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Remember the phrase “Jack of all trades and Master of none”? Some people think of Association Management Companies (AMCs) as just that – Jack’s of all trades but masters of none. That perception is simply not true. AMCs are Masters of One, not Jacks of All.

In fact, the opposite is quite true. Association’s that hire their own employees as staff (especially small to mid-sized associations) tend to ask their employees to be more “generalists” in association management than “specialists”. In other words, direct employee staff of associations are often asked to do more than that for which they are trained for or schooled in – beyond their core competency. They may plan meetings but are also asked to do the accounting. Or they may answer the phones and also be asked to develop educational content. When working outside their core competency, people cannot be efficient in delivering services and perhaps, more importantly, the services they provide outside their core competency will inevitably not be expert.

An Association Management Company is, according to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), “a professional service company that specializes in providing management services for associations on a fee-for-service basis. AMCs provide the professional staff, administrative support, office space, technology, and equipment an association needs to operate efficiently.”.

By their very definition AMCs are specialists.

AMCs deliver professional services to associations in a number of areas. However, because AMCs deliver these services to many associations, their employees can focus on delivering the services they do best. So, when partnering with an AMC, an association won’t get a generalist who is having to do many, often unrelated tasks. Instead the association will get experts who specialize in an area of expertise and work to deliver the best possible quality service to their association client partner.

Not only are AMCs providing expert resources to deliver services to their association client partners but, most often, they are able to provide resources that their association client partners couldn’t otherwise afford as a result of the AMC’s shared resources approach to association management. So, an AMCs client receives specialized services from expert resources they otherwise may not be able to afford.

The next time you’re considering how your association should be managed, consider an AMC so your association can benefit from the specialized expertise it needs and deserves.

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Consensus is a collaborative process by which decisions are made based on overwhelming agreement of a group. Ultimately a decision by consensus is one that everyone supports (or can live with).

Associations are groups of people or companies with similar interests or in similar professions or industries.

Even though bylaws and rules of order typically set numerical requirements for voting, associations by their very nature must make many decisions through a consensus process because there isn’t one person in charge or one “owner”.

But how does an association leader help the association achieve decisions through consensus? This can be especially challenging because most association leaders are volunteers who have never followed a consensus based decision-making process. They’re used to making the decisions on their own or within a small leadership team.

Here are some keys to follow in helping your association implement a successful consensus-based decision making process: (more…)

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You’re in a leadership position in your association. The Board isn’t completely satisfied with the current management team. But you don’t want to go through the hassle and extra work involved with a management change while you’re leading the organization – save that for the next leader, right?

Wrong.

Though it certainly would be easier to not have to deal with a management change while you’re volunteering your time to lead the association, putting it off for the next leader won’t help your association move forward and meet its goals. Additionally, when it’s time for a management change, putting it off can cause more problems than moving forward with it.

You’ve never done this before, what do you do – how do you approach this?
Below is a step by step process for making a management change. Follow these steps and you will successfully navigate the management change.

• Board Authorization – Never should a few Officers or Directors take action without the full Board’s knowledge and authorization. If there are issues that are causing your Board or some of your Board members to consider a management change, talk about them openly and honestly amongst the Board and with your management team. Give your management team a chance to address whatever issues are causing concern. If you’ve tried to rectify the situation and the management team is just not right for your organization, make sure it is the consensus of the Board to undergo a management team change before taking any action.

• Determine what management structure to pursue – The Board should determine if it wants the association to be managed by employed staff or by a professional services company known in the industry as an Association Management Company (AMC). To help in this determination, consider resources found on the AMCinstitute’s website here: https://www.amcinstitute.org/page/TheAMCModel

• Create a Search Committee – The Board should identify a Search Committee whose responsibility will be to facilitate the process for your association. The ideal Search Committee will have members with different interests/points of view. It should be made up of approximately five people. Consider a few current Board members, perhaps a key committee chair or two and a past president. Consider having your current President serve on the committee in an ex-officio capacity.

• Develop a Request for Proposal – In order to develop a complete RFP you need to gather information about your organization and do an honest assessment about what’s working and what isn’t with your current management team. Your RFP should include at a minimum the following information about your organization:

o A brief history of the association
o An explanation of why your organization is considering a management change
o Your organization’s current strategic plan. If there isn’t a formal plan, share your organizations mission, vision and plans for the future.
o Include your organization’s current budget
o Describe your organization’s membership structure and leadership structure
o Describe all your organization’s major programs and activities in detail (meetings, publications, marketing, advocacy, benchmarking, etc)
o Provide a summary of all existing contracts your association may be obligated to
o Provide a Scope of Services. This should include office hours, Board meeting frequency and location, facility requirements, financial management requirements, membership support required, publication support required, committee meeting frequency and locations, meetings/conference frequency and locations.
o Provide a list of any other information you would like the RFP respondents to tell you about themselves. Perhaps you’re interested in the history, the way they approach association management, how they will charge for their services, references, etc.
o Timeline. Be clear about deadlines for receipt of proposals and then also include information about the timing of your review process. When can respondents expect to hear from you. Will there be in person interviews? If so, when? When will a final decision be reached?
o Contact information for questions and for receipt of proposals.

• Set evaluation criteria and prioritize it – The Search Committee should meet to discuss what criteria they will use to evaluate the proposals received and what level or importance to place on each criteria. Some examples of criteria a Search Committee may consider could include: Size of the management company (Number of employees, number of clients), Types of organizations managed, Size of organizations managed, Location of management company, Number of years the management company has been in business, Is the management company accredited, etc.

• Identify which companies should receive the RFP – The Search Committee can use a number of methods to identify management companies to receive the RFP. Perhaps the best are:

o Consider if any Board members or association leaders work with management companies in other association’s they’re involved with.
o Google search – consider terms that fit your association like: XXXX association management company where XXXX is your industry; or association management company, XXXX where XXXX is the location you desire; or just association management company.
o AMCinstitute (www.amcinstitute.org) is the trade association for association management companies. You can complete an online RFP form with the AMCinstitute and your RFP will be distributed to all the AMCinstitute members. Or, if you prefer to be more targeted, you can go to www.amcinstitute.org/search/ and find AMC members based on certain criteria you enter.
o Be sure to give AMCs at least a month to respond to the RFP and provide them an opportunity to ask questions about your association and the RFP so they can develop the best possible proposal.
Distribute the RFP – Send the RFP directly to the AMCs you identified in the previous step or through the AMCinstitute RFP distribution process.
• Evaluate Responses – Distribute all responses to your Search Committee. Use an evaluation grid to have each member of your Search Committee evaluate each response based on the criteria agreed upon. Make the rating system clear to the Search Committee. Combine all Search Committee ratings together in your spreadsheet and identify the top 3-4 candidates.
• Interview Finalists – Set up interviews with the 3-4 finalists on the same day or on back to back days. Provide the Search Committee members with an evaluation grid for the presenters. Following the presentations during the same meeting, discuss the finalists and determine the AMC you will be recommending to the Board of Directors.
• Board Recommendation – Search Committee presents recommendation to the Board of Directors for approval. Search Committee should include a summary of the process followed, key points and lessons learned during the process as well as the reasons they are recommending the AMC selected. Board should vote on recommendation and authorize President to negotiate a contract with the AMC selected
• Negotiate Contract – The President should then work with the selected AMC to finalize an agreement. After the agreement is completed, the Search Committee should notify all other AMCs considered that a decision has been finalized.

The entire process can take as few as two months and as much as one year depending on your organization’s timetable and volunteer availability. While the process sounds a bit overwhelming, in reality if the steps above are followed, not only will it lead to the right decision for your organization but it will be an efficient decision as well. Members of the Search Committee will spend between two and four days of their time from start to finish.

The best part is your organization will have professional management that can help lead the way to identifying and accomplishing its goals for years to come – and it will because you were willing to step up when it was needed.

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Boards of Directors Members and Committee Chairs are key leaders who determine whether an association is successful or not. What does that mean? It’s simple – associations whose directors and committee chairs are not focused on the organization’s strategic plan, are not consensus builders, and don’t know how to run effective meetings cause their association’s to fail – or at least stagnate. Conversely, directors and committee chairs who are focused on achieving the results desired by the organization, who engage others toward achieving those results and who run effective meetings, lead their associations to success.

But you likely didn’t get to choose the directors and committee chairs you serve with or whom you serve as staff for right?

So, what can association’s do to assure their leaders are qualified and ready to lead their association?  It’s simple – train your leaders!

Think about it. In your business, what do you do to make sure your employee’s are all working together toward a common goal and are equipped with the skills and tools they need to achieve that goal?  You make sure they understand the direction your company is headed in and provide them the proper training to get there.

The same is true with associations – except the people you need to train aren’t getting paid to do their jobs – they are volunteers. And in many cases, they are volunteers who don’t have experience building consensus or leading an association.

Every association should have a volunteer training program – just like every company should have an employee training program. The training should cover at a minimum the following:

Board orientation for all new directors and officers. This orientation should teach the volunteers about the association, its policies and programs. It should inform them of their duties and responsibilities. It should get them up to speed on meeting dates and deadlines and should update them on the current strategic plan, directions and measurable goals of the association. Though this is a “new” director orientation, all directors and officers should be invited to participate.

Treasurer training. Every time your association elects a new treasurer he/she should be invited to the association office for treasurer training. During the training he/she should become familiar with his/her new responsibilities as well as the expectations for the role. Examples of all the reports he/she will receive should be provided and it should be made clear how to read and evaluate those reports. Finally, the controls your association has in place and the procedures your association follows when handling all accounting and financial transactions should be shared and demonstrated.

Committee Chair training. At every meeting of your association when committee meetings will be held, the association should provide committee chair training. The training should focus on making sure the chairs understand their committee’s role in the overall association. (How do they fit in with the strategic plan?) It should also confirm with the chairs the objective for each of their individual committee meetings. Finally, it should provide some guidance and input on how to run their meetings effectively.

Ongoing Board Training. At each Board meeting, consider setting aside time – perhaps the first hour – for training. The training can be reminders of the Board’s duties and responsibilities, it can include tips on being an effective meeting participant, building consensus and more.

Providing training for the volunteer leaders of associations makes them better leaders and as a result makes their associations more successful.

If you don’t have a training program for your association, create one. If you’d like suggestions or help in creating your training program, contact CM Services’ Head Coach and President, Rick Church at rickc@cmservices.com.

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Associations are groups of people or companies in the same profession or industry or with similar interests working toward a common goal.  By definition, when groups of people get together to take some action, there will be discussions, debates, and disagreement.  It’s also true that whenever a group of people get together there will almost always be at least one person with a negative outlook on things.

The art of being a successful association leader is knowing how best to help a group reach consensus.  Part of that art is learning how to effectively handle negativity during your meetings.

Here’s a definition from dictionary.com: Negativity is a tendency to be downbeat, disagreeable, and skeptical. It’s a pessimistic attitude that always expects the worst. Negative outcomes are bad outcomes, like losing a game, getting a disease, suffering an injury, or getting something stolen.

Negativity can occur in many different ways but the most common is “that one person”.  You know the one, he/she never has a kind word to say, sees the bad in everything and is often very vocal – the one with the black cloud hanging over his/her head.  That negative input, if not handled properly can change the tone of a meeting, change the energy of an event, and even change the direction of an association.

So, what are some tools you can use to handle that negativity?

  • How the meeting is organized can have a major impact. Make sure you have an agenda for the meeting that clearly articulates the decisions that need to be made and provides the information necessary to make those decisions.  Make sure that agenda is distributed at least one week and preferably two weeks prior to the meeting.
  • Using the Consent Agenda format can be helpful too. Consent agendas keep your group focused on the important things – the decisions that need to be made, actions that need to be taken and progress on the organization’s key metrics.  They keep your group from spending unnecessary time talking about reports and things that don’t impact the overall goals of the organization.  (Those are hot bed areas for negativity and you avoid them with the Consent agenda)
  • Agenda approval, right after “minutes approval” on the agenda is also important to keep focus. If anyone has an item to add to the agenda, it MUST BE DONE UNDER AGENDA APPROVAL.  There should be no “other business” item at the end of your agenda unless it is used to consider an item added to the agenda.  All this is designed, not to silence anyone, but to help the chair create focus.
  • How you run your meeting also has a major impact on whether it’s positive or negative. Set the ground rules for the meeting upfront and make them clear to everyone.  Describe what needs to be accomplished during the meeting (articulate goals for the meeting) and what the process will be to get everyone’s input and come to the consensus required.  For example, after describing the desired outcome, tell everyone something like, “Thank you for participating in today’s meeting.  Everyone’s input into this decision is important and valued.  To assure we arrive at consensus and to make sure everyone’s input is heard, please don’t repeat something that’s already been shared and keep your comments positive and productive.  We are all on the same team working toward a common goal.  Thank you.”
  • Of course, even if you have organized your meeting well, provided the information in advance of the meeting in a Consent agenda format and laid the groundwork for how the meeting will be run properly, you may still have that person who is negative. How do you keep them from dominating the discussion or harming it with their negative input?  It’s not easy, but you can do it.
    • First suggestion is to not let them take over your meeting with their comments. Use polite interruptions such as, “Thank you for that input John. Let’s hear what Joe has to say on this subject as well.” Or, “You have some excellent points John. I wonder if Joe has some new points he’d like to make?”.
    • Sometimes of course, that negative person doesn’t get the hint and you may have to be a little more direct but always positive and polite. You can try saying something like, “Thank you John. I think we all have a clear understanding of your position. Let’s see if anyone else has input they’d like to share.” Or, “Thank you John. That point has been made. Let’s see if there are any new points anyone would like to discuss.”
    • When redirecting the conversation from the negative person, always try to direct it toward someone you know will be positive. Negativity is contagious (so is positivity by the way).

At CM Services, our team of association professionals use Board and Committee orientation and training to help our association leaders learn to build consensus in positive ways.  Click here to view some of the training we have done for our leaders.

If you’d like help with Board training, planning or overall management, contact Rick Church, CM Services’ President & Head Coach at rickc@cmservices.com.

Keep your meetings positive and effective!

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Leaders are Learners

It’s been quite a while since I created a post on this blog.  Something caught my attention today and I was inspired to share it through my blog.  Most of my posts relate to leadership.  Not because I hold myself up as some great leader, but because I aspire to be a better leader.

One way to become a better leader is to study great leaders.  Identify the characteristics and traits they shared and adopt them as your own.  When we think of great leaders some of the qualities we think of include:  charisma, decisiveness, honesty, trustworthiness, intelligence, ability to communicate effectively, and many more.

One of the qualities we don’t often attribute to great leaders (but one that I believe all share) is their desire to learn.

Think about it.  Great leaders are lifelong learners.  They are curious.  They want to read what other people have written.  They want to listen to what other people are saying.  They want to gain as much knowledge as they can.

This article sums it up nicely.

Read the article and share what you think be commenting on this blog.

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To most people, the concept of becoming “lean” connotes having less or doing more with less.  For example, I am 35 pounds leaner than I was fifteen months ago.  My company is managing more associations today with fewer employees than we did two years ago – we are leaner.  To many businesspeople the concept of lean is also associated primarily with manufacturing businesses.  It’s a concept that’s applied to the operations of the business, not to leadership.

I read an article recently about a book called The Lean CEO.  You can read the article here.

I think the concept of the lean CEO is interesting.  In fact, it mirrors many of the same leadership traits we often discuss in this blog.  The author of the article suggests that lean isn’t just a cost-cutting thing, or only applicable to manufacturing.  Instead, he believes lean is a cultural change that brings about success for the employees and the business.

Here are a couple of the key concepts of lean:

  • It creates an environment that is motivating to workers by involving them in making the business better.
  • It is about continuous improvement and involves everyone in that process.
  • It improves productivity but not by asking people to work harder and longer but getting them to work together as a team.
  • It’s about respecting people.  The teammates, the customers, management.

Sound familiar?  These are all concepts we have come to know and expect from great leaders.

Perhaps we should be talking more about Leanership.  I plan to read The Lean CEO.

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