A recent business story caught my attention. The article offered insight from 10 CEOs who graded their company’s performance in 2010 and shared their predictions for 2011. While the interviews seemed more self-serving than substantive, I liked the premise, so I decided to review myself.
December typically is a time when the association world slows down, and budgets, staffing and business plans for the upcoming year are due, so this seemed like an opportune time to grade my personal performance, look back and plan for 2011. As someone who enjoys running, I know that no matter how good or bad you feel during a race, no matter how fast you think you are running, the clock doesn’t lie. The “clock” is what makes it possible for runners to benchmark their performances against other competitors, and also measure themselves. It makes it possible to gauge progress (or lack thereof), and learn what’s working and what’s not.
Unfortunately, performance is not so cut-and-dried in the business world. It’s even more ephemeral in the association world, but there still are ways to take stock of what’s been accomplished and what’s left to improve upon.
As we all know, the concept of grading should look at all aspects of the business and the job you did. It should detail the good, the bad and the in-between. For the purpose of not wanting to leave the readers with the same self-serving impression that I was left with after reading the above-mentioned business article, I will spare you a specific accounting of what I did. However, based on my actions, I wanted to share with you what I learned. My actions resulted in three main areas of focused activity summarized as follows:
1. Improved dialogue: Over the course of 2010, I sat and met with more than 100 association professionals. Never before have I seen such a willingness to talk, exchange ideas and mutually pick each other’s brains for perspective and ideas. Throughout these sit-downs, a recurring theme kept surfacing. Association executives are looking for best practices that their peers are following and that they can use at their own organizations. They are not looking to reinvent the wheel, but rather how to apply these principles and practices given the lean nature of their staffs.
This feedback led us to launch a comprehensive Association Communication Benchmarking Study to help association leaders of all-size organizations from three dozen industries learn more about how their peers are communicating successfully with their members, suppliers and constituents.
2. Management by simplicity: As all good businesses do, the bar must be continually raised. As it should, the bar goes up and expectations rise even during lean times. Given that there are many competing items and daily distractions, I needed to identify the components of my job and team that could yield the greatest impact on the company. My approach to these increased expectations in this environment was “Management by Simplicity.” This I define as reducing all the distractions and actions down to two or three daily activities that can have the biggest impact on the business. A good analogy would be to lengthen one’s stride to finish the race sooner. What daily activities could lengthen my “business stride” and carry me to the finish line faster? After identifying these activities, staying committed to their measurement and accountability on a weekly and monthly basis is essential.
3. The importance of staying “top of mind” with your clients and prospects: Just as I often hear from associations asking how best to cut through the clutter, we as a company need to do the same thing. We all should have an approach to our business, membership growth, marketing of a product, etc., that ensures members think of you first when in need of a product, service or resource. Your top prospective members, sponsors and advertisers are on the top of your mind, but it is dangerous to assume that they are thinking the same about you.
This commitment to staying “Top of Mind” led us to launch the Association Adviser brand that is anchored by the monthly e-newsletter you’re reading (with 10,000+ of your peers), as well as related social networking sites, white papers and best practices.
Talk, listen, share and use feedback you gather from the marketplace and your staff to shape your future direction and speed. Put intense focus on activities that will move the needle the most and put the rest of your initiatives on the back burner. Finally, don’t forget to stay top of mind with your members, suppliers, staff and constituents. Don’t assume they’re remembering, let alone acting on, everything you send them or tell them. You have to keep reminding them and reinforcing them.
All in all, 2010 can be summarized as a year of learning. The learning has resulted in actions that have had a measured effect on our business and will fuel the direction and fire that we take in 2011.
Charles Popper is Naylor’s vice president of association relations. He has more than 15 years of business-to-business and consumer publishing experience.
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