Thursday, June 6, 2013

Creating a Sustainable Organization

Early in my career, I was privileged to be on a staff team – led by an exceptional leader – that built and sustained what became the premier association in its industry for nearly 15 years.
I thought about this as I read a USA Today story by Kevin Allen, Sam Amick and Erik Brady headlined Red Wings, Spurs set standard for their generation
  • NOTE: as a 35-year resident of St. Louis, I would add the baseball Cardinals to this story. A future Hall of Fame manager retires, they keep on winning. A future Hall of Fame first baseman takes a huge contract with another team, they keep on winning.
As I read the story and thought of my early association experience, I saw parallels for associations and the ability of some nonprofit organizations to build sustainable and successful associations.

Here are the highlights of the USA Today story:
  • The Detroit Red Wings and the San Antonio Spurs play different sports in different leagues on different surfaces in different states, but make no mistake: They're the same team.
  • Or, more to the point, they're the same organization — gold standards of their respective leagues for a generation. The Red Wings are in the playoffs for a 22nd consecutive season, the Spurs for a 16th. Each has won four league championships over that span. And each is in contention for a fifth this postseason.
  • Bill Polian, former general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, said these franchises have in common is “ownership that is committed and lets the people who are hired do their jobs and then put tremendously competent people at the helm who get that job done."
  • "We've all been together a lot of years," San Antonio owner Peter Holt says. "That stability brings a lot to the table."
  • Stability is also the secret to the Red Wings' success. Mike and Marian Ilitch have owned them for more than 30 years, during which they've employed just three general managers: Jim Devellano, Bryan Murray and Ken Holland.
  • Each franchise began its current run of greatness with a superstar.
  • Each organization showed a willingness to look to other continents for stocking its roster.
  • The team is supported by first-class players who lead by example. When you come into the building, you can feel the tradition, and as a player you want to be a part of that.
  • That's the formula: Tradition plus success equals more success.
Shortly after reading the USA Today story, I came across a story from The Forbes Group: Leadership Is A Vital Role For Association Executives
  • It isn't easy to be a transformational leader, although the rewards are great. It's even harder to do so when you are an association executive. That's because the spotlight belongs on your volunteer leadership. If you are too successful as an inspirational role model, you are likely to get your comeuppance from a jealous elected leadership.
Keys for Associations
Reading these stories and thinking back on my early association experience, there seem to be at least four keys for associations:
  1. A strong board of directors (owners) committed to hiring the right people and letting them do their jobs.
  2. Transformational leader (the “franchise player”) who carries the association for a long period.
  3. A talented staff ... which requires constant search and recruitment ... providing the resources needed to get the job done.
  4. Creating a tradition of success.
Back to my early career, a board member told our CEO: “You must be paying too much in salaries because none of the top staff leave our association.”  That was perhaps a signal that change was in the air.  

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