Reads of the Week: August 24, 2012

That’s Not the Real Me: How Vanity Sabotages Facebook Advertising by Louie Herr

I find this idea both hilarious and accurate, especially this: “We are actors on a stage. Shakespeare, as ever, proves prescient.” We’re a crafty bunch, showing off our best selves on Facebook, sometimes cool, sometimes not. Recently I’ve posted several photos of backyard wildlife – turtles, spiders, lizards – not sure what I’m telling advertisers and the rest of my Facebook friends with that display. I’m sure to return to posting oh-so-fascinating snippets of my life soon. After all, I have an image to maintain.

Example of a Humanized Culture by Jamie Notter

The Netflix Culture slidedeck has been around a while but it rocked my world only this week. There’s a lot in there – 126 slides – but it’s well worth scrolling through — a peek into an inspirational workplace. Jamie says, “It’s not about values that just sound nice (integrity, honesty, diversity, etc.). It’s about behaviors and skills that are literally valued by you and others in the workplace.”

Use Your Brain: Why Marketers Must Understand Neuroscience by Mary Beth McEuen and Emily Falk

Marketing never gets boring because it focuses on what makes us tick. McEuen and Falk tell us to follow the RULE: Reframe, Understand, Listen, and Engage your audience.

You Can’t Start the Revolution from the Country Club by Anil Dash

A new paid platform,, could be a rival to Twitter, after all, all the cool tech kids hang out there. And why not, the masses have invaded their precious Twitter so they need a new place to hang out and stroke each other’s egos. Life continues to have moments of high school. But I don’t completely blame them. I’ve had issues with Twitter lately, too much broadcasting (guilty) and not enough conversation. I’m determined to change my behavior and reclaim Twitter for conversation.

Dash says these “gated communities” like risk being exclusive. “Building a social tool for “just us geeks” permanently privileges the few people who get in the door first, which means you’re giving a huge leg up to those who already have a pretty good set of advantages to begin with.”

Why Web Literacy Should Be Part of Every Education by Cathy Davidson and Mark Surman

Web literacy should be part of every adult’s toolbox too, but sadly it isn’t. Davidson and Surman make a call for web literacy in K-12 education. “…if web literacy, including web programming, was adopted by every school as a fourth basic literacy, kids would not only learn how to code, they would learn about interactivity, collaboration, the melding of the artistic and the scientific, creativity, and precision.”

And, in other news…

The web is full of chatter today about Lance Armstrong, a fallen hero for many, a relentless bully for others. It’s time to turn away from that era of cycling and its doping culture, and focus on cleaning up the sport. That’s the mission of Jonathan Vaughters, one of Armstrong’s former teammates who now manages the Garmin-Sharp cycling team. Check out his NY Times op-ed about his thoughts on (and experience with) doping.

Meanwhile, the magnificently beautiful state of Colorado is hosting the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Yesterday, one of my cycling heroes, Jens Voigt, won the stage. Jens is known in the cycling community as the guy who will “go full gas” and sacrifice himself, in terms of pain, to help out the team leader. “Shut up, legs!” is one of his mantras. His quirky sense of humor comes through in his tweets, his blog at Bicycling magazine, and interviews. This lovable beast, and I use that term with respect and affection, turns 41 in less than a month, and has already announced that he’ll race again next season. Not bad for an old guy.

Jens Voigt after winning Stage 4 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge – screenshot from Bicycling magazine video

How’s Your Association Attitude?

Quiz time:

  1. How often do you try a new recipe? A different gas station or restaurant? An unfamiliar magazine or radio station?
  2. When’s the last time you talked with someone about an idea or project that flopped, or asked for constructive criticism?
  3. When did you last seek ideas from someone with a different perspective? Or collaborate with a colleague from another department?
  4. Who lights up your office with their energy, passion and creativity? Is it you?
  5. Whose reactions concern you the most: your boss, the CEO, leadership or the average member?

These questions are based on traits identified by Jasper Visser as signs of a good organizational attitude. Visser is a digital strategist and workshop facilitator who works primarily with museums. His recent post, The Future is About Attitude, Not Technology, got me thinking about individual and organizational attitude.

You can have the biggest technology budget on the block, but if your association’s culture and attitude is stuck in the 20th century, that slick AMS or online community is only going to take you so far.

When Visser looks at museums that have successfully adopted new media and technology, he sees five common characteristics that hint at the attitude organizations need to succeed in the 21st century.

Read about these five characteristics at the Avectra blog.

the future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty
Photo by Stephanie Vacher (Flickr)

The Mark of Cain on Association Management

The last few nights I’ve watched news stories about Herman Cain and the National Restaurant Association (NRA). I can’t help thinking about the whole ugly situation through an association management lens. I’m not going to dive into the details or the political ramifications, and I certainly don’t intend to express any political opinions in this post. I’m assuming the best and the worst to get a complete picture for purely hypothetical reasons.

Imagine, instead of the NRA, this is your association. A never-ending story about one of your past CEOs (or elected volunteer leader) ends up on the nightly news. I’m sure it’s happened before, but I doubt the past CEO was running for president.

I feel bad for the NRA staff. You know everyone there is getting the third degree from their family and friends. Even though they’re in the spotlight dealing with a haunting situation from the past, work goes on — trade shows, educational sessions, publications, lobbying, research, event planning, member service – it doesn’t stop.

The story is still unfolding but I can’t wait. I keep thinking about all the issues it raises. It provides an opportunity to step back and say, “What if this was us?”

Crisis management

Above all, it’s a story about crisis management and communication. I haven’t been paying close enough attention to know how the NRA has handled that, but I’m not writing about them, so it doesn’t matter for my purpose. Every PR professional and CAE candidate knows you need to have a crisis management plan, just like you need disaster recovery and business continuity plans.

You also need to be out in front when a crisis hits. With social media, it doesn’t take long for a rumor to turn into a full-blown disaster. Even if you’re not participating in social media, you better be monitoring social media. You’d think everyone would know this by now, but I’m sure there are some organizations that don’t even have Google Alerts on their name.

I can only imagine the tension at NRA. I’m sure the HR and executive teams are in constant meeting mode. How stressful. I hope, for their sakes, they’ve been as open and honest as much as their confidentiality agreements allow. We see how Cain suffered because he didn’t appear as forthcoming and transparent as he should have.

Make sure your staff is informed about their roles and responsibilities during a crisis and they know what’s at stake for the association mission and members. At NAHB we had an ugly episode: someone on staff was hounded by an angry group for his part on a non-profit board – a board completely unrelated to the homebuilding industry. We expected protests and media at our front door. I don’t recall anything awful occurring, but we were ready. Everyone was informed enough to understand the situation and reminded about what to do if approached or contacted by anyone.

Brand management

I got really peeved off by some of the coverage of the NRA, especially when a ratings-hungry commentator portrayed the NRA only as the representative of national corporations, like McDonalds and Pizza Hut. He called for viewers to boycott NRA members while showing a dozen member logos (mostly fast food) and a headshot of NRA’s CEO. I guess he doesn’t care about all the employees whose earnings depend on those chains. I’m sensitive about this because I know from personal membership experience that NRA also represents, assists and educates smaller restaurants, like the independently-owned one I used to manage.

No matter what you think about the NRA, brand identity is the issue here. Is it clear from your homepage and other online outposts who your members are? What they contribute to the economy and community? Could you appear more human? Relatable? Likeable? Don’t be an easy target for rabble-rousers.

Culture and counsel

Innocent or guilty, the fact that there were three allegations of sexual harassment has to give you pause, even if they’re all baseless. I can’t help thinking, what type of culture leads to this? Or maybe all was well and this is just a case of three messed-up work relationships and the resulting misperceptions. One commentator asked Cain if he was the kind of CEO who made awkward comments to employees and didn’t know it. For the record, he did say “no,” but seriously, would he even know?

If those allegations were true, why didn’t anyone say anything to him about how others perceived his behavior? Because he’s the boss? Bring in the board chair to counsel him.

It’s an ugly situation. Maybe someday a brave soul from the NRA will do a conference session about how they handled it and lessons learned. Yuck. I wish everyone over there a hasty return to business as usual.

What other association management lessons are you seeing in this story?

You’ve Got to Read This: October 4, 2011

If you’re behind in your blog reading, like I am, let me help you out by suggesting a few of my recent favorites. Three of these bloggers have something in common, can you figure out what it is?

Long ago I stopped trying to keep up with Facebook changes. My work doesn’t require me to be a Facebook expert, so why not let the experts figure it out and soon enough I’ll learn from them everything I need to know. Maddie Grant at Socialfish, who’s an expert herself, raved about this post by Tonia Ries at The Realtime Report about the impact of recent Facebook changes on fan (or brand) pages. Tonia’s linked to dozens of other resources if you want even more information.

It isn’t often you come across such a helpful post as this one from Karl Sakas. He suggests eight questions to ask a SEO agency before signing a contract. SEO is critical for website traffic, but there are a lot of snake oil types out there who can talk a good talk but won’t be good for you in the long run.

Phil Buckley draws upon what he learned about motivation from Daniel Pink’s book Drive to understand the real reasons for an employee’s resignation. In his post What I Learned from a Resignation he shows how he’s drawing on that new knowledge to recruit employees.

I love the advice that Tim Giuliani shares with us from Guy Kawasaki: Don’t Write a Mission Statement, Write a Mantra. Guy says don’t hire an expensive consultant to write a useless complicated mission statement; instead write it yourself, a simple mantra that makes sense to everyone. I once heard someone say, if your mission statement can’t fit on a t-shirt, it’s too long.

Laurie Ruettimann has been on a TRUTH roll lately with one brilliant post after another. She mixes them up with HR humor and her usual brand of irreverent snarky wit. Here’s one of her brilliant ones: The Only Competitor You Have Is In Your Head. And another, You Can Be Average.

Do you know what three of these bloggers have in common? They’re from Raleigh! I didn’t plan that, it just can’t be helped; we have a big bunch of smarties here in the Triangle.

good reading selected by Deirdre Reid Raleigh freelance writer
Our fair city -- photo by twbuckner/Flickr

You’ve Got to Read This: December 21, 2010

One of the many things I love about the Christmas season is how it brings out the generous side of people. In a timely post Bob Bessette shares some ways we can blog for good. He definitely got me thinking about how I might use my writing skills to help out a local charity. Another way to help out good causes is to sign up to be a micro-volunteer with the Sparked network where you can “turn your spare time into social good.” Once you sign up, select causes and identify your skills, Sparked will send you email alerts when an organization needs your help.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is the ideal time to reflect and reset. I’ve written at SmartBlog Insights about setting time aside at work to reboot. Carol-Anne Moutinho shares several ways to help your nonprofit staff unleash their creative energy. Her ideas can work for any organization at any time, so don’t skip this one.

volunteering blogging Dan Flavin staff creativity
untitled (to you, Heiner, with admiration and affection) by Dan Flavin at the National Gallery of Art, photo by EB Morse

Here’s a fascinating case about the perennial question — what is art. A British art gallery importing disassembled artwork by Dan Flavin and Bill Viola for an exhibit was taxed by customs at the standard 20% rate, instead of the 5% artwork rate. Customs classified Flavin’s work as “lighting fittings” rather than art, and the European Commission later agreed. As the post notes, this shows how “modern” art can still bewilder some people, just like in 1926 when Brancusi’s Bird in Space was classified as “Kitchen Utensils and Hospital Supplies.”

I haven’t suggested a Twitter follow in this series yet. I get a lot of good reading suggestions from Justin Levy’s @jlevymedia account. This isn’t his personal account, but a feed of posts he finds worth sharing, a mix of social media content and posts that appeal to freelancers and other creative types.

Jeff Cobb at Mission to Learn saves the day with his list of ten last minute gifts for lifelong learners. As a self-identified lifelong learner myself, I can vouch for the accuracy of this list. I’m reading a book by Natalie Angier, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, and she recommends buying a dissecting, or stereo, microscope (that would fall under #4, Experiment, on Jeff’s list). They’re not cheap, but maybe you can find one at a yard sale, that’s where I’m looking. She says it’s “a modest price to pay for revelation, revolution, and — let’s push this envelope out of the box while we’re at it — personal salvation.” Wow. Check out Jeff’s list for your own personal salvation.

I thought it was rather generous of Santa’s agency to publish his brand guidelines for all to see. Lots to learn here about that jolly old fellow. Yet I must warn you that Santa spelled backward, atnas, is not Lithuanian for chimney, as far as I can tell. Yes, I’m just gullible enough to check things like that. However, I’m sure the rest is all true. Merry Christmas!

staff creativity blogging volunteering santa branding dan flavin
flickr photo by LadyDragonflyCC

Leading Change: Getting Your Organization on Board with Social Media

Published originally as a two-part series on SmartBlog Insights.

I was recently introduced to John Kotter’s eight-step process for leading change. How could his process be used to introduce social media to an organization? Social media can sometimes be perceived as annoying, threatening or unnecessary. However, it can also be welcomed as a catalyst for further organizational change.

Kotter says many change efforts fail because organizations don’t take the holistic approach required to see change through. Here are his eight steps to ensure successful change:

  1. Create a sense of urgency. Members now have free online access to knowledge resources and new ways to connect with peers and clients. We need to be the first place they go to for these needs, not another online community or resource. This sense of urgency must be accepted and conveyed by leadership and staff. Dispel any doubts with social media usage statistics, member survey results and market research. Are younger prospects joining at the same rate they used to? Are we meeting their needs? Don’t talk about these issues behind closed doors, share concerns with your entire leadership and educate them about these issues. They might not realize that your association is at risk of becoming irrelevant to some demographic sectors.Are there some on your board who believe there’s no need for change? Isn’t there always a need to adapt, improve and innovate? If they don’t think so, are they truly leaders, or languishers?
  2. Gather your guiding team. You need a cross-departmental team that’s willing to invest their time and professional reputation into making social media work. They’re willing to give new ideas a chance – they’re not the usual devil’s advocates. They’re communicators who naturally share and listen to others. They have influence or power; they’ll help others understand what’s going on and encourage them to buy in and participate.
  3. Together, create a compelling vision and strategy. Paint a picture of the ideal association that could emerge as a result of this strategy. Show how the association’s goals will be met, how member needs will be met (and perhaps exceeded), how members will interact with the association and each other, and how the association will be different and better. Outline how that’s going to happen – the steps of your strategy.
  4. Communicate this vision and strategy clearly so everyone else (staff, leaders, members) can understand and buy into it. Explain why this new vision and strategy is necessary, what that future association looks like, why it’s better and what’s in it for them. There will always be naysayers — those who don’t see the need to change and improve. That’s their baggage; they carry it with them everywhere, not only in your association. Don’t let them hold you back. The vision and strategy you share will encourage others to support your plans and maybe even get involved.
  5. Empower others to act on that change vision. Identify the organizational barriers (both real and perceived) that prevent others from buying into new programs like social media. These barriers may originate in existing systems and procedures, or in staff attitudes. Social media is a learning process for everyone. Encourage and support those who propose new ideas and are willing to take risks or even willing to try new things. Do your performance evaluations reward innovation or convention? Brave hearts or weak spines? Don’t reward the “I’m just hanging in until my 401(k) is vested” crowd. Educate those who aren’t wired for change in a non-threatening way so that they see the benefits, both for your members and your organization, and get on board.
  6. Aim for short-term wins. Although social media is a long-term effort, establish a few short-term measurable goals and share those early success stories so everyone knows that the investment of time (and reputation) is worth it. Hopefully this will stifle your doubters. Recognize and reward your team. Boost their morale and motivation, especially if their workload or stress increases in the short-term.
  7. Don’t let up. Keep fine-tuning. Review what’s not working and make changes to improve your efforts. Use the experience and resulting credibility from social media adoption as a lever to make other organizational changes. Take a hard look at existing systems and procedures. How much time does staff spend on this “make work” instead of actually getting things done? Where can your association become more nimble and less bureaucratic? Get fierce with the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality that can undermine any vision. Continual education and communication can help ease discomfort and pave the way for needed changes. Relapse to old ways will be tempting for those who may outwardly celebrate your achievements but who inwardly feel threatened by new relationships and programs they don’t fully understand and long for the safe and predictable.
  8. Nurture a new change culture. Institutionalize the change mentality. Make change management a part of your staff and leadership training to ensure that incoming leaders will not revert to old ways. Change will lead to new behaviors – collaboration, openness, releasing control (gasp!) – that must be encouraged. Know that the risk-taking involved will also lead to some failures. However, failures are a chance to learn and improve. A change in organizational culture will take time and may result in the loss of longtime staff, and even leaders, along the way. It’s up to your leaders to persuade others that change is necessary for the association to succeed and survive. Change is the new normal.

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The CAE Journey

CAE. Certified Association Executive. Many of my friends outside the association industry ask, “What does that mean exactly?” According to ASAE, it means I’ve demonstrated “the knowledge essential to the practice of association management.” After reading this post, you may decide in my case it should be renamed Certified Association Geek.

The CAE journey gave me a deeper knowledge and understanding of association management, particularly in areas I never had the opportunity to delve into before. Reading the texts while reflecting upon my ten years of association experience gave me a much better grasp of the challenges of leading and managing an association. My mind grappled with a wide range of topics from the minutia of reporting requirements for lobbying to the more interesting concepts of shared leadership and strategic thinking.

Every week, a new domain entered my life: strategic management; planning and research; leadership; administration; knowledge management; governance and structure; public policy and governmental and external relations; membership; programs, products and services; and public relations and external communications. With each domain came lots of reading, quizzes and a conference call with my study group. I looked forward to my reading time, taking notes as I went, reflecting on what I was reading, what I had seen and how things are changing. I was amazed at how long I would study on weekends. It was a good experience. I knew my knowledge was deepening.

On test day, there was a strange moment about an hour into it when I said to myself, “This is kind of fun.” It might have been the coffee talking, or more likely, I was on a roll with some easy questions. By the end of the four hours, by brain was mush. I was drained. I remember thinking, if I had to bet money, I would bet I passed, but who knows. It was over, all those months of study, over. It was strange putting those books away. The books I had lived with for so long. Then I realized, I have my weekends back and I had a Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.

Fast forward six weeks and a few days later to this past Tuesday. While running around town that afternoon I got an email from my CAE study buddy, Sandra Giarde, saying the results were out. Our buddy Aaron tweeted he passed. I checked the mailbox on my way home. Empty. The mail was late, really late. Then I had a conference call and couldn’t check the mail for over an hour. Meanwhile three of us who took the exam were emailing back and forth – messages of dread and silliness.

After the call I walked back to the mailbox and there they were — two postal workers distributing the mail among the boxes. “Have you done the other side yet?” My side of the boxes. “No ma’am.” I walked home. My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing.

I waited about 20 minutes and walked back, the mail truck was gone. The mailboxes never looked so ominous. I opened my box. It was full of mail. I quickly flipped through the envelopes and magazines, searching for that one envelope. Oh boy. There it is – a business envelope from ASAE marked “confidential.” Moment of truth. I tore it open with my key. “Dear Ms. Reid:” was all I could read on the first fold. Quickly I turned it over and saw the word “Congratulations!” “YES!” I shouted out, and then thought, oh wait, I better make sure, and quickly scanned and saw enough to know that yes, indeed, I had passed the exam and could proudly put the letters CAE after my name. If anyone had been at the boxes with me, I might have hugged them. I let out another whoop and skipped home with a huge grin on my face. I wonder what the neighbors thought because I really did do several skips.

I wasn’t expecting to be so over the top happy, my reaction surprised me. But I knew that if I hadn’t passed, I would have been so disappointed and devastated, never mind the blow to my pride and ego. All the work, the sacrificed weekends and the new love for my profession – it all paid off in the end.

The letters CAE are validation of what I know and what I’ve been through. But the best thing about this whole process was the journey — the learning and thinking. Everyone’s CAE experience is probably a bit different. We come to it with varying levels of management and leadership experience, areas of expertise, and views on association challenges and opportunities. We approach the study process in different ways. But no matter the final results, going through the process is a huge accomplishment and stands on its own. Passing makes it sweeter.

If you find our industry at all fascinating and would like a rewarding learning experience, I strongly encourage you to study for the CAE exam. I call it a “journey” because it’s like one of those memorable trips to somewhere new and different. I knew where I was heading — the exam. I had my maps — the study guide and texts. I met some people along the way — my study group. But the best part was the studying and learning — being in the experience — the journey.

Learning About Legal Trends for Associations

Last week the Association Executives of North Carolina held an excellent educational session, Top Legal Trends that Associations Should Care About, presented by Marty Martin, JD. There was a lot to digest and it reminded me, once again, of all the challenges a CEO faces. Marty discussed four emerging legal trends that we need to understand and deal with:

  • It seems that every few weeks we learn of the misdeeds of an organization or individual we once trusted. This morning we learned of the arrests of mayors and rabbis (!) in New Jersey. It’s no wonder that a lack of trust in organizations is becoming more pervasive.
  • We demand accountability from our leaders and organizations. We will no longer put up with boards failing in their duties and tolerating unethical behavior or misguided senses of entitlement, as they did at the United Way, Smithsonian, and Nature Conservancy. Associations are tax-exempt organizations, not only accountable to our members but to the public too.
  • Transparency” is a word we see and hear more often these days, but it’s not a passing trend.
  • We’re much more critical about performance and results. If you can’t deliver, we’re going to start asking questions and taking our votes or money elsewhere. Doing well isn’t good enough; we must demonstrate our results to members and the public.

The IRS 990 Form is the most obvious indicator of these trends. If you haven’t looked at one yet because your job doesn’t require you to, take a peek and see what your CEO and Board will be dealing with. Its completion will require a lot more resources and disclosure than many associations are used to. The compensation section alone will give many Executive Directors heartburn and could create staff morale or member value issues when compensation packages of key staff are disclosed.

There must be a renewed emphasis on board governance and management of the association. The board is responsible for managing the business of the corporation – the association. Or do they think the Executive Director is managing it? The standards of service for a non-profit board are the same as a for-profit board. Do they realize that?

Are we selecting our board leaders for the right reasons? Or do other reasons enter the equation – ego, geography, seniority, politics, or relationships?

Do we educate our boards as to their duties and responsibilities? Do they understand conflict of interest? Anti-trust? Fiduciary responsibilities?

Do you get the impression that your board members don’t have the time to do the work they should to understand their responsibilities and prepare for meetings? If they’re not willing to put in the time and effort to do the work, they shouldn’t be on your board. I don’t know the source of this quote from the presentation but it’s a good one: “Your date book is your creed. What you believe in, you have time for.”

Marty defined organizational culture as a pattern of learning that occurs overtime in response to internal and external challenges. Culture operates on three levels, but all three must be aligned for a healthy organization:

  • Surface – The first impressions upon walking into your association’s office speaks to its culture.
  • Espoused values – Are you walking your talk? The board has the ultimate responsibility for adhering to these values, yet I think the Executive Director can play a critical role by modeling the right behavior and actions.
  • Basic assumptions – Assumptions are often hidden because we’re so used to them. “We’ve always done it that way.” They’re often our sacred cows. Assumptions can be an impediment to change in an organization.

In the short term, culture will prevail, even in the face of a changing external legal environment. That’s why associations may need a cultural shift to be transparent, accountable, well-governed and wisely managed.

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