The economic reality of 2014 was far better than many expected. Unemployment fell to its lowest level in six years, the stock market climbed to historic highs, gasoline prices fell and commercial interest rates remained steady and low. The continued gridlock in Congress and the coming shift in majority control fuels some uncertainty and likely gives even the most optimistic leader among us pause. Normally, with the turn of the New Year just a month away, taking stock and setting a course for 2015 would already be overdue, but in today’s world, savvy leaders know there’s always time for fine-tuning. Here are five ways to step it up in 2015 to navigate the coming trends and challenges in the New Year:
Readiness, Resiliency and Re-adjustment Will Be Your Mantra.
For too many years, leaders acted as though the coming year was simply an incremental adaptation of the prior year. Don’t even think about it. The nature of leadership today demands that we identify and prepare short, mid and long-term strategies for all of our key activities. In meetings with CEO’s, business owners and senior executives, I increasingly hear about their six-month sales strategy, the twelve-month strategic plan, or the three-month capital equipment budget. Much of the foundational business planning familiar to many of us is giving way to a near-term focus with a healthy dose of long-range re-adjustment strategy in the wings.
Think Deeply About Your Members. What business are they in and what’s happening to their employees and customers? What problems are your customer’s customers facing? Chances are if your members or their suppliers are involved in transportation, graphic communications, logistics, financial services, home building, auto manufacturing and the associated supply pipelines, 2015 will be difficult. Scott Stratten, in his book, Unmarketing talks about the importance of remarrying your current customers. Your members have high expectations and the current trend line in customer experience is heading in the wrong direction. Does your organization have a member assistance plan in place? Stepping up the focus on your career center programs, offering free or low cost business counseling, focused research or resume banks will continue to serve a vital purpose. If your membership is company-based finding new ways of reaching out to the various internal departments (HR, supply logistics, finance) with ideas, tools and resources will be essential to success in 2015.
Step Up Your Personal Member Communications. When former United States Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson headed up Goldman Sachs, he made 50-60 phone calls just after New Year’s Day to simply say hello and share goodwill for the coming year with the firm’s top clients. Association leaders should do the same. While there’s a better than even chance you’ll get an earful about the political gridlock, and uncertain times, there’s an equal chance you’ll strengthen the connection between members and your association. No doubt some of you reading this will say, “but we’ve got 10,000 members, we can’t call them all.” Well you can call some of them. I called three hundred members and prospects in the space of a month. You can pick thirty members randomly from across the country. Call them. Now.
Prudence, Pragmatism and Frugality Rule. Being productive, efficient and wise with resources never goes out of style. Uncertainty provides an ideal opportunity to engage your team in finding ways to keep a lid on expenses or exploring new ways of doing day-to-day things more efficiently. To be clear, few of our associations can shrink their way to success. We are already doing far more, with far less than we are used to doing. As a leader however, you can use the moment to inculcate staffers of the importance saving money, seeking new efficiencies and considering new means to productivity are more than leadership clichés.
Master Your Own Voice and Share Your Great Story. It’s a given, nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. And this great story isn’t about you. Don’t let that stop you from developing a vision for where your association is heading in 2015, how you’ll get there, and why everyone around you—staff, membership, Board members, stakeholders and customers—will feel stronger, be better looking, and succeed beyond their wildest dreams, when you do. As humans, we are social beings and connecting through stories is what we do. Leaders understand great stories stir emotion, are memorable, authentic, and conclude with a powerful call to action. That’s hard to get from reading the Association’s latest strategic plan or its financial statement. Just like the increasingly popular “dashboard” tools, stories illuminate the unity behind our purpose and mission.
You’re it. Vous êtes le chef.
What’s your story going to be in 2015?