I’ve learned four concepts during my business life that have stayed right here in my head for more than twenty years. What makes us remember certain lessons while others go into one ear and out the other? The four tips below have become so much a part of my work life, they are now an automatic part of my thinking. I hope this will be a good reminder for you and maybe even a pass-along to your staff:
1. Plan, Organize, Implement – It’s the business equivalent to “ready, aim, fire.” Whenever I begin a project, I plan what outcome should look like. In light of smaller association staffs and more emphasis on deliverables, the planning step is sometimes shortchanged.
Planning means deciding goals first—yours, your staff’s, and even your boards’. Put yourself inside the head of your association’s members and consider how they will see the final product. What are their current expectations, perceptions, needs? Do you plan to meet those standards or offer an alternative? Answer these questions before you start.
Organizing means putting yourself at the event, reading the e-newsletter, or otherwise stepping into the shoes of your members. What will your audience be anticipating, and what will it take to overachieve your goal? What steps will take to get from here to there in an uncomplicated, logical fashion? Organizing helps anticipate speed bumps, even while in the heat of putting a project together.
The success of any project or event is in direct proportion to your preparation. You deliver more than meets the eye. You deliver assurance that you know exactly what your members need out of the project.
2. Trust. But Verify – This has helped me both as a businessperson and even as a parent! It’s the notion of not trusting every spoken or written word. An example is hearing a board of director say in a meeting, “We know our members want more services. The problem is they’re not willing to pay for them.” Sometimes, a membership survey reveals that members are, in fact, willing to pay more for additional, tailored services. This is the business equivalent of trusting that your kid is at Jake’s house, then calling Jake’s mom to be sure.
3. Manage Up – When I finally grew up to pay more attention to the little things in my career, I remember when my most memorable boss sat me down and said, “Melynn, you have to learn to manage up.” I didn’t understand the concept until years after he spoke the words. What he meant was that every effort, every day, making the boss look good boosts the entire organization. This may sound self-serving to my boss—and I suppose it was—but it has become a priority in my business, and has paid me back in my own career. The passion in my work with associations is to master your communications and value proposition. If I do it well, I make the CEO and staff look good. Yes, I like to have pride in my work. More importantly, the Association CEO and staff have pride in the work they helped create. My first boss might have long forgotten this conversation, but I never will.
4. Once in a while, you will need to sit and have a drink with someone you don’t especially like – I’ll explain with an example: I meet some of the most professional, forward thinking, smart Association CEOs, AEs, EDs and EVPs in this business. Sometimes, there is a “rub” or a disconnect between him or her and their incoming elected leader. This is frustrating for the executive, not to mention unproductive, inefficient, and a waste of a lot of energy. Is the conflict a result of an ulterior motive by the elected leader? Does the leader really want interfere with the AE’s business? Or is the disconnect because of two diverse personalities and backgrounds that just don’t naturally blend together?
When you reach into your sock drawer with your eyes closed, unless the socks were in pairs already, you’d have about the same chance of finding two perfect mates as you would of finding a perfect balance between an AE and volunteer leader. Sometimes getting away from the formal setting and getting to know your colleague as a person first starts to build a small bridge to respect and trust, not to mention a respectable working relationship. It’s a small effort with maximum potential. So have a drink with someone you don’t especially like—and see what happens.
Four simple business ideas. I can attest that these lessons are tried and true. Although I continue to learn new lessons every day, I value the wisdom of the mentor who taught me these. I encourage you to pass your most treasured tips on to your staff. There are future leaders in your association who will appreciate the lessons you’ve learned along the way.