Thursday, August 29, 2013

Association Boards, CEOs and Talented Association Staff


I was stunned several years ago when our CEO walked out of an executive session with the board and told me they had chastised him because “there isn’t enough turnover in your top staff. You must be paying them too much.”

Yes, it really happened!

Rather than complimenting the CEO on creating a culture that produced loyal staff, they complained that there was not enough turnover.

I thought about this as I read the Best People chapter of John Spence’s Awesomely Simple ... a book you should be reading if you haven’t already. 

Spence noted that “the future of your association is directly tied to the quality of the talent you attract and keep.” 

The late Woody Hayes (former Ohio State football coach) said, “You win with people.” 

Both are right!


Over about 20 years, I built an association management company from myself to a staff of 28. I’ve been told that I discovered great people, created a culture in which they could be effective and rewarded them in multiple ways.

After reading Spence’s chapter, I tried to look back to see what it was that I did with the idea that it might help a future association executive build his or her team.

So, here’s my partial list:

Hire Awesome People: 

  • And, give them guidance and let them do their jobs!
  • We involved them in brainstorming and key decisions.
Make it More than Money:
  • We offered flex time which allowed staff to set their own starting and ending hours. This turned out to be one of the most important benefits we offered.
  • We created an open door “feeling” to foster a cooperative spirit. (I remember once visiting a large national association. The CEO’s office door was closed (which I was told he always did). That “closed door” feeling permeated throughout the building.
Compliment & Thank Them

  • Catch them doing good.
  • I tried to give a handwritten personal note to staff after a great performance.
  • We recognized great work in our staff huddles and staff meetings.
Make it Fun:
  • To “spice up” our annual house cleaning, I created “Cash & Clean” to celebrate Johnny Cash’s birthday. And, I hid $20 bills in some of the common areas as a surprise and reward for those cleaning.
  • We held a 7/11 day on July 11. I gave Missouri lottery tickets to each staffer; we held a poker tournament with “house money” and me as the dealer.
  • On nice weather days, we held occasional ice cream & frisbee breaks.
  • My wife and I hosted holiday parties and summer picnics at our house.
Surprise Them:
  • The summer of one of the high gas prices, I gave each staffer extra cash to cover their higher commuting costs.
Make it More than Business:
  • I believe in giving back or as Woody Hayes said: “Paying Forward” ... so, our company and my staff engaged in cause efforts.
  • We offered to “top off” gas tanks (up to $20) for members of the local Business Persons Between Jobs, an organization of executives out of work. My staff filled the tanks and visited with members. Then, we had a staff and BBJ picnic at a local park.
  • My staff organized a Cause a Quarter through which we generated funds (or items) for a specific charity. One involved a staff bake sale which was open to all the businesses in our office building. 
The end result. Many clients and others complimented me for an enthused, engaged and loyal staff that did great work for our clients and our company.

What does your association do to attract and retain great staff?

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