When it comes to strategies to strengthen member value the short answer to this challenge is you can’t—at least not without making significant changes in how you go about assessing and communicating with sparkling clarity real member value. Defining ways to turn member’s passion into personal and professional aspirations is at the root of the member value conundrum. In this sense, form truly follows function. And that’s what’s missing from the conversation these days.
Active, engaged members remain the number one challenge for associations and professional societies. Why do so many nonprofits end up leaving them stranded? There are great strategies for assuring success in recruiting, retaining and engaging members if you’ll commit the time and resources to making it happen. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Are your members, customers, and stakeholders like wayward sports fans? Does membership ebb and flow with the perceived “wins and losses” created by your team? You get a legislative win and members flock to your door. Former White House Chief of Staff and now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” So solve a crisis for your profession, cure a disease, or defend against an egregious regulation, and you’re golden, right? Oddly enough, the answer probably is not so much. How could that be. Does success beget apathy or disengagement?
Is it fickleness when members drop membership, decline to donate, join or become a subscriber, or customer? Possibly, but probably not as much as you might think. There are radical shifts afoot in your marketplace and organizations that want to thrive will need to find their own unique ways to influence them.
If you’re leading a membership organization, members will almost universally tell you they seek networking, peer support, and learning opportunities. While those needs are real, the ability to fulfill them has now expanded far beyond the framework of your organization. In today’s marketplace, there is an abundant and growing collection of both informal and formal networks, on-line education from top schools, and support platforms available to everyone twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. A smart phone delivers immediate conversations and idea sharing with friends and strangers across a global frontier. When your members want to know something about their industry or profession, they are far more likely to access Bing, Google, or Yahoo as they are to go to your organization’s website. Where are you in this new frontier? If you’re not in the top ten results for any of these search engines, you’re invisible.
If this notion has you yearning for the good old days of “Castle and Moat” strategies, I understand. In the membership model of yore, associations owned the Castle. If someone outside the Castle wanted knowledge or information, they had to become a “member” of the kingdom. When they did so, we lowered the bridge over the Moat and allowed them entrance to our “kingdom of knowledge”. And it was good. We were all doing well by doing good.
Funny thing, the “Castle and Moat” strategy is back. It’s back as a model of investing deployed by Warren Buffet and as a business strategy by Google. But it’s different. Nowadays, most of us willingly pay for access. Not for information alone, rather we subscribe to virtual tools, services, and access delivered from the “cloud” when we want it, how we want, and on whatever device is nearby. Subscription business models are the new iteration of “Castle and Moat” for associations, professional societies, and businesses.
Every so often, someone acts out in a way that is so totally destructive and outrageous that you know it’s nothing short of reckless. Like a child flailing themselves against the tile of a supermarket floor in tantrum, reckless leaders push well beyond the bounds of common sense, decency and civility. They seem totally clueless about the impact of their behaviors.
A reckless leader’s outbursts are certain to have consequences — both intended and otherwise. When leaders throw civility and decency to the wind, the results are always corrosive and damaging to the organization. In a world where the integrity and perception of your brand is paramount, reckless leadership creates huge financial risk for your brand and your organization.
If you’re wondering how reckless leadership could hurt your pocketbook and your brand read on. Douglas A. McIntyre writing for 24/7 Wall Street identified nine well known and generally well regarded firms with the most damaged brands. Companies such as J.C. Penney, Apple, Groupon, Boeing and others made the list in one of two ways: by aggressively promoting a product or a business strategy and failing badly, or being involved in a corporate or personal scandal.
And it’s not just major corporations or brands. Small organizations are at risk as well. In late October the Washington Post ran an investigative report describing how a large number of not-for-profit organizations have quietly lost millions of dollars through significant diversion of their assets — fraudulent financial transactions, embezzlement or other criminal means.
According to the Washington Post, the “diversions drained hundreds of millions of dollars from institutions that are underwritten by public donations and government funds.” Ranking Congressional leaders have announced they will launch investigations into the matter. Demoralizing doesn’t begin to capture the impact. So, how else does dysfunction and reckless leadership surface in organizations?
Dysfunction 1 –Believing your solution is the only solution. Talented leaders are adept at listening to input and ideas from direct reports and colleagues well before settling on a path forward. The Reckless Leader is more prone to decide they know exactly what to do from the start and are likely to demean the ideas of others along the way.
Dysfunction 2 – Publicly demeaning people or berating their ideas. I’m not talking about engaging in honest and open exploration of ideas here. I’m talking about the business equivalent of bullying. Recent published profiles of Jeff Bezos, Chief Executive Officer at Amazon paint a disturbing portrait of a highly adversarial culture where positive feedback from superiors is rare and promotions even rarer. While some suggest intensity is a trait commonly found in technology leaders, (think Steve Jobs at Apple) some of Amazon’s practices seem ready-made for the a path to reckless leadership. Being the Queen of Mean creates real hazards. Act accordingly.
Dysfunction 3 – Using e-mail to deliver your communications. (see Dysfunction 2). No, e-mails don’t count as communication — especially when they become personally demeaning tirades — aimed at the recipient. Leaders need good intelligence — ground truth — to make decisions and respond to developing problems. Reckless leaders have great difficulty understanding why no one wants to work for them. Having strong and healthy relationships with your teams is essential to really understanding the current workings of your organization. Anything less is truly less.
Dysfunction 4 – Failure to share the blame and give credit where its due. Reckless leaders are distinctive for their singular practice of blaming others for the failures and shortcoming within the organization. Oftentimes these blame assessments are one-dimensional views of events in which the reckless leader often is complicit. People afraid to admit they share part of the responsibility for organizational failure create a culture where blaming others becomes the default whenever something goes wrong. Beyond destroying accountability, how likely are you to take a risk essential to success or a breakthrough development? What’s that sound? Oh, it’s innovation dying.
Dysfunction 5 – When process becomes more important than people. Having a plan is not the same as having a working plan. Demanding adherence to stale procedures, outdated protocols and unworkable plans isn’t leadership, it’s organizational suicide. For reckless leaders, the unwillingness to recognize rapidly shifting conditions or changing circumstances arising in the marketplace oftentimes results in overlooking the urgency and value of re-direction or redeployment of resources. When that happens reckless leaders will revert to some variety of dysfunctional tactics all over again.
The circle of dysfunction and reckless leadership remains unbroken. That’s a sad reality for many organizations. How will you make sure it’s not yours?