Thursday, June 30, 2011

TLC: Why Chapter Relations Professionals Should be More Like Kojak

In an earlier post, I suggested consultants could learn a thing or two from the TV character Kojak. Who can forget his signature tagline, "Who loves ya, baby?" I believe the same applies to the Chapter Relations Professional. 

Why? One of the functions of the CRP is to act as a consultant to the chapters. Peter Block, in his book, Flawless Consulting, states that "consulting at its best is an act of love: The wish to be genuinely helpful to another..." I prefer to describe this as acts of Tender Loving Care (TLC). This notion was instilled in me by a group of chapter leaders from Michigan. Here's the story...

A visit to Detroit...

A number of years ago I was on the staff of an association which had 300 state and local chapters. At one point, I was invited to Detroit to sit in on a two-day annual planning session for the Michigan chapters. At first there was a bit of tension and underlying hostility towards me since I was from HQ. There were comments such as, "Oh, you're from Washington and you're here to help?"

As I listened -- okay, I had no choice but to listen, I was outnumbered twelve to one -- I understood why they felt the way they did. They had a number of legitimate complaints about how they were being treated. Then Tom, who was the president of the Michigan State Chapter said, "It's all about TLC...tender loving care!" He went on to tell a story about they had repaired a rift between the state chapter and its local chapters.

They started with a little TLC! 

"Two years ago, the Michigan state chapter and the local chapters were at each others throats," Tom explained.. "We didn't get along and we didn't agree on much of anything." I saw the other people in the room, who were the local chapter leaders, nodding their heads. 

"We had to re-build trust and respect," Tom went on. "So we started with a commitment: we, the volunteers leaders for the state chapter, would have to demonstrate that we really did care about the local chapters. How did we start? With a small and simple gesture. We had customized banners made for each of the local chapters, so they would have something to hang at their meetings. The state chapter board members showed up at the local meetings and surprised the members by presenting the banners. In other words, we started with a little TLC.
"The other thing we did was listen - a lot of listening. We made sure a state board member was at every local meeting and available to talk with and listen to and even get yelled at by the local members. That's how we started and, two years later, we are able to sit together in a room for two-days and have a productive planning session."

The Bottom-Line: When dealing with your chapters, there's more than making sure you have the right processes, support mechanisms or checklists in place. You need to step back and make sure, once in a while, there are acts of TLC. After all, it's what Kojak would do!

Also check this post:  Help Your Chapters Solve the Right Problem!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Three Reasons Your Chapters and Volunteers May Not Trust You

Are you trustworthy? Do your volunteers and chapters see you as sincere, reliable and involved with them?  “Of course!” you respond. “The staff at HQ strives for professionalism and to earn the trust of volunteers and chapters each time we interact with them.”

Let us now ask this in a slightly different way: Given the context of their daily life experiences, what might create the perception, in the mind of a volunteer or chapter executive, that you, or another staff at HQ, are not trustworthy?

To answer this, I will present three examples, utilizing snippets from a day-in-the-life of a volunteer or chapter executive, to illustrate how trust can be unintentionally undermined.

Why Jane doubts your sincerity

Jane is the chapter executive for the Terabitha Chapter (which is famous for its annual bridge building contest). On Tuesday morning, she called customer support about a software issue.  After numerous rings, her call was put on hold with a message that began, “Due to high call volume…” and concluded with, “…your call is very important to us.”

“My call is important? Do you sincerely expect me to believe that?” Jane muttered to herself.

That afternoon, she called to find out about a major policy change under consideration by the national Board.  Local members were concerned and she had been trying, for the past week, via email and unanswered calls, to get more information. Finally, she gets you on the phone and you tell her, “I sincerely apologize for not getting back sooner, we’ve had a zillion calls about this policy issue…”  Jane mutters under her breath, “yeah, due to high call volume.”

You hear the agitation in Jane’s voice so you try to reassure her, “Jane, I value your opinion as I do all the chapter executives.” At that moment, Jane is having a wicked bad flashback to her earlier call: all she hears is, “your call is very important to us.”

Jane, for easily understandable reasons, begins to doubt if anyone at HQ sincerely cares about her opinion.

Why Hank thinks you are not reliable
Hank is a volunteer with the Hyboria Chapter and serves as the Chair of the National Membership Committee. Wednesday morning, he has a doctor’s appointment scheduled for 11:30. He knows, from prior experiences, the doctor won’t actually see him at 11:30. It will be more like 11:54 or sometime after noon. As he sits in the waiting room, rereading the July/1995 edition of Sports Illustrated for the 37th time, he recalls how, last week, the cable guy showed up 90 minutes late. “People aren’t reliable,” he thinks to himself.

That afternoon, he checks his email. You had promised him the agenda and support documents for the upcoming committee meeting by COB of that day. He calls and you apologize. You go on to explain, “The materials are almost ready. Unfortunately, there was an urgent request from a Board member yesterday – high priority – so I was pulled in to work on that. I will have your materials to you no later than tomorrow afternoon.”  That night, you work late so you can deliver the materials first thing in the morning.  It was delivered late, but heck, it was just a little bit late. Under the circumstances, you feel okay about that.

Hank, meanwhile, has mentally put you into the same category as his doctor and the cable guy. “HQ staff aren’t reliable,” he thinks to himself.

Why Harmon thinks you are not involved with him

Harmon is the new staff exec at the Narnia chapter. It is his first job in associations, a lot of issues and problems are brand new to him.

Friday morning, he drops his car off for repairs. He has a new mechanic, Sal, who was recommended by a neighbor who said, “I totally trust him.” Sal greets Harmon and says, “tell me everything you can think of about the problem.” He listens without interrupting. Then he starts asking questions,  lot of questions. Finally, he says, “Chances are it is one of two issues. The only way I can be sure is if…”

That afternoon, Harmon picks up his car – it runs perfectly. He reflects on Sal’s ability to listen, and realizes it is the ability to ask lots of questions, the process of getting involved,  that makes Sal a good mechanic. That’s why his neighbor trusts him completely.

Meanwhile, Harmon has been struggling to get up to speed on association type issues. He calls you for advice and begins the conversation by unloading all the background details. You realize his questions can be easily answered with a series of FAQs you have written. Besides, your schedule is packed and you conclude that a long conversation with Harmon is not the most efficient use of your time. You politely cut the conversation short, directing Harmon to the FAQs. You  hang up, rush to your meeting, thinking, “It would have been nice to chat, but that’s why we have FAQs…”

Harmon, meanwhile, is comparing his experience with you to the conversation he had with Sal the Mechanic. Unlike Sal, you didn’t bother to ask a lot questions, you didn’t take the time to get involved.  Harmon shakes his head and realizes he’d rather talk to his mechanic than to you. He picks up the phone, makes a call and says, “Hey Sal, what do you know about associations?”

The Bottom Line: To build trust with another human being, you need to consider the context of that person’s daily life. Everyday, your volunteers and chapter executives encounter and assess the trustworthy of a variety of people. Those experiences create a filter through which they learn to trust, or distrust, others…and that includes you. The more you understand their context for assessing trust, the more success you will have.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Nine Questions to Measure the Strength of the HQ - Chapter Relationship

What does it take to have a strong, vibrant relationship between HQ and Chapters? What questions might you ask of chapter staff and volunteers to measure the strength of that relationship?

To answer that, I began with a set of questions from the book, First, Break All theRules (it outlines a study by the Gallup Organization that studied 80,000 managers in 400 companies to identify the characteristics of a great manager). Gallup discovered these twelve questions give an organization the most important information it needs to attract, focus, and keep the most talented employees. They are:
  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

Nine Core Questions

This is a powerful set of questions; using them as a foundation, I have created a set of nine questions that can help you measure the strength of the HQ – Chapter relationship. If your chapter staff and volunteers are able to answer “yes” for most or all of these questions, then congratulations, you have a healthy HQ – Chapter partnership!  
  1. Do I know what is expected of me at the chapter level? Are we in agreement about:  a) which activities and functions should be done only by the chapter; and  b) those activities and functions that should be done only by HQ?
  2. Does HQ provide me with the materials and support I need to do my work right?
  3. Does HQ understand and appreciate the priorities of my chapter? 
  4.  In the past three or four months, have I received recognition or praise, from HQ, for doing good work? 
  5.  Does the staff at HQ seem to care about me as a person?  Even better, do I have a friend at HQ? 
  6.  Is there someone at HQ who encourages me, either to take on a new challenge or to learn from a failure? 
  7.  Do my opinions count at HQ? 
  8.  Does the staff at HQ feel the work of the chapters is important? Do they make me feel important? 
  9.  In the last six months, has someone at HQ called to check in and see how we are doing and whether the chapter is meeting its goals?
A final word of advice

Remember to give your chapters a pat on the back - free of charge!