers of innovation taken to its extremes.

From the Department of Utterly Useless Research: A new survey of associations proves, conclusively, that annual meetings are occurring at the alarming rate of once a year!

Travel Insert: One Host to Rule Them All!  The grand opening of Mordor’s new conference facility and Mt. Doom Theme Park has everyone talking!