Thursday, November 29, 2012

Main Thing, Engagement & Problem Solving: Key Ideas for Association Executives

Today’s association executives face a myriad of problems. Changing demographics. Increasing competition. Defining income sources. Adapting to diverse media and technology. Merging with millenials as members and leaders. Understanding these and more.Three seemingly disparate articles provide context for discussions with your association leaders and association staff professionals.

In an Inc. story titled Do One Thing & Do It Better Than Anyone Else Jeff Hoffman advised:

“Become the best darn whatever-you-are that you can be. Set aside your other good ideas. The rest will follow. Find your "golden purpose" ... the reason you and your company (association) exist.”
Find your golden purpose. Stick to it. Then, expand. 

“What do you think happens when you try to launch three ideas at once?,” Hoffman asked. “Nothing. To implement even one good idea takes a mountain of work--strategic planning, product development, marketing pushes, financing, administration, human resources, and so much more. Taking one idea to profits is hard.”

So, what is the ONE THING that your association offers its members?

Hoffman then adds: “Once people have trust and confidence in you and your abilities, they will come to you for more. Amazon sold only books when it started, but it was the best darn bookseller on the planet. Once customers became comfortable with Amazon and loved buying books on the site, they started asking Amazon for more. Today Amazon sells thousands of products. But the company started by becoming the best at one thing.”

And, Hoffman shares some well-known examples:
  • Google started out as a simple search engine. 
  • Zappos was just an online shoe seller. 
  • Richard Branson launched Virgin Records; only later did it become an airline, resort, mobile service, and even a commercial space program. 
“These companies proved themselves in the minds of customers by winning their categories,” Hoffman says. “They raised their hands high in one specific area of expertise and owned it before they launched another idea or two. That's what opened the door to the future.”

Listening to Hoffman, association success means being the best at one thing your members want or need. Focus on that one thing and do your best to deliver value to your members. Become irreplaceable to your members.

So, Hoffman encourages associations to be awesome at just one thing. That adds value. Which brings me to the second article ... Engagement, Value and Blaming the Member  written by Andrea Pellegrino in TheDemandPerspective blog
This is a great article. 

“If we can just get more members engaged,” associations say, “our membership retention problems will be solved! Members will find so much value in our membership, renewal will be automatic! We’ll grow and, we’ll have all the volunteers we need to staff our boards, committees, task forces, advisory boards and whatnot! It’s a win-win!”
Wrong! Engagement does not drive value. Value drives engagement.

Pellegrino suggests that most associations blame their members for the lack of engagement.
She says: “Value—as it is lived and perceived by the member, not by the association—is the only valid basis for engagement. The trick isn’t to convince more members to volunteer or mentor or come to meetings, or to inject “fun” into the drudgery of committee meetings. The trick is for associations to offer more engagement opportunities based around what members value so that more members become—and remain—engaged.

She offers five suggestions to help association executives increase value and engagement:
  1. Get to know members and customers as individuals, rather than as generic “members,” and “customers.”
  2. Lay out the goals of the association and decide where members’ input, interests, motivations, and experience can best be leveraged. 
  3. Mesh what members value, time constraints and skill sets to specific association goals. Then structure engagement opportunities that match these criteria.
  4. Target opportunities and invitations to engage individual members or member segments.
  5. Most of all, stop blaming the member!
The biggest challenge for most associations and association executives is how do we achieve this? Given our diverse membership, how do we focus on doing just one thing really well? How do we determine member value in ways that increases member involvement and engagement?
That’s where the third article comes in! In a Litemind blog posted titled Einstein’s Secret to Amazing Problem Solving Luciano Passuello offers 10 ways to use Einstein’s approach.
Start by clearly defining the problem! Einstein is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.

Here are Passeuello’s 10 tips (he offers more details in his blog):
  1. Rephrase the Problem
  2. Expose and Challenge Assumptions
  3. Chunk Up
  4. Chunk Down
  5. Find Multiple Perspectives
  6. Use Effective Language Constructs
  7. Make It Engaging
  8. Reverse the Problem
  9. Gather Facts
  10. Problem-Solve Your Problem Statement
As I reviewed these articles to write this blog, I offer three “next steps” for you and other association executives: 
  1. Start by asking the right questions and get outside your current leadership structure to ask prospects, former members, current members. (Remember Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s research on “The curse of knowledge?”) 
  2. Determine the core value(s) for your members and prospects.
  3. Focus on one thing. (Remember Stephen Covery’s “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”?) 

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